There are times I swear my Butcher understands my needs better than anyone, which is why two weeks ago when I placed an order for an 8 pound picnic pork shoulder, deboned and butter flied I was admittedly disappointed when “Butch’s” response was “Come in kid-show me what you want to do.”
That Saturday, on a hot summer’s morning, I was taken to a place I’ve only imagined but never actually seen the back of the butcher shop. The behind the scenes footage was everything I’d hoped it be complete with a bikini clad blonde outstretched above the month of August pined to the side wall.
“Don’t mind her she’s my ex wife” Butch said while throwing an apron over my head. He then laid the pork shoulder on a clean cutting board and handed me a knife.
“Bet you don’t have them sharp like this in your kitchen” He’s not kidding!
I carefully examined the meat. I needed one flat piece to stuff and roll I was looking for the right angle to go in. Butch raised an unbelieving eyebrow and patted me on the shoulder. “They don’t make them like you anymore-take your time kid-just holla when your ready to wrap.”
Apron around neck and knife in hand I made a note of my surroundings. Everything was so sterile, frigid and yet I felt so comfortable this way, invigorated, I thought about asking Butch for an apprenticeship, learn the trade…
However I was running thirty minutes behind on my cooking schedule and so I took a deep breath looked at the shoulder once more and made a decisive incision. When Butch came back, he nodded with his pursed lips all gathered to the right side of his face.
“Oh, so like a big Braciole, I get it.” Approval granted I thanked him and went home to make…
Like a Big Braciole (But Better)
7-8 pd picnic pork shoulder deboned and butterflied
1 pound of guanciale (cured pork cheek) *you can sub slab bacon
1 head of garlic
fennel fronds from one large bulb
40 fresh sage leave
An actual pinch of anise (toasted)
8 sprigs of fresh rosemary
¼ cup of dried Sicilian or Calabrese oregano
4 red onions
1 pound small yellow potatoes
1 cup of good quality dry red wine
*Please note that this recipe was adapted from La Cucina Italiana
First things first…lay the meat on a clean surface and season with salt and pepper, Preheat the oven to 250 degrees, quarter the onions, potatoes and place in the bottom of a large roasting pan. With a sharp knife slice the guanciale or slab bacon into ¼ inch pieces and set aside.
In a food processor combine the garlic, fennel fronds, sage, rosemary, anise, and oregano, pulse gently with about ¼ cup of olive oil. Spread entire herb mixture onto the pork shoulder.
Cut a yard of butchers twine and hang around your neck, if not for practical purposes, this adds a terrific dramatic effect, like season pro type stuff…
Careful not to let any of the herb mixture fall out, roll the pork tightly like jelly roll. Once rolled, carefully cover the outside of the shoulder with the guanciale (or slab bacon) and begin to tie the meat wrapping the string horizontally and then vertically underneath and back again, honestly do it in any way that keeps the pork tightly together it doesn’t have to look pretty it has to taste good!
Place your rolled pork on top of the onions and potatoes and roast dry for 2 hours at 250 degrees.
After two hours have passed take the pork out of the oven and pour the wine over the meat, spoon up all the good bits and baste. Place back in the oven for 2-3 hours more until the meat is very tender, basting at least every thirty minutes.
Let your pork take a break (which means don’t put a knife to the meat for a good twenty minutes) then slice and serve with the onions, which are at this point almost pure sugar, the potatoes, some semolina bread, the rest of that good red wine and DEVOUR!