Crispy roasted pork (porchetta)
A traditional porchetta rubbed with Vietnamese 5 spice powder.
Recently we've been on a culinary quest to make a holiday pork roast with the most irresistible crispy, crackly, and bubbly skin possible – the type of crispy crackling that will have guests fighting over and craving for more. What immediately came to mind was the Italian style porchetta of San Francisco fame, Roli Roti, and the Vietnamese preparation of roasted pork belly called heo quay, also called sieu yuk in Chinese, and lechon kawali in the Filipino version. The common thread among these versions is the unmistakable crackly skin, but how to achieve that in the home kitchen is another matter entirely. The Internet is replete with crispy roasted pork recipes advocating different techniques from deep frying, to salting, and basting with rice vinegar to achieve that holy grail of pork skin crispiness.
So in the last month, we've tried both the salt and vinegar method to see what works best. However, we also roasted one doing neither. The only method we didn't try was deep frying. No doubt deep frying the pork skin works, but it can get quite messy and for our purposes of a big roast, not something we were interested in trying. After these attempts, we're not 100% convinced that it's the salt or vinegar that makes the skin crackly and bubbly. In fact, we also had great results doing neither.
From these attempts we've identified several key steps that consistently gets good results, but first let's understand what this crispy, bubbly, crackly skin is all about. Essentially what this represents is a second degree burn of the pork skin. We have to have expose the skin to enough heat to burn through the thick layer of skin to get bubbly blisters without charring it. At the same time, this heat will render out fat and contract the skin, resulting in the desirable hardened and crackly and not rubbery texture. The second key step is to make the skin as dry as possible. Leaving the skin to dry overnight or 24 hrs in the fridge while the dry seasoning rub permeates on the belly side helps both in terms of crackly skin and flavor. Finally, scoring the skin helps render the fat, also helping to crispen the skin. However, there are also many ways to score the skin from diamonds to simple slits, to tiny pricks with nails. There is no one correct way, but we like to keep the skin intact so we use a small clean nail or large safety pin to prick the skin all over (some Asian markets sell meat tenderizers embedded with many nails).
A traditional porchetta is rubbed with a spice blend of garlic, rosemary, and fennel. But typically for our holiday parties there is always a dichotomy of traditional "American" vs. traditional "Vietnamese/Asian." So to appease everyone, we instead rubbed it with a spice rub highlighted by 5 spice powder. But feel free to substitute your spices and try our roasting method. We also brined the pork tenderloin, but this step is optional, especially if you are salt adverse.
3-4 lb slab of pork belly
2 lb pork tenderloin, cut to same length of the pork belly
2 tablespoons Morton kosher salt
1 tablespoon 5 spice powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon pepper
1/4 tablespoon ginger powder
optional brine solution
1/4 cup Morton kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
4 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon of seasoning rub (above)
2 quarts water
additional supplies: butchers twine, roasting rack
Using clean small nail or safety pin, prick the skin side of the pork belly all over. Rub the meat side of the pork belly along with the sides and ends generously with the spice rub. Rub off any spices that get onto the skin. Line baking tray with foil and place on tray and refrigerate uncovered over night or up to 24 hrs. If you are also brining the loin, prepare the solution in a non-reactive plastic container until dissolved and brine overnight (we take it out of brine overnight, about 8 hrs, regardless if we dry the pork for 24 hrs). If you don't brine the loin, rub generously with spices and cover refrigerated with plastic wrap. On day of cooking, preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Take your pork belly and loin and tie in a roast (for examples look here and here) trimming any excess if necessary and rub additional spices on the ends of the loin. Tie it snug but not too tight. Place on roasting rack and roast until skin is golden brown (if necessary, rotate the roast periodically to make sure there is even browning). Depending on size of your roast and thickness of the cuts, this takes about 45 minutes or so.
When the skin is golden brown, turn the oven to high broil. Place the porchetta as close as possible to the heating element and within minutes, the skin will become bubbly and crackle. Rotate as necessary to make sure skin is evenly bubbled and crackly. Do not leave the porchetta unattended. When finished, you can double check the internal tempurature of the loin with meat thermometer (145 for medium). Allow porchetta to rest about 15-20 minutes before carving. After carving, it's also helpful to crack the pieces of skin with the the tip of your knife for easier consumption.
The crispy, crackly, and bubbly skin definitely passed the eye test of our finicky friends – and combining classic Italian porchetta with Vietnameses spices also passed the flavor test with flying colors. Serve alone with your favorite sides or with focaccia bread with caramelized onions and arugula, either way we think this will be one of the best pork roasts you'll ever tried, perfect for the holidays or special occasions.
This may be our last post until Christmas, so we want to thank you for supporting our blog and wish you and yours a healthy and happy holidays!
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