I want to tell you about my trip back in New York in extensive details, I really do. But I’m jet-lagged… drowsy… sleepy but awake… awake but not really… and the only words I can pound out of my marshmallow of a brain right now, repeating itself in an almost undetectable frequency, are these:
I’m sorry, Di Palo’s.
If you also don’t know what Di Palo’s is, then maybe I’ll feel a little better about myself, but it’s the iconic Italian grocer standing on the same corner in Little Italy for more than 80 years which, for some unforgivable reasons, I had failed to visit in the entire seven years I lived in New York. But this time around, a friend brought me to its doorstep and introduced me to its porchetta sandwich smeared with dolce gorgonzola… Ridiculous, just ridiculous, as if the sheer volume of Italian salami’s and cheese it carried wasn’t enough to make me weep in regret, but I had to walk away with an audible sandwich? Yes, audible, as in even with just one bite, I could hear the sound of the chips-like skin crack under the pressure between my teeth, and tasted its fatty, savory and sticky meats mingle and be with the gentle funk of sweet Italian blue cheese. Right then and there, walking down the contagiously energetic sidewalks of New York in my joyous steps, I knew I had to recreate the recipe for you.
So here it is, as the ultimate redemption for never visited Di Palo’s in all my times living in New York, a seriously, seriously tasty sandwich. Just checking out the photo with the knife sticking out and the photo after that, you know how good the skin cracks. And if you think you see a nipple or two while browsing through the photos, yes they are. Just bonus materials, you’re welcome.
I promise, hesitantly, that I will talk more about my time in New York, no matter how complicated the mixture of emotions were. But right now, let’s just get the pork on.
AS THE ULTIMATE REDEMPTION FOR NEVER VISITED DI PALO’S IN THE ENTIRE SEVEN YEARS I LIVED IN NEW YORK…
AND YES, THOSE ARE NIPPLES.
The porchetta is said to be stuffed with chopped fennels and herbs. I have great difficulty finding fresh fennels (not the bulb but the fronds) in HK, and therefore improvised with fennel seeds and etc. You can replace the fennel seeds with 2 large handfuls of fennel fronds.
- 5.4 lbs (2450 grams) skin-on pork belly
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1 1/2 tbsp salt
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 8~10 fresh bay leaves
- 8~10 fresh sage leaves
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp caper
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp fish sauce, or 2 fillets of anchovies
- 1 tsp honey + 2 tsp water
- ciabatta breads or sliced loaf bread
- sweet and creamy gorgonzola cheese
- MARINATE THE PORK BELLY: Trim the pork belly so it has even and straight edges. Mix together lemon zest, salt and black pepper, then rub the mixture evenly over the pork belly on all sides. Place the pork belly SKIN-SIDE UP on a sheet-tray. Loosely tuck some plastic-wraps on the sides to cover the meat, but LEAVE THE ENTIRE SURFACE OF THE SKIN EXPOSED, then place inside the fridge for at least 20 ~ 24 hours. This duration is not only important for marinating, but it also allows the skin to dry up in the fridge which is CRUCIAL for crispiness.
- TO COOK THE PORCHETTA: Preheat the oven on 300 F/150 C (I used an oven with the fan on). With a damp towel, rub off /remove any excess salt and zests sticking on all sides of the pork belly, as cleanly as you can (do it twice if needed), then set aside. Toast the fennel seeds in a skillet over medium heat until it starts to pop and smell fragrant, then grind in a spice-grinder or mortar until finely ground. Set aside. Remove the tough middle stems from the bay leaves, then combine them with sage leaves, garlics, capers and sea salt (and anchovies if using), and chop until finely minced. Combine the mixture with ground fennel seeds and fish sauce, then evenly rub it on top of the meat-side of the pork belly.
- Roll the belly as tightly as you can into a log, then tie it together with kitchen twines (to learn how to do a simple butcher's netting, check out this post). Place it on a baking-sheet then bake in the oven for 1:30 hour. Now remove the baking-sheet from the oven, then turn the temperature up to 400 F/200 C. Mix honey and water together, then brush it evenly over the skin (this will give you that dark amber color). Return the baking-sheet back in the oven and bake for another 1 hour, brushing the skin with honey-water every 20 min or so. IF YOUR OVEN HEATS UNEVENLY, MOVE THE PORK BELLY AROUND. Once done, transfer the pork belly to a chopping board to rest for 15 min.
- The porchetta is best served within 1 hour after it's rested, or else the skins will become soggy and tough.
- TO MAKE THE SANDWICH: This step is a no-brainer. Chop up and pile a good mount of porchetta in between breads (preferably ciabatta, toasted if you like), then add a good smear of that creamy, dolce gorgonzola cheese on top. A bit of pepper, beer, set.