A look inside the meat case at The Fatted Calf is bound to make jaws drop. Yes, you’ll see familiar items like sausages and beef roasts, but your eyes will be drawn to the rows of unusual confits and salumis; lamb bacon; fresh and smoked ham hocks; and crepinette burgers. That everything is hand made in-house, right down to the beef jerky, only adds to the awe.
Everything except the prosciutto, that is. “The way I like to do it, it takes two years — we’d need a new building just for prosciutto.” That’s Taylor Boetticher, who owns and operates Fatted Calf with his wife, Toponia Miller. The two are skilled artisans and connoisseurs of charcuterie, having studied under Italian butcher Dario Cecchini (also a subject in Bill Buford’s memoir Heat). They’ve become known for their meaty goods and, more recently, for their new cookbook In the Charcuterie, a guide to butchering and making preserved meats at home.
Finally, they’re known for one signature dish that’s on the counter at nearly every lunch service: The Cuban, an impossibly succulent stuffed and rolled pork roast that’s cut into thick slices to order.
“It’s a riff on traditional porchetta — it has the same components, but with a New World feel,” says Taylor. While the traditional dish combines lemon zest, fennel and rosemary, the Cuban uses orange zest, parsley, oregano and smoked paprika for a distinctive flavor profile.
Taylor learned to make porchetta when he was in Italy, and he made his first Cuban about three years ago, just before opening his San Francisco store. “Porchetta is like barbecue in the deep South or bouillabaisse on the coast of France,” he explains. “Everyone’s got their own version, and in Italy, everyone else’s version is wrong. I like to play around with different combinations. This one’s a no-brainer; it’s just about getting the ratios right.”
We spent a day in their Napa kitchen, where Taylor walked us through the process of making The Cuban from start to finish, showing all his tips and tricks for producing that crispy skin and tender, flavorful meat.
Taylor calls the cut for The Cuban a “pork middle,” everything from the shoulder to the leg. First, he removes the ribs and other bones individually, which he learned how to do while practicing butchery at a restaurant in Berkeley. This method creates narrow crevices in the meat, which hold what he calls “schmoo” — all the herbs, spices and other goodness that flavor the pork.
The bones end up in pork stock, which his team adds to soups, pâtés and barbecue sauce. (Sometimes they give them away to other chefs making ramen. “We have ramen for life,” Taylor laughs.) He also cuts out the end of the shoulder blade, forming another pocket where he can add flavor.
He removes and cleans the tenderloin to get rid of glands and blood vessels, but not the fat, which is essential to keeping it tender and moist. Today, he stuffs the tenderloin back inside the porchetta, but sometimes he’ll prepare it separately. His tenderloin tip: “Brush it with a little mustard and white wine, wrap it in pancetta and season with rosemary, salt and pepper.”
Next, he scores the skin all the way down with the back of his knife, taking care not to go too deep, which will cause the meat to lose its juices. The goal is just to release steam and produce those delicious cracklins pork is famous for.
“Porchetta is a big cut of pork with the skin on, so it’s fatty and rich — it needs a lot of stuff,” Taylor says. “Too much of everything makes it just right.”
When it comes to seasoning, the order in which you add each ingredient is important. The garlic and lemon zest should go on first so as not to displace the other seasonings. Here’s Taylor’s process:
- Garlic: Pound with salt in a mortar and pestle and rub inside the ribs and all over the meat.
- Orange zest: Dot in piles all over the roast, then spread around. “Zest is best because it has oils; the juice is too acidic and can make the meat mushy.”
- Salt: “It’s a thick cut, so it needs a lot.” Apply it from a height to distribute evenly.
- Pepper: Grind it fresh and, again, season from a height.
- Allspice: It lends a fruity element to the finished dish.
- Cumin: Nutty and peppery notes come from this spice.
- Paprika: Gives the meat a smoky element and a little heat. Taylor uses agrodolce (medium heat) but you can use all sweet or all hot paprika, too.
- Parsley and oregano: Mince finely and add last.
Now for the fun part. Taylor starts with the loin side and rolls the cut into a circle, wrapping everything around the belly. Then he ties it tightly in intervals about three inches apart with red-and-white striped string he has custom made.
“It actually gets better if you let it sit for a few days,” says Taylor. That’s why he refrigerates the roast, uncovered or loosely covered, for at least one day but up to three days before cooking.
When it is time to roast, here’s Taylor’s motto: “Get it brown, turn it down.” He lets the meat sit at room temperature for an hour or two, then seasons again, rubbing olive oil on the outside of the skin and adding a sprinkle of coarse salt. He places the roast in the oven at 375ºF for 30-40 minutes to get the skin golden and crispy, then turns it down to 300ºF until the internal temperature reaches 140ºF, which can take 2 1/2-4 hours.
The result: tender, vibrantly flavored meat wrapped in a beautifully browned and crispy crust. It’s the dinner party show-stopper your friends will never forget.