OK, let’s get this out of the way right off the top. This ain’t your mother’s porchetta. Not if you were a kid who comes from an Italian family in Hartford or Philadelphia or on the Jersey shore. Or a kid like me who was raised with Italian kids in Hamilton, Canada and was savvy enough always to be at their house at dinnertime.
For almost any son or daughter of Italian immigrants, who grew up in the fifties and sixties in North America, porchetta is a boneless pork roast stuffed with garlic, rosemary, fennel and other herbs, plus ground meat, fat, and skin, then heavily salted, rolled and roasted. Porchetta has even been selected by the Italian Ministero delle Politiche Agricole, Alimentari e Forestali as one of a short list of traditional Italian foods deemed to have cultural relevance. And if the ministry walked into the new Mercado Centro, I’m guessing they would be very upset. I know I was.
I was so excited at first when I first saw the sign at the stand near the back of San Miguel’s new gourmet food court. It said PORCHETTA in big letters and there was also a nice graphic of a pleasantly plump pig with again that word PORCHETTA.
Don Day’s Wife and I walked up and ordered a porchetta sandwich to split (we were on a grazing mission, trying to fit in as many dishes as our stomach and wallet could handle). The guy behind the counter opened the fridge, took out a fat patty of ground pork, wrapped it in two strips of side bacon and placed it on the grill. There was another sign saying BURGERS and I thought I was watching someone else’s order hit the heat. But after three or four minutes and no sign of any other action, I had to ask. The conversation went something like this.
“My porchetta sandwich, senor?”
“It’s coming, senor.”
“But when, senor?”
“When it’s cooked, senor?”
“But where is it, senor?”
“It’s there on the grill, senor.”
“But that’s not porchetta, senor”
“Si, senor, si senor.”
I tried to explain but to no avail. I sulked and tried again. But it fell on deaf ears. I’m not sure the person behind the counter understood at all the importance of the word porchetta. He had obviously never been to Hartford or Philadelphia. Perhaps not even to Italy. I felt like telling him that this was like giving a ham sandwich to someone who’d ordered a hamburger. I felt like just walking away. But whatever he was cooking on the grill smelled so very good and beside it were onions and peppers and a slice of tomato starting to spill its juices into the meat. I decided to stay. And I’m glad I did.
The person armed with the spatula and the self confidence was Marko Antoine Cruz Sanchez. He’s the chef of the much acclaimed B’ui located at the equestrian center Otomi a few clicks outside of San Miguel as well as Nomada, the restaurant located in the not so prime position at the back of Mercado Centro. Porchetta is another in Marko Cruz’ growing empire. I was impressed that slinging a spatula was not below his dignity.
Chef Cruz told me the patty was ground loin and the bacon wrapped around it had been smoked. It was a fat patty. I’d guess about half a pound. A size that even my big mouth struggled to surround. It came with those onions, peppers, a creamy sauce full of chipotle flavor on a grilled sesame seed bun. The meat was moist, barely cooked to medium, a bold move in a town of people who had grown up with theories that we might perish in hell for eating pork that’s not well done. I passed it to Don Day’s Wife. Even she was uneasy about how pink the pork was. But we looked at each other and we nodded.
This was a taste as deep and rich as could ever be imagined. This was pork in all its glory. This was one of the best sandwiches we’d ever had in San Miguel de Allende. Or perhaps anywhere else in the world.
Porchetta is located in Mercado Central, Codo 36, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. They are open from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm, every day but Tuesday.