One of the things that sets a pork roast apart from any other type of roasted meat is the glorious, crispy crackling created by baking the pork in a hot oven in a manner that causes the skin to become golden and crisp, but there is a lot of contention about the best way to create this deliciously crunchy culinary delight.
I attended a pork crackling masterclass at Restaurant Atelier in Glebe hosted by the wonderful chef Darren Templeman in an attempt to answer that question. Darren showed us not one but three variations on pork crackling. It was great being in the kitchen of a restaurant having a chef guide us on some of the finer points of crackling preparation, not to mention some of the tasty treats we got to try along the way.
But before we get into the methodology of crackling, please indulge me by allowing me to share with you this little bit of crackling history. It comes from Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management which became the authoritative book on how to run a household in Victorian England, soon after it was published in 1861. In the book, Mrs Beeton writes:
“Charles Lamb, in his delightfully quaint prose sketches, written under the title of the Essays of Elia, has devoted one paper to the subject of Roast Pig, describing his own inimitable, quiet, humorous manner how the toothsome dainty known as crackling first became known to the world.
According to this authority, man in the golden – or, at all events, the primitive – age, ate his pork and bacon raw, as indeed he ate his beef and mutton. At the epoch of the story, a citizen of some Scythian community had the misfortune to have his hut, containing his live stock of pigs, burnt down. In going over the debris to pork out the available salvage, the proprietor touched something very hot, which caused him to put his suffering fingers in his mouth.
The act was simple, but the result was wonderful. He rolled his eyes in ecstasy and conscious of an unwonted and celestial odour, with distended nostrils, and drawing in deep inspiration of the ravishing perfume, he sucked his fingers again and again. Clearing away the rubbish of his ruined hut, there was disclosed to his view one of his pigs roasted to death. Stooping down to examine it, and touching its body, a fragment of the burnt skin became detached, and in a spirit of philosophical inquiry the man put it into his mouth. No pen can describe the felicity he then enjoyed – it was then that he – the world – first tasted crackling.
For a time the Scythian carefully kept his secret, and feasted in secret upon his newly found luxury. When the pig was at last eaten up, the poor man fell into a deep melancholy, refused his accustomed food, lost his appetite, and became reduced to a shadow. Unable to endure the torments of memory from which he suffered hourly, he rose up one night and secretly set fire to his hut, and once more was restored to health and spirits. Finding it impossible to live in future without his newly discovered delicacy, every time his larder became empty he set fire to his house, until his neighbours becoming scandalized by these incendiary acts, brought his conduct before the supreme council of the nation.
To avert the penalty threatened him, he brought his judges to the smouldering ruins, and discovering his secret, he invites them to eat! With tears of gratitude the august synod embraced him, and with an overflowing feeling of ecstasy dedicated a statue to the memory of the man who first instituted roast pork.”
I don’t know how much of this story is true, but the idea of pork crackling being discovered as the result of some misfortune would certainly be an incredibly large silver lining on the tiniest wisp of a cloud.
The first method Darren shared with us was how to make crackling for roast pork. Kitchens around the world abound with different methods for making crackling for roast pork. Most involve scoring the skin, almost all involve oil and salt, and some even boiling water. Darren’s method involves curing the pork rind overnight with a mixture of salt, pepper and spices, removing the spice mixture then spraying with a thin film of canola oil (Olive oil burns too quickly at high temperatures.) The pork was roasted for 15 mins at 220 degrees Celsius before being lowered to 180 degrees for the remaining hour and 45 minutes. This method produced a completely even layer of crispy crackling with no soft patches.
Two other methods were demonstrated, one a method involving dehydrating the rind then deep frying which created golden pillows of deliciously soft crackling. The other was for a confit pork belly with crispy skin that just melted in the mouth.
We finished off with a convivial feast of slow roasted pork shoulder than Darren had cooked overnight. The pork used in the demonstrations and the meal was Esk Free Range Pork from Urban Food Market, and the quality of the meat really shone through in the finished product. At the end of the day, we were given some pork to take home so we could test what we had learned for ourselves.
I can tell you, the lessons learned in the kitchen at Atelier will impressive even the toughest crackling critics.
Pork Crackling masterclasses and other classes are organised by Karen Lateo who can be contacted on Twitter at @VanityFare1. If you would like to attend a class, tweet her for more information.
22 Glebe Point Rd
Glebe NSW 2037