At Sara Jenkins Porchetta, the simple roast pork sandwich comes condiment-free, and that's just the way we like it.
Hungry customers check out the porchetta in the case at Sara Jenkins' tiny shop/restaurant in New York.
ON A SPRING AFTERNOON, three young women stand outside Porchetta on East 7th Street in New York City’s East Village, studying the short and porcine take-out menu. “I’ve heard this place is guh-reat!” says one with a shaggy, Joan Jett-throwback haircut. “I think their meat is really good,” she tells her friends. “It’s Niman Ranch pork,” comes the matter-of-fact voice of chef Sara Jenkins from behind them. If the authority in her tone isn’t enough to send them inside, surely the aroma of the slow-cooked meat stuffed with a mix of rosemary, sage, garlic, salt and—Jenkins’ key ingredient—wild fennel pollen certainly will.
Jenkins’ porchetta has won the hearts and taste buds of New York’s finicky foodie cognoscenti, including his great orange-clogness, Mario Batali. Standing in line, more often than not you’ll catch the unmistakable lilt of Italian spoken from the throngs filing in and out of the tiny space.
Her porchetta sandwich arrives on a fresh, 6-inch roll and its pliable crust tugs at your teeth as they sink into the warm, herbaceous, juicy meat and the occasional salty crunch of roasted skin. Like in Italy, the pork stands alone between the bookends of bread. “In the beginning I thought that I would have to offer condiments here,” she says. “But I decided not to. If everyone was saying, ‘I want mustard! I want pickles!’ I would have done it for them. But they didn’t, they really got it.”
Hold the roll: A plate of porchetta from Sara Jenkin's restaurant of the same name.
An American, Jenkins spent her childhood learning Italian cooking while living in Rome and summering in Cortona with her family. The lauded Tuscan butcher Dario Cecchini
inspired Jenkins’ technique for making porchetta. “He is a famous butcher, and Bill Buford wrote about him in his book Heat
,” she says. “When I was figuring out how to do this I thought, I can’t bring in 300-pound hogs, bone them out and roast them in a small shop. But I remembered Cecchini’s arista, the classic Tuscan roast pork, cut from the loin with the belly still attached, and wrapped in the skin. That seemed like the solution.” She butterflies half-sides—the loin with the belly attached, skin on and rib bones removed. They are generously seasoned and then rolled, tied and slow-roasted in a special Combi oven.
Jenkins also serves her porchetta with a few of her contorni. But whether on a plate or in a sandwich, it’s always warm. “It’s served at room temperature in Italy. Honestly, because we serve it hot, mine is kind of better,” she says. “It’s moister and juicier.”
If you can't make it to the city to sample Sara's sandwich, take heart: her recipe for Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder, mimics real porchetta (amazingly tender aromatic meat combined with sweet crispy skin), and is easy to make.
Photography by G. Giraldo