Bacchanalia, Floataway Café, Star Provisions Market + Cafe, Little Star Sandwich Shop, W.H.Stiles Fish Camp, Atlanta
12 servings, with leftovers
9 cups kosher salt for brining, plus 1 tablespoon for the spice mixture
Whole leg of pork, bone-in, skin-on (approximately 15 pounds)
1 cup fennel seeds
8 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes
2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 10 lemons)
2 cups spicy olive oil, such as Arbequina
One week prior to cooking, brine the pork (note: you can ask your butcher to brine the leg for you, or do it yourself). Dissolve 3 cups salt in 2 gallons cold water in a 5-gallon bucket. After the salt is dissolved, add ice to bring the water up to the 3-gallon mark to ensure that the brine is very cold. Place the whole pork leg in the brine and refrigerate for up to a week. (If refrigerator space is a consideration, a sturdy 5-gallon bag, sealed tightly, would also work.) I like to change the brine every couple of days, using up to 9 cups of salt.
The night before serving the pork, preheat the oven to 450°F. Remove the leg from the brine and allow it to air dry, or pat dry with paper towels. With a sharp paring knife, make parallel incisions about 1 inch apart down the length of the pork, cutting through the skin and fat of the leg almost to the meat. Repeat, covering the entire skin side of the leg with the incisions.
Lightly toast the fennel seeds in a dry large nonstick pan over medium heat until just fragrant; let cool. In a food processor, pulse the cooled fennel seeds, garlic, red pepper flakes, and the 1 tablespoon salt until roughly chopped. Generously press the spice mixture into the incisions in the leg.
Place the leg of pork in a roasting pan and roast for 45 minutes. The pork should be deep golden brown in color and very aromatic. Mix the lemon juice with the oil and pour over the browned pork leg. Turn the oven down to 225°F and continue to roast for about 12 hours. Baste with the pan juices every few hours, if you like, or just leave it to cook. In the morning I usually baste the pork a few times. Check the pork frequently after 11 hours; the meat should fall off the bone and the skin should be a deep golden brown. Reserve 1 cup of the pan juices for the vinaigrette for the Fresh Pea and Fennel Salad, if you'd like.
To serve, remove the crackling skin and then pull the meat with a fork into long pieces. Drizzle the pork with the remaining pan juices, or serve the jus on the side. Serve the crackling skin, cracking it into pieces if you wish, as a garnish with the pork (some think it is the best part).