Classically, all that's really required to make porchetta is a deboned pig rolled with herbs; sometimes even the head is part of the roll, like some kind of pig-face-guided missile. But many chefs these days, including Jason Neve of Las Vegas' B&B Ristorante, are bucking Italian tradition—and homonymic ease—by taking the pork out of porchetta and using something a little smaller and easier to roll: rabbit.
In Neve's case, the decision was driven by simple economics. "Porchetta is really classic," says Neve, who has traveled up and down Italy and tasted plenty of the porcine rolls in Umbria (where the meaty delight originates) and outside of Venice. "You pretty much see it everywhere: off by the road, [in] sandwich shops. [But] in a fine-dining restaurant like ours, you can't go through a whole pig everyday."
Neve has instead turned to the one-size-feeds-two natural economy of rabbit anatomy. "With a pig, you're working with the whole length of the animal," he says, which can make it difficult to stuff everything inside the cavity. But with rabbit, Neve splits the tiny beast down its back after deboning it, then scores and butterflies the inside of the legs, forms it into a roulade, and stuffs the leg meat inside. And because the rabbits (which hail from farms in California or northern Utah and weigh in at about four pounds before deboning) are so compact, little goes to waste.
The philosophy of "no waste" appeals to Neve, who helped orchestrate one of the few farmers markets in Las Vegas, partnering leading restaurants with local farms. For his porchetta dish, he uses the rabbit bones to make a jus and confits the rabbit legs, which are tougher to debone than the rest of the animal. On occasion he makes sausage out of the legs instead. "The leg meat is fairly lean, and the fatty confit adds a bit of looseness to the dish," he says. "The jus is a nice moisture component."
It's certainly easier to make the porchetta from the rabbits (even in Italy, only the hardest core of the mammas go whole hog to make their porchettas), but Neve isn't averse to using the traditional porchetta animal. A few years ago at a Slow Food dinner, he and the B&B team rolled 14 suckling pigs—an (almost) rabbit-sized alternative to mature pig rolling. "We basically had the entire restaurant filled with people … and every cook in the kitchen picked up one of the pigs and went through the place to show them off before rolling them," Neve remembers. Rabbit is certainly less dramatic (and we guess fewer people want to see Fluffy before eating him) but it's certainly no less tasty, especially served, as Neve does, with the vignole stew of seasonal vegetables.
Rabbit Porchetta Technique
1. Remove the front legs of the rabbit and reserve. Debone the rabbit body in halves, working down the length of the back. Work around the ribs to keep the loin, belly, and hind leg attached. Reserve the bones for jus.
2. Remove the outer skin from the loin. Lightly pound the hind legs to flatten. Score the loin so it can be folded in half. Season.
3. Place the loin into the leg perpendicular to the length of the rabbit. Roll the entire abbit, starting at the hind leg, over the loin, and into the belly. Once the porchetta is formed into a tight roll, truss with butcher's twine.
4. Seal the porchetta in a vacuum bag. Cook sous vide in a 155°F water bath for 45 minutes; then remove and cool.