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How long did it take for me to get the perfect crackling on a loin of pork?

Thirty-one years.

I tried everything.

The secret to excellent crackling follows, but let us also look at the basics of buying a pork loin rib for roasting.

This is probably more pertinent to readers living in the UK and possibly a few Commonwealth countries than elsewhere. I’d never encountered crackling until I moved here.

You will need two roasting tins, coarse salt and sturdy kitchen scissors.

At the butcher’s

Ask your butcher for a loin of pork that has a good rim of fat on it.

He will produce a large rib from which he will cut your roasting joint. He will also ask how many ribs you would like.

A seven-rib joint will serve 14-16 people comfortably. We like leftovers, so we had roast dinner for four nights running and sandwiches on two other nights. A roast pork sandwich with butter and mayonnaise is Proustian to me. It also works well with pickle.

In 2022, a seven-rib joint costs between £34 and £36.

Ask the butcher to chine the joint (for easier carving) and to score the skin.

Crackling — and roast — preparation

At home, an hour or two before cooking anything, boil a large pan or roasting tin of water for the crackling. Either vessel should be half full of water.

Meanwhile, remove the crackling portion by carefully cutting the skin with as thick a layer of fat as you can from the roasting joint. Set it aside on a board or a plate.

Make sure you leave a thin bit of fat covering the meat on the joint. Season the joint well with salt and pepper and set it aside on a cutting board or platter.

When the pan or roasting tin of water is up to a rapid boil, carefully drop the skin into it and cook it for five to ten minutes. Reverse the skin and cook on the other side — the fatty one — for five minutes.

I learned about the boiling technique on a television show from a French chef who said that his mother always prepared crackling that way. Gordon Ramsay uses the same method.

It works.

Remove the crackling portion from the boiling water and place it on a plate. When it has cooled, carefully pat it dry with kitchen towel and put it on a dry plate. Refrigerate it for one to two hours.

Roasting the crackling

The chilled crackling should go into the oven 20 minutes before the meat. It will take about two to two-and-a-quarter hours to roast.

Method:

1/ Preheat the oven to 200°C (395°F).

2/ You will need a smaller roasting tin and coarse salt, which is a must.

3/ Rub coarse salt all over both sides of the crackling, including between the crevices of the skin. Make sure you adhere to good hand and food hygiene as you don’t want to contaminate your salt container with raw pork bacteria.

4/ Place the crackling in the roasting tin and put it on the top shelf of the oven. Roast for 20 minutes.

5/ When you are ready to roast the meat (see below), move the crackling to the lower shelf and reduce the heat to 180°C (350°F).

6/ After an hour, remove the crackling, pour any excess fat into a mixing jug and return the crackling to the lower shelf to continue roasting.

7/ After another hour, remove the crackling tray from the oven and strain the remaining excess fat into the jug. (Once the fat has cooled, pour it into a clean jar with a lid, refrigerate and use for pan frying fish or roasting it in the oven — a great substitute for deep frying.)

8/ After two hours, your crackling is done if you can cut it easily with kitchen scissors. If it does not cut easily, return it to the lower shelf for another 15 to 20 minutes.

9/ When the crackling is done, remove the pan from the oven and set it on a board to cool. Once cooled, cut it into large strips with kitchen scissors.

Roasting and carving the meat

Roasting the meat is straightforward.

Method:

1/ Put the seasoned joint of seven ribs (see above) on the top shelf of a 180°C (350°F) oven for one hour and 45 minutes.

2/ When done, remove the roast to a carving tray and let it cool for 30 to 45 minutes.

3/ When it has sufficiently cooled, begin carving the meat. Carefully remove the rib bones and place them in a large saucepan so that you can make stock. Fill the saucepan with water and place on the stovetop on medium heat for two hours. The stock should reduce by half. Season the stock with salt and pepper. Leave to cool for a few hours before decanting and refrigerating for later use. (I use large mayonnaise jars or litre-sized soft drinks containers. They do need lids or bottletops.)

4/ When you are left with just the meat, carve it into thin slices. These photos show what the slices should look like.

Sauce

While the meat is cooling, make a sauce, or gravy, to accompany the meat. I use a combination of Port and 1/2 to 3/4 cup of any meat or vegetable stock I’ve made previously.

This takes about 20 minutes.

Method:

1/ Heat the empty roasting tin on the stovetop, placing 50g (2oz) of butter and 50g (2oz) of flour in it to cook until bubbly. This is the beginning of a roux.

2/ Once the butter and flour are bubbly, have a whisk ready. Add a good splash of Port and whisk until the roux and the wine come together in a thick mass.

3/ Slowly add meat or vegetable stock a little at a time, whisking between each addition until smooth. The sauce will gradually get thinner until it resembles jus, a lightly-textured gravy.

4/ When the sauce is ready, add the meat to the sauce in the pan and gently warm it through over low heat. Increase the heat to medium or medium-high two or three minutes before serving so that everything is hot.

Serving

Place the meat covered in sauce with a piece of crackling on the side of the plate.

Wrap any leftover crackling in aluminium foil and refrigerate it. Reheat it on the foil the next day at 180°C (350°F) for five minutes.

I have prepared crackling this way for a year, and it is the best yet.

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