Cripes. Make that “Roast pork with award-winning crackling”. A few years after I wrote the post below, the recipe ended up being tested on the Guardian’s Word of Mouth blog, where it beat the competition hollow. This would be unremarkable it that competition hadn’t been Hugh F-W, Delia, Prue Leith, Good Housekeeping and Simon Hopkinson. Get to it with that hairdryer.
These days, it can be hard to find meat that hasn’t been treated in processing with water and glucose to make it moister and heavier. Even when your joint of pork is free from these additives, it can be difficult to treat it in a way that results in roast pork with a popcorn-crisp, crackling skin. When you do manage it, puffed, salty crackling is a delectable thing of wonder. The technique has a lot to do with using varied cooking temperatures, and absolutely everything to do with making sure the skin is prepared properly before it even gets anywhere near the oven.
Modern joints are harder to raise a crackling skin from than the joints I remember from when I was a little girl. This has a lot to do with consumer demand for extra-lean, muscly meat, which just doesn’t have enough fat to make the magic happen. Look for a joint with plenty of fat under the skin. This is a 2kg rolled loin: enough to serve six people with plenty for sandwiches later. Although convenient, rolled joints are also hard to make crackle, especially where the skin meets the roasting tin. Don’t despair, though; you can still make it work with a bit of preparation.
The day before you eat, the skin of your pork must be dried thoroughly with paper kitchen towels, and scored well. Even if your butcher has already scored it, you will probably benefit from making sure the scoring is fine and regular, so you will want to add your own cuts to the skin. Use a craft knife on the cold skin of the meat (this is easiest when the skin and fat are cold and firm), scoring it in lines about half a centimetre apart. When the joint cooks, the fat will melt and bubble through those lines, crisping the skin it touches. Rub salt into the skin, as if the pork were somebody you are particularly fond of who is demanding a lovely exfoliating massage.
Now prepare to look slightly unbalanced in front of any visitors, and take a hairdryer to the skin of the meat until it’s absolutely bone dry. Wrap your joint in a teatowel and refrigerate it overnight. (The atmosphere in your fridge is extremely dry, and this will help any more moisture to evaporate.)
On the day you cook it, rub some more salt into the skin, making sure it gets through the cracks where you scored it and into the fat. Put a bed of onions at the bottom of a metal roasting dish and rest the pork on top of it. Heat up a large knob of good pork dripping or goose fat (use goose fat in preference to one of those white blocks of lard) over a high flame in a small saucepan and pour the searing hot fat over the skin, then put the roasting tin in the oven at a very hot 220°C. After quarter of an hour, lower the heat to 180°C and cook the joint for two hours, basting every 20 minutes. Finally, turn the heat back up again for a final quarter of an hour – this should cause your minutely prepared skin to puff up and crackle deliciously. (Keep an eye on it and leave it in for a few minutes longer if necessary.)
Every family has its own gravy method, just like Tolstoy said. (Mr Weasel tells me that this is not what Tolstoy said at all. Pshaw. It’s what he should have said.) While you rest the joint for ten minutes in a warm place, make gravy to your family recipe. Remove the carapace of crackling, carve the meat and divide the splintering crackling between the plates. Serve with Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, green vegetables and apple sauce. Hooray for the old days.