Pork crackling is a winner, isn’t it? As one of three siblings, there’d be full-on conflict over the dinner table for my mum’s crispy crackling. Proper teeth-breakers they were but we’d fight and squabble over which end of the table the bowl was placed so we could each grab a bit before our dad got his hands on it!
Even devout veggies get a bit twitchy around a bowl of proper homemade crackling. I know this coz an old friend (and vegetarian of 17 years) felt her resolve waiver slightly when I posted a photo of my hot, glistening crackling on the Le Livre de Visage recently.
I’ve tried many recipes for perfect crackling over the years. Delia’s and Jamie Oliver’s are particularly good. Oliver’s is slow roasted for four or five hours. A lot of effort but well worth it. Delia’s is a no-nonsense, traditional roast. Clear instructions. Does what it says on the tin and all that. Both give good crunch. My own method is probably a bit of a mash-up of all the tips I’ve picked up from all over the place.
First thing’s first and preparation is key. If you shop with your local butcher, ask him to score the skin all over for you. Ideally, you want the meat to be thoroughly defrosted and preferably at room temperature before cooking. Pat it all over with kitchen paper so it’s really dry. Usually I don’t use salt in my cooking, particularly when cooking for babies, but for good crackling salt is essential and plenty of it. Season the fat really well, then rub oil all over it. Sit it on top of a load of onions or your carrot peelings in a not-too-deep roasting tin.
Ask the butcher for the exact weight of the joint before he bags it up. My joint was so big it overloaded my digital scales at home! All supermarket pre-packed meat has the weight printed on the pack these days and a lot also have the cooking time already worked out too, which is handy.
The general principle of good crackling is to go really, really hot; then a lower temperature, then really hot again at the end. Times vary but blast the joint for at least 20 minutes at 220˚C. At this point you want to drain off the fat and keep it for your spuds. Then reduce the heat for the main part of the cooking time. Delia suggests 45 minutes per 1lb/450g at 180˚C. I much prefer to slow roast it for three or four hours at 130˚C, with a good splosh of water in the bottom of the tin. Put your par-boiled spuds in for the last 45 minutes or an hour.
When your meat is done and you can’t bear the suspense (or the beautiful smells) any longer, take it out of the oven and crank the heat right up. Very carefully, ideally without giving yourself severe burns, snip all the strings with a good, solid pair of kitchen scissors and remove. The crackling should lift away from the top fairly easily. Put your meat aside to rest and use the same scissors to cut up the crackling into bite-sized chunks. Spread it out on a little tray and return to the oven while you carve up the meat and dish up all your side dishes. By the time everything else is ready, you should have perfect sizzling crackling.
And, because you are so excellent, you get to bagsy the end bit of the joint. Huzzah!