When I was a kid, both of my parents had the unerring ability to produce perfect crackling on a roast of pork. It was delightfully crunchy and crisp on the surface, with a terrifically toothsome chewiness beneath, and the soft, unctuous layer of fat underlying it all was incredibly sweet and salty at the same time.
Sadly, the ability does not appear to get passed down genetically for I have tried for years to produce the same results with only poor to middling success. I have, I must confess, only, been able, thus far, to achieve the right degree of crispiness in a small portion of the skin, while leaving the rest either burned, or else woefully flabby and underdone. The failure has been a sticking point with me since my earliest attempts in the kitchen.
The other day, I picked up a lovely roast complete with rind (something that only rarely appears in these parts) and I decided that it was time to solve this problem for good. After many hours of searching through dozens upon dozens of recipes on the subject (no two of which seemed to be alike) I managed to synthesize a procedure from all that information that finally seemed to work. I was so amazed, not to mention thrilled with the result that I had to share it with you here…
Here is the roast I purchased. It is a nice cut, although I would have preferred one that was a little wider and not quite so tall and narrow.
As per almost every recipe, and the way I have always done things myself, I used a sharp knife to score the skin in narrow strips, cutting into the fat but not the flesh beneath. The next step, being one I use with certain Chinese poultry dishes, was suggested in a few recipes I came across and consists of pouring boiling water over the skin to make it tighten. I used about two cups of water, mixed with a little sugar (as per one suggestion), and you can see how the cuts in the skin open up and the way that the meat gets a little blanched on the surface.
Afterwards, I rubbed the skin with coarse salt (about a tablespoon or so), making sure that some of the salt was worked into the fat between the cuts. I have always sprinkled pork skin with fat prior to roasting but never rubbed it in quite so vigorously, nor used as much.
The next step, and one I think is critical to the whole operation, was to dry the skin by leaving the joint uncovered in the fridge over night. Many recipes I read made a point of saying that the skin should be completely dry before cooking (one actually suggested using a hair dryer) but the overnight in the fridge really seemed to do the trick very nicely.
The next day I took the roast out a good hour before cooking to allow it to come to room temperature. Next, I rubbed the rind with vegetable oil, getting some into the crevices, and repeated the salt rub a second time. I seated the joint on a bed of apple slices (with some wedges along the sides to provide stability) and sprinkled the exposed flesh with a little garlic salt and pepper.
There are as many different procedures suggested for roasting as there are recipes but what worked for me was to pre-heat the oven to 475 degrees and the pop in the roast for 30 minutes. I initially planned to go for 20 minutes but, after checking, the skin didn’t seem to be cooking fast enough and I was afraid I was going to have another failure. Just another 10 minutes, however, and I could see some nice bubbling and crisping happening and I turned the heat down to 425 for the rest of the roasting. For this joint, which weighed about 3 pounds, another hour was enough to raise the internal temperature to 160 degrees and it was ready to serve.
Well…. You can see the beautiful color and texture of the crackling in the first picture and I have to say, in all modesty, that the result was terrific. It was a bit of a struggle not to eat all the crackling with supper that first night but I exercised restraint and saved a good bit of it still attached to the remaining meat for a little idea I have in mind for another dish…