* This is an extract from Pig, by Johnnie Mountain. Published by Duncan Baird Publishers (London) and available through Simon & Schuster in Australia.
You may feel that a roast needs lots of care and attention and, therefore, should only be cooked for Sunday lunch, but in reality a roast loin of pork is one of the easiest things to cook and pretty much looks after itself in the oven. This is thanks to a combination of a lean eye of meat surrounded by a moderate amount of fat. The fat melts away during roasting to keep the meat moist and gives a crisp outer rind or crackling. A small joint can easily be cooked for a midweek dinner, or a large joint, perhaps a rack of pork on the bone for dramatic effect, can be served for a special occasion.
The basic principle of roasting a loin of pork with perfect crackling is that the joint is given an initial blast in a very hot oven to heat and blister the skin, setting it on its way to golden crispness. The oven temperature is then turned down to allow the meat to cook more gently. Pork doesn't need to be roasted for a long period of time, in fact it can be served slightly pink and is juicier and better for it.
The crowning glory of roast pork is the crisp crackling, the part that people fight over! To create perfect crackling is fairly straightforward, and a little touch of TLC before cooking will avoid a flabby rind. Moisture is the main enemy, as the pork skin will steam rather than crisp. If you do have the time, then leave the joint of pork in an uncovered dish in the bottom of the fridge for a day, making sure that the raw meat does not come into contact with anything else. Alternatively, use kitchen paper to thoroughly pat the skin dry, or you could even give it a little blow dry with a hairdryer on a cold setting!
Next, make sure that the skin has been properly scored (if you have a butcher, ask him or her to do this for you). Although supermarkets tend to sell pork joints with the skin already scored, it usually isn't cut deeply enough to get really great crackling. If preparing the skin yourself, use a sharp, thin blade, such as a Stanley knife or craft knife, to make long cuts into the rind; only cut into the fat and not the flesh. Make sure the cuts run parallel to each other and are spaced 3–5mm apart. Scoring will give space for the fat to bubble up, basting the skin and meat. Just before cooking, rub in a little flavourless vegetable oil and season generously with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. The oil will help the salt to stick to the skin and the salt will draw out any moisture still on the surface; any excess salt can always be brushed off after cooking.
After the pork is roasted and during resting, the skin can be removed and given a final blast in the oven or under a hot grill to ensure it is properly crisp.
Roast Pork Loin
900g boneless loin of pork roasting joint, with skin, tied with string
1–2 tsp vegetable oil
coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preparation time: 10 minutes. Cooking time: 1 hour 10 minutes.
1. Preheat the oven to 240°C/Gas 8 and line the roasting tin with foil. Prepare the pork by drying the skin thoroughly, patting it with kitchen paper.
2. Using a sharp knife, score the skin, making deep, long parallel cuts into the fat about 3–5mm apart; do not cut into the flesh. Rub the skin with a little oil, then season it with a generous amount of coarse salt and a little pepper.
3. Sit the pork on a rack over the roasting tin and roast for 25 minutes. The initial high temperature helps to give a crisp crackling. Turn the oven down to 180°C/Gas 4 and cook the pork for a further 45 minutes, turning the tin around halfway through. The meat should be slightly pink in the centre, though the juices flowing from the pork should not be bloody. If you have a meat thermometer, it should read 63°C.
4. Transfer the pork to a warm serving plate and leave to rest in a warm, draught-free place for 10–20 minutes before carving. Don't cover the joint, because any steam coming from the resting pork could soften the crackling. You could remove the crackling at this point and return it to the oven turned up to 220°C/Gas 7, or give it a quick blast under a hot grill to make it extra crispy.
5. To carve the pork, remove the crackling, if you haven't already done so, and cut it into strips. Carve the meat across the grain into thin slices.
You may need to adjust the cooking times at the 180°C/Gas 4 stage, depending on the weight of the pork joint. Allow 25 minutes per 500g. If you like your pork more well done, cook for 30 minutes for 500g.
For a rack of pork on the bone, aim for a 2kg piece of meat to serve 4 people. Roast for 25 minutes at 240°C/Gas 8, then turn the heat down to 180°C/Gas 4 and cook for 20 minutes per 500g.
Notes about the author: Johnnie Mountain is the star of BBC2’s Great British Menu, and owner of The English Pig and The Atrium restaurants in London. He previously worked at Café Dell Ugo, Zilli Fish and The Fat Duck. In Pig, Johnnie Mountain demystifies cooking with pork.
What's your secret to perfect pork crackling? Leave a tip in the comment section below.