There are bold things to eat. And then there are forbidden edible pleasures. Pork crackling comes under this heading.
No doubt the food police would not approve, but hey, some things taste so good that you keep wanting to go back for more. There is one thing about pork crackling; it happens to be difficult to cook and to get right time after time. In fact, some people find it impossible to cook, and indeed I have had my own ups and downs.
Right now though, I have become a bit cocky because I have cracked the code for pork crackling. I did not do this by myself. I delved into a huge amount of cookbooks, studied and analysed different techniques and then tried out the different methods on many pieces of pork. Finally, I got my crackling.
Next to roast potatoes, getting the crackling right on a roast of pork has to be one of the most asked about and commented cooking topics I know.
Everyone has, or knows, a different method. Or they know someone that has a killer method to get it just right.
I use a flattened square of pork belly. It is the easiest to roast, and it cooks the most evenly, allowing the skin to crisp up in an equal fashion.
So here is what I do. Now plenty of you out there would have your own tried and tested recipes, and I’d like to hear them, but for a moment, here’s mine.
Firstly, open a good bottle of Merlot and have a glass. This always enhances the preparation and cooking time.
Also, the smell of roasting pork wafting through the house will put family and friends into a good mood, which will be enhanced by sipping on a nice glass of red wine.
So here goes.
1. Buy a good piece of pork, with enough fat under skin to heat up and make the skin “crackle”.
2. Wrap your piece of pork in a clean tea cloth and put into the fridge. This ‘calms’ the pork down, chills it and allows it to breathe, letting excess moisture escape.
3. Remove from the fridge and score the skin with a sharp knife. I use a Stanley knife to get the depth of the cut just right. Too deep and you’ll cut the meat, allowing juices to escape during cooking. If you get it just right the cut will allow the fat underneath to bubble up and baste the top during cooking. The cuts should be a finger width apart.
I score in long length-ways strips. I know some people do it in a diamond pattern. Length-ways strips are better as you can cut the pork into manageable strips afterwards.
3. Rub salt in.I use Malden sea salt, as the crystals crunch and break up in the right way. This is an important bit, as apparently it helps control the moisture extraction during cooking.
You really need to do this vigorously, or as Fanny Craddock used to say, “as if into the face of your worst enemy”. I think we get the picture now.
4. Blow dry the pork skin, using a hair dryer. Sounds a bit mad? You do want this crackling don’t you? Pull the curtains if you are worried what the neighbours might think.
5. Wrap in a clean dry tea towel once again. and place in the fridge. More moisture wicking will occur. As I reckon you’ll have gathered, the enemy of good crackling is excess moisture in the skin.
6. Remove from the fridge after 30 minutes. Have the oven preheated to 220 degrees.
7. Place on an oven tray or in a roasting tin, and put in the oven.
8. Reduce temperature after 15 minutes to 180 degrees and remove from oven after 40 minutes.
9. Disaster check. If the pork is cooked through and your crackling is not done properly just place the meat under a grill and give it a few minutes, making sure it does not burn. You can also cut the whole skin off and give it an extra 15 minutes in the top oven.