He goes whole hog...Italian style
By JIM PATRICO
 
If you’re like most of us, you probably think the only people who know how to roast whole hogs are farmers or members of rural church groups who own those barrel-like ovens on wheels they drag from picnic to picnic in the summer.

There’s no doubt that those folks do great pig roasts, but there are some real “pros” around, too. Take a young Italian-American from Philadelphia named Jules Esposito. Jules roasts whole hogs all yea round, and he does it in the Italian style called “porchetta” that has been handed down from generation to generation since the days of the Roman Empire. After all those generations, he may be the only one in the country who knows the old recipe.

And he’s not giving that recipe away. Ask him for it and he will mutter something about “family secret” and “passed from my father’s father.”

Jules’s father came from the Abruzzi region of Italy and was one of a long line of Espositos who roasted hogs for a living. The family recipe won renown in a part of Italy where pig roasting enjoys prestige on the order of that enjoyed by winemaking in certain regions. “In Italy, they give awards for pigs like this,” Jules says. One more reason for family secrecy about porchetta recipes.




No matter. You don’t have to know the recipe to know that porchett’ (as Jules pronounces it) smells good enough to make you salivate shamelessly. It’s not a single smell, really, but a combination of smells: There’s the deep-in-the-gut warm waves of roast pork smell and there’s the high-in-the-nose scent of herbs, especially rosemary. Together they combine to produce an Italian’s version of hog heaven.

“Sure there’s rosemary in there,” Jules will say. “And there are other spices, too. I cook it differently for different groups of people. If I’m cooking it for Italians, I make it more spicey. If I’m cooking for somebody on the Main Line I make it a little less spicey.”

Don’t ask for more of an explanation than that. Would da Vinci tell you how he blended the brown to make Mona Lisa’s eyes?

Of course, Jules will tell you that part of the secret to his porchett’ is not the way it smells or tastes; it’s the way it cuts. His pigs are boneless. From their snouts to their feet, the only thing you’ll find is sweet, juicy meat.

“The hard part of this is taking the bones out without ruining the shape,” Jules says. “You work from the inside out.” That is, he turns the gutted pig on its back and removes the bones beginning with the stomach cavity. He ties wires around the boned carcass while cooking it and moving it, but he removes them for serving. “It’s just like cutting into a big pork roast,” he says.

Before the boning and cooking, Jules selects his hogs from a nearby packing plant. He sees the live pigs, but selects only from carcasses because, “A live pig can fool you. It might be fattier than you think. But a carcass never lies.”

After the 2 ½-hour boning and seasoning process, Jules puts the pig on a hard maple tray he custom-made for the job and slides it into a bread oven. Eight to 10 hours later, it’s done. “In an oven like this, you never had to worry about ‘Is it going to be done all the way through?’ The heat is even and I know how long it will take to cook.”

From there, the pig goes to parties, weddings and the like. Jules goes with it to slice and serve. “I’m part of the deal,” he says. “All for one price.”

 

 

 

Farm Journal Hog Extra
January 1986