Porchetta 101 from Back Forty’s Shanna Pacifico

The East Village’s Back Forty is still riding the rusticity wave that’s crashing over the city. The restaurant’s walls are dressed up with vintage farm tools, there’s Greenmarket-fresh food, and a communal table amplifies a neighborhoody vibe. Given those trappings, a class on cooking up a full pig fits right in. The next three Saturday afternoons (October 17, 24, and 31), Shanna Pacifico, Back Forty’s chef de cuisine, will give demonstrations on the art of porchetta. For $130, you’ll learn the ropes from butchering to stuffing, and then get to sit down to a serious feast. The classes are limited to a dozen people each week, so reservations are recommended (beer and wine are included in the cost). Not only will you get a great meal, you’ll also pick up some skills, should you want to impress guests of your own someday (Pacifico assures us that porchetta really can be made in a New York City kitchen).

So, porchetta? Porchetta is a very traditional Italian dish. It’s kind of like an Italian street food. They do it with a bigger pig, and you’ll find it a lot in markets, and they’ll sell it out of trucks. They basically debone the whole pig, leave the head on, tie it up, roast it really slow so the skin’s all crackly, it gets kind of sweet and unctuous and crunchy, and then they slice it and serve it on bread. What I like to do is put fennel, a bunch of different herbs, spices, apple, and onion, and then I put that back into the pig and stuff it and then cook it really slow — although it doesn’t take long because it’s just a little pig.

How hard is it to source? The suckling pig is a little harder to source for the home cook. The person we’re getting our pigs from for this set of classes is Bev Eggleston from EcoFriendly Foods. He’s currently in the works of getting a butcher shop in Brooklyn to carry his meats. For this class, if anybody’s really interested in getting a suckling pig, he’s willing to work with them. It’s a little bit different than going to any butcher and asking for a suckling pig because we focus here at Back Forty on sustainable farming and using local, humanely raised animals, so that makes things a little bit difficult. It even makes things difficult for us here.

Can people really do this at home? The hardest part I would assume for people who aren’t completely skilled at cooking or butchering would be deboning the pig. I’ll hand out some information and offer some alternatives if they don’t have a butcher. Suckling pigs are pretty small. They’re about 20 pounds, or 18 pounds, or 16 pounds, although that gets a little bit small for me. It can fit in a regular-sized oven. I’m going to offer different directions for people who may be able to use pork shoulder, which is a lot easier to find, or what they call a Boston butt. There’s definitely a lot less traditional ways to make it. At Porchetta, a restaurant here in the East Village, the center is a loin and then they wrap it with belly, and that gives it the crispy skin on the outside and meat inside.

How will the class go? We cook things a little bit backwards. We’ll be stuffing a pig first, a pig that I’ve already prepared, because that’s the pig I need to get into the oven. And then I’ll be deboning a second pig which I’ll be using for the following week. It takes a little bit time to prepare it, let it dry out a little bit. And then I’ll be making and rolling out a pie dough made out of butter and pork lard. It’s a pork dinner from the beginning to end. There’ll be pig cheeks for appetizer, and I’ll add a little salad with some nice autumn vegetables. And then it’s on to the pig. When the pig comes out of the oven it’s like a big roll, like a loaf it almost looks like, and you just slice it down, so wherever you slice it you get a whole round of everything, there’s stuffing and there’s all the different parts of the meat. That’s what’s really special about porchetta. You have a little bit of belly, you have a little bit of loin, you have a little bit of leg, you get everything in one little package.

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