Citizens – I am currently visiting the Ivory Towers of Cambridge University in the UK, whose distinguished colleges date back to the year 1209. 🙂
In celebration of this most English of towns, I decided to post my version of one of the most iconic British recipes – roast pork with crackling!
Crackling refers to the skin, which is incredibly crisp – it is in theory a simple dish to make, but there are so MANY parameters needed to guarantee that awe-inspiring skin!
For one thing, there are several possible cuts of pork that can be used for this dish – all with skin on, of course. Some use loin, or shoulder – I go for the ultimate with the belly, which is where bacon comes from. It’s that combination of super-crisp skin combined with fatty, melting meat that makes this so good!
Second, try and use an heirloom pork belly if you can get it – Berkshire (aka Kurobota) is the pig that was actually used originally for this dish, and is becoming more common and available. It’s light years more flavorful than the lean and dry pig meat we are sadly foisted with in most markets.
To achieve super-crispy skin, the meat and skin must be bone-dry. I use a combination of kitchen towels, air-drying and a blow-dryer (!) to make this happen. Trust me, it’s worth the slightly ridiculous process! I also pour smoking-hot fat over the skin to open up the slits in the skin (which helps the fat render out) and get the crackling nicely browned during its initial blasting in the oven.
I differ from tradition slightly with my use of not just the classic salt/pepper/fennel trio by adding in a touch of cumin and ajwain (an Indian spice that tastes like a combination of thyme and oregano). Ajwain can be easily purchased on Amazon here – it is not only delicious but according to Indian Ayurvedic medicine, it helps with the digestion of fat. If you prefer not to use these spices, omit them and increase the salt/pepper accordingly, but the flavor complexity they add is truly worth it.
Another non-traditional but very helpful step I use is a quick bath of cider vinegar after the first roasting period. This is an old Southwestern French trick for helping skin puff up and crisp during roasting – it also adds a great tang to the meat and sauce.
I further amp up the flavor quotient by putting slivered garlic and sage into the slits in the skin – this is non-standard but really adds a lot to the final result! Skip it if you’re not in the mood to do so.
Served with roasted apples and shallots plus mashed potatoes, greens and apple sauce, this is truly a dish to remember!
Without further ado – here is my recipe!
Battle on – The Generalissimo
4 lb belly of pork – skin on and boneless, have the butcher score the rind every ½” or so
1 tablespoon Maldon Sea Salt
For salt/spice mix:
2 tablespoons Maldon sea salt
1 tablespoon pepper, freshly ground
½ tbsp. fennel seeds, freshly ground
½ tbsp. Ajwain seeds, freshly ground (optional but recommended)
1 tsp. cumin seeds, freshly ground (optional but recommended)
5 tablespoons duck or goose fat (preferred), butter or vegetable oil
6 sage leaves, cut into thin strips (optional)
8 garlic cloves, slivered (optional)
6 fresh sage leaves, whole
7 garlic cloves, peeled and whole
3 bay leaves
2 tbp fresh thyme leaves
3 ounces of streaky bacon
12 shallots, trimmed and peeled
4 small apples, with a ½” deep cut around the equator – this will stop them bursting and losing their shape when roasted.
5 tablespoons cider vinegar
14 ounces of apple cider
First, dry that meat off thoroughly with kitchen towels and then use a blow dryer – YES, a blow dryer! – and further dry the meat for about 10 minutes. It must be bone-dry!
Rub 1 tbsp. salt thoroughly onto the skin and into the slits.
Leave uncovered in the fridge overnight.
The next day, pre-heat the oven to 425ºF.
Dry the pork with a kitchen towel and put the pork on a large plate. Insert the slivered sage leaves and garlic into the skin cuts.
Heat the duck/goose fat, butter or oil to VERY hot and then pour it over the skin, then season the skin and meat with the salt/pepper/spice mix once its cooled down. Massage the salt mix into the meat and between the cuts on the skin.
Line the bottom of a baking tray/ Dutch oven (ideally just big enough for the pork) with the sage, garlic, bay leaves, bacon, peeled shallots and apples. Sprinkle with the chopped thyme. Pour the cider over the shallots and apples and then place the pork on top of the apples/shallots mixture, using it as a trivet.
Sit on a wire rack and roast at 425 degrees for 15 mins. After this time, pour vinegar over the skin (this is an old French trick to puff up the skin) and turn the heat down to 350 degrees.
Roast for a further 2 hrs. Finally, turn the heat back up to 425 and give it a final heating for another 15 mins or so, to finish the crackling – watch it closely and give it a few more minutes if it needs it.
Remove the pork from the roasting pan and allow to rest for 15 minutes in a warm place before serving. While it rests, strain the juices from the pot and pour through a gravy separator to remove the fat from the liquid. Put the liquid into a saucepan, heat on high and reduce to a good consistency. Add some cornstarch mixed with cider if it needs thickening.
Serve slices of the pork, with an apple and some shallots over mashed potatoes. Drizzle the gravy and bacon over the top. You can also serve with steamed greens and applesauce in addition to the mashed potatoes if you’re so inclined.