Hey food lovers, long time no talk, I have to apologize, it’s been a while and I’ve neglected you, but I’ve been busy, extremely busy. I don’t remember ever being so busy. March feels like a million years away it also feels like yesterday. I’ve grown and shrank both personally and in business.
I’ve opened new projects, closed the old ones and welcomed back staff from layoffs. I’ve bitten off more than I can chew at work and even at home, planting a lot of seeds in my garden that I can’t quite take care of at the moment. Life has been hectic but I’m trying hard not to complain as I have so much to be grateful for.
The last time I wrote, I talked about how scared I was and how daunting the tasks ahead were. I think it’s been about five months since I wrote that piece and not much has changed.
I’m still scared shitless. Don’t let my Magnum PI aesthetic fool you — I’m not as calm and cool as I look, in fact, if you could see below the surface at what’s happening inside my head every second of every day — well it’d be scary. Fear, trepidation, ideas, all of it, all at once — like a hundred slightly out of tune radio stations playing at the same time, the information is hard to process and hard to express.
In some ways though, it’s been a lot of fun taking some risks and letting go of the past. It feels akin to being down to your last dollars at a poker table and just getting bold about it! We have done cookouts, built massive tents, bought ice cream trailers and even opened a new location 300kms away from home, featuring something new to us — a small grocery store.
I honestly can’t remember if we have ever grown as much and as meaningfully as we have over the last five months. I am infinitely proud of my team and the leadership group we have surrounded ourselves with.
The porchetta we roasted last week was incredible, a 9.5/10 — just about perfect and a great example of what I’m so proud of. Pete, our head butcher made it, his idea. My friend Sean at The Wild Boar food truck lent me his roaster for the summer, and Chef Loreena whipped up some amazing sides.
Under our Big Tent, our dedicated service team safely served during intense heat to our supportive and engaged community. The pork was amazing, but the feeling of energy, collaboration and pushing hard was even better — all of this was in response to the position we have found ourselves in due to COVID-19.
I have really enjoyed writing and sharing here at 519 Schmecks. It’s been a bit of a therapy and creative outlet for me outside of my usual routine. This particular column has proven to be just that.
Check out the recipe below for Pete’s “soon to be famous” traditional Italian pork roast!
Full disclosure, this is a big bite to chomp off — both from a skill requirement but also literally, it’s a big roast — ours have been 35 lbs each! You can make them smaller, but be prepared to share. Hopefully, we can soon extend our bubble past 10 people so you don’t have too many leftovers. Our butcher Pete is happy to make these up by request as are lots of great butchers across Ontario, so call around and maybe someone can do the hard part and you can just roast and enjoy. For this recipe, I’ll walk you through making it yourself.
7lbs boneless pork belly skin on
3lbs boneless pork loin
1 tbsp oregano
1 tsp garlic
1 tbsp fennel seed crushed
1 tbsp rosemary
1 tsp coarse black pepper
1 tsp chilli flakes
3 tbsp salt
2 lemons seated
So this is a two-day job and requires some skill, butcher string, confidence and if you wanna get carried away — a big old pit smoker like the one we are using. However, a BBQ or oven will do. Having a convection oven is really helpful with getting the skin to puff and crackle, but beyond that, it’s fairly simple.
Mix all the dried spices, garlic and lemon zest together and set aside. Lay the belly flat, skin side down and season aggressively with the spice mix and sea salt.
Next, cut the loin in half lengthwise and season the same way and lay down the halved boneless loins across the center of the belly.
Next, we will roll it up like a bug in a rug or a big fat doobie, depending on your experience levels and personal choices. Lean on some type of experience to channel your inner butcher and roll that thing up tight. Try to fully cover the outer layer in skin, leaving no skin inside, only outside the meat roll.
Use the butcher string to tie it up nice and neat — there are lots of videos online that can help you better visualize this step, so have a gander before you attempt it.
Next is the last step of day one. Heavily salt and massage the skin. This is important to properly dry it out overnight, and during the cook, this will help us achieve a crisp and crackling skin — the hallmark of any good porchetta. Leave it uncovered in the fridge overnight.
Time to cook!
Allow the porchetta to sit out at room temperature leading up to cooking for at least two hours.
Preheat your oven or BBQ to 500 degrees.
Roast on rack in a baking sheet, turning once, for 40 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 300 degrees and continue roasting, rotating the pan and turning the porchetta occasionally. Use an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of meat until it registers 145 degrees — this will take a couple of hours at least, so check periodically and go with the flow.
As we get close to the finished temperature be mindful of the skin, if it’s not sufficiently browned and puffing then turn the heat up — this is where having a convection oven is great — if you have one, turn the fan to high and the temp to 500 degrees and cook until it’s crisped and crackly. Keep a close eye as it can burn quickly at this point.
Let it rest for 30 minutes.
Using a serrated knife, slice into 1/2″ rounds.
As a sandwich, this is commonly served with grainy mustard mayonnaise, grilled rapini or other bitter greens and a dollop of tomato sauce. As a plated entree, follow the same idea with bitter greens and something acidic like tomato sauce, pasta or polenta as a nice side dish. Don’t forget to include the crackling!
Nick Benninger is a local chef and restaurant owner.