One of the very best things in the world to eat is excellent pork crackling. From proper pork scratchings eaten in dark pubs, placed wordlessly by my dad on the dark, sticky table between us to the smooth, glassy glossy skin on a posh porchetta, I am powerless to resist. I would never turn down a piece of crackling, but the stuff that sits on a classic roast is my favourite, golden and blistered on top, the fat underneath rendered and soft, the confluence of great texture and flavour.
But by the same token, one of the greatest culinary disappointments possible is flat, flabby chewy crackling: something which promises so much and delivers so little. Crackling which simply doesn’t crackle.
It’s easy to avoid, which makes it all the sadder when it happens. Scoring the skin so that the fat can render out will help; I do this with a stanley knife, but your butcher is your friend here, and will do it for you if you ask nicely. The drier the skin before it’s cooked, the better: I salt mine a couple of hours before cooking, leave it uncovered in the fridge, then wipe off the salt and any liquid that’s leached from the skin, before re-salting and cooking it super hot. The heat, the dabbing and the salt will all work together to prevent the skin being waterlogged, which is the usual cause of soggy crackling (soggling?).
The key to a good roasted joint of pork is the combination of a short, really hot roast, and a longer, lower, slower roast. This will ensure that you get beautiful, blistered crackling that shatters as you bite into it, while the meat below remains moist and tender beneath. You can do the hot bit at the beginning or end of the cooking, and I switch depending on what else is going on my oven at the time (do I need to roast potatoes at a high temperature towards the end of the pork’s cooking time, or would I rather the oven stayed low for a custardy pudding?). Here I’ve done it at the beginning, but don’t be afraid to swap the timings.
A loin is a great choice for roast pork and proper crackling: tied tightly at intervals (you can ask your butcher to do this too if you’re not confident with your knots), a long pork loin will serve up to 8 people handsomely – and its shape makes it easier to cook evenly than other joints.
This really is cooking at its simplest: nothing needed beyond a good piece of meat, some salt, and time. As with any roast, you can make this as complicated or as straight forward as you like.
When the weather is cold and gloomy, it’s hard to see past the classic roasted potatoes, veg and gravy, but there are other options. Be inspired by porchetta accompaniments and plump for great focaccia and crisp, cold salads: shaved fennel and orange segments, thinly sliced rounds of beetroot and green apple, or just a big bowl of well-dressed mustardy leaves. If you’re feeling autumnal, core and quarter eating apples (you can peel them, but you needn’t), and throw them in with the pork when it has an hour of its cooking time still to go. The fruit will be soft and sweet-sharp by the time the pork is ready, and the perfect accompaniment.
Leftovers will make great sandwiches (try it with bramley apples cooked down into a sauce, and any leftover stuffing), or add to soupy noodles to turn a simple bowl into something really special.
Roast pork loin
Makes: Serves 6-8
Takes: 10 minutes
Bakes: 3 hours
2kg pork loin, tied at intervals
Coarse sea salt
- Two hours before cooking, pat the loin dry with kitchen paper. If you’re scoring the skin yourself, you need a short, sharp knife; cut through the skin, and about half way through the depth of the fat, without cutting into the skin. Do this all the way along the skin, in parallel slashes. Sprinkle the skin generously with coarse salt, and return to the fridge uncovered.
- Shortly before you’re ready to cook, preheat the oven to 240°C. Wipe off the coarse salt and pat dry any liquid that has leached from the meat; place the loin of pork in a snug roasting tray, skin-side up and sprinkle with fresh coarse salt. Roast for 25 minutes until the skin is puffed and blistered.
- Reduce the heat to 160°C and roast for a further 2 hours. If you’re using a different sized piece of pork, you can use this roast calculator to make sure you’re cooking at the right temperature for the right length of time.
- Remove from the oven, lightly tent with foil and leave to rest for 30 minutes. Carve into thick, juicy rounds, and serve with accompaniments of your choice.