Cook that Pig… perfect crackle and succulent meat

I am possessed by the porcine spirit.

I love pork, I fell in love with it as a kid, the delicious smells of roasting pork or grilled pork chops as my mother cooked dinner. I was even persuaded at a very early stage if my life, that pan fried pork chops with an apple or two a splash of calvados a bit of fresh sage and a slurp of cream, was delicious and of course, it is.

Pork was bordering on being a festive meat when I was young, eaten as the Sunday roast in some more affluent households and in many cases, as a Xmas joint for those who could not afford or obtain chicken. Dad did a lot of the slaughtering in the family butchering business, I often wonder if it was because Dad was a softy and Pop seemed to favour his sons of the more pushy bent. But that’s a story for another time. Pigs were slaughtered by shooting and the deed was done in the outdoors in fact in a loading pen, the pen had a floor that was made from bluestone and was irregular. The way they did this was to herd the hapless beast into the pen and while someone (usually my father) would sort of push the pig in the general direction of the gun, enabling his older brother to get a good shot.

My uncle, considered the best shot in the family was standing on the other side of the fence of the pen with a loaded rifle and it was his job to shoot the pig using as few bullets as possible. His shooting was at best passable, and, depending on his mental state, occasionally with a dose of the day after the night before, quite bad. My father had become used to the fact that the bullets would ricochet off the bluestones and bounce in all directions. He danced about dodging them and waiting for the pig to fall and gave a loud shout to stop my uncle from continuing to shoot. It was a terrifying thing to witness and yet, the pig would always be felled with a single bullet to the head, how this miracle occurred was beyond my reckoning.

In recent times, and who can say what possessed them, I was a judge for the food section of the Whittlesea show, part of the deal was a lunch catered by the good folk of the show committee and to that end, a damn fine porker was slaughtered and butchered and then roasted… I could have made a complete fool of myself and eaten plate after plate of the delicious meat and crackle. I did behave, but the point is that great pork is available, indeed should be available on a constant basis and not be something that one has to search for and spend more time in the traffic than is decently needed in today’s overcrowded city streets.

Crackle to my mother or indeed to the cooks of the era was not it seems of any great consequence and my mother never failed to turn out a fine crackling, succulent meat and a delicious gravy. Crackle today seems to bring on a huge debate with as many people having different concepts on how to get great crackle as there is pork bellies to roast.

The following is a synopsis of the available techniques…

1. The dry the skin and salt it method.

2. The pour boiling water over the skin and then dry and salt it method.

2(a) The above method, but then dried with a hairdryer method.

3. The rub it with oil, then salt it method.

3(a) The above, but then add herbs and marinade for a period method.

4. The rub it with vinegar and salt method.

5. The Delia Smith method.

6. The Salt, blow dried and salt again, anoint with hot fat method.

7. The Chinese Master Stock method.

The general consensus is that the skin MUST be dry and so the oil method (no matter that it be Extra Virgin Olive Oil) is generally discredited and from my own experience, does not produce the best crackle. However, that said it can produce a great tasting meat specially if its cooked over onion and/or route vegetables,  see


I have used this method and cooked it under foil. I have also used another method and that is to steam or even boil the (pork belly is best for this method) using Asian flavours such as star anise, ginger and garlic and in the case of boiling, a great Chinese Master Stock.

Chinese Master Stock Recipe

6 L Water

3 Cloves Garlic Sliced

1 knob Ginger sliced

1 small handful shallot ends

1 stick cassia bark

2 star anise

375 ml light Soy sauce

375 ml Shoaxing wine (Chinese cooking wine)

75 g Chinese rock sugar

Place all together in a large flatter rather than tall round pot and bring to a boil.

This stock can be used for many things… soup, poaching etc.  It may also be frozen for future use.

The boiling method needs to be watched as the pork can become over cooked. It is also essential to make sure that the meat is well dried after the cooking and then placed into a very hot even to make the crackling. This is a delicious way that will produce a guaranteed flavorsome meat that is tender and delicious.

The Dry Skin Method….

This is used best with larger pieces of meat such as legs, shoulder and loin, it requires that the skin be well scored… this means that the scoring cuts should be in .5 cm gaps and that the scoring should not go through to the meat below as it will cause the meat juices to rise and the wetness will spoil the crackle. This is best done using a very hot even. So, having scored the meat as per instruction, rub it well with salt (I am told that Kosher salt is very good) and make sure that the meat is very dry and the salt well distributed. Preheat your oven to its hottest setting (220-240 Celsius) and place the meat into the oven and cook for 20 to 30 minutes at that temperature until the crackled has started to bubble and brown. Turn the oven down to 160 Celsius and cook for the required time, I like a long slow cook.

The Pour The Boiling Water Over – Then Rub Method…

This method is the same as the above except that before the pork is rubbed with salt, but after it has been scored, it is given a bath of boiling water (2 kettle full’s is considered about right) and then dried very well. The theory is that the boiling water will help the skin to ‘tighten’. The same or a similar method is used for ducks. Then proceed as above.

The almost the above method, but use a hair dryer to dry the pork before cooking method.

The Rub It With Oil And Salt Method…

This is the favored method of the Mediterranean regions, the end result is a tighter, less crackly skin, but one that is full of flavor. The method is to score the meat, then rub with a cooking olive oil and then with salt (I like to incorporate some crushed garlic, fennel seed and even some thyme leaves into the salt) Now there can be a divergence of opinions… some cook it in a hot oven at a high temperature and when crackled, cover with a piece of foil and allow to cook for the desired time at a lower temperature. The second is to cover the oil, rubbed meat in foil and cook in a slow oven until the meat is done, then remove the foil, pat the top of the roast with a kitchen towel and then return to the oven and cook on a high temperature until the crackling is indeed crackled.


This is the Italian Method which involves the same sort of treatment, but has more flavour enhancing and a longer marinating time

The Rub It With Vinegar And Then Salt Method…

This is the method that is favoured by some members of my own family, it is thought to produce the best crackle of all time, it seems to be dependant on the vinegar having a drying effect and the salt being left on the dried skin, it is not a method that has a great following.

The one which seemed to have satisfied most people in a recent UK poll, was the score (properly) then salt, dry off with a hair dryer, salt again, place in a roasting pan and pour over some very hot fat (duck fat seems to be the fat of choice) and then roast in a hot oven and turn down for a longer leisurely ride home to a perfect piece of pork.

The Delia Smith Method is as follows…

Here is how our friends across the ditch cook their pork and since I have become a bit of a fan of New Zealand cooking, its worth a look

The Chinese and indeed many other Asian countries have been eating pork for centuries and have learned just how to make the most of this delicious meat, for those of you who wish  to, this is the method for making Roast Pork (the kind you see hanging in Chinese food shops)’

OK, so I am manifesting a further example of my obsession, but what is life without food and eating and I urge you all to try some of these delicious pork roasts. I would also urge on you to not be completely sucked in with the Belly Pork cut, it lived in obscurity for many years and when the fancy chefs of this country decide that there are other cuts of pork. I am delighted to report that it is now possible on a visit to Castlemaine (Victorian Goldfields area) to enjoy suckling pig at The Good Table. Well worth a try.

~ by peterwatson on September 16, 2011.

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