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Saturday, August 08, 2009

How to cook pork crackling (and maple syrup choko fries)

I don't understand people who don't like crackling. What's not to love?

The earth-trembling shatter as you take that first bite, the footsteps-on-gravel-crunch as it turns into smithereens, the smatterings of salt you have to lick from the corners of your lips... oh yeah, baby.

And yet, when faced with cooking a roast pork yourself, the pressure to make the perfect sheet of crackling is unbelievably intense. A moisture-infused rack of pork--courtesy of Australian Pork [yes I really am trying to work on my back-log of posts!]--deserved a crackling show-stopper.

How to make roast pork crackling

Ask the internet "how to make roast pork crackling" and the answers are endless. Everyone says you must score the skin and you must use salt. Beyond that, the variations are endless. A selection of options include:

1. score skin and salt, dry it overnight in the fridge, remove moisture from skin, rub with oil then cook

2. score skin and salt, dry it overnight in the fridge, remove moisture from skin, rub with oil, seal the pork in a pan until skin caramelises and then cook

3. score skin, rub in oil, add salt and cook

4. score skin, pour boiling water over the skin (once or several times, depending on advice), rub in oil then salt and cook

5. score skin, boil the whole piece of pork, dry it overnight in the fridge, remove moisture from skin, rub with oil then salt and cook

6. score skin, do a spice rub on the meat and cold age in the fridge for three days, keeping the skin dry. Sprinkle the salt on the skin just before cooking. Make sure the salt doesn't dissolve. Cook at 220C for 20min then turn heat down and continue until cooked (suggested by 2-minute Noodle Cook)

7. Score the skin and then salt, drying it out in the fridge overnight. Just before cooking, pour over a full kettle of boiling water to open up the scoring. Rub with salt flakes (not table salt) and oil before roasting (suggested by Tina)

When it comes to cooking, there are suggestions to:

a) keep the skin on, cooking it at high heat (220C) for 20 minutes then turn down to 180C-200C and cook for 45-60min

b) keep the skin on, cover the skin with foil, cook it at 180C for 60min then remove the foil and cook at 220C for 20 min

c) remove the skin, place it directly onto the wire rack above the roast, cook at 220C for about 20min and then turn down to 180C-200C for 45-60min

Other options:
Z) cook the pork on a rack above water
Y) cook the pork in a tray with water

I ended up doing option 1a, and because my oven is a bit temperamental at the moment, I put it under the grill towards the end to really push the crackling as much possible.


Because I had them in my pantry and they needed eating, I served my roast pork and crispy roast potatoes with a side of chokos. I'm quite a fan of chokos, their mild sweetness reminding me of pear.

There are constant jokes about chokos being used as apple substitutes in McDonald apple pies. It's an urban myth, they say, with the rumour never substantiated, but the link between chokos and apples gave me an idea...

Brien maple syrup

Maple syrup choko fries

4 chokos
1 Tablespoon maple syrup
2-3 teaspoons vegetable oil

Peel your chokos. To avoid the sticky skin on your fingers, use gloves when peeling, or peel the chokos whilst they are submerged in water in the sink.

Cut the chokos in half and remove the seed and surrounding membrane if mature. Slice into batons or fries.

Transfer the choko fries to a hot fry pan with a splash of oil. Pour in a few tablespoons of water and move the chokos around so they are all moistened.

Add a splosh of maple syrup, depending on how sweet you like your chokos. Remember the flavour will intensify and you can always add more later.

Turn the heat up to high and allow the chokos to cook through and caramelise.

Served as a side to roast pork.

Maple syrup choko fries

The maple syrup came courtesy of Brien in Quebec, Canada, a sample box of products that included maple sugar, maple chips, maple butter and maple candies. The smell of the maple sugar is particularly intoxicating. Taste-wise I though the Brien maple syrup had a lighter, more pronounced toffee flavour than the Camp and Queen maple syrups. The Queen maple syrup almost has a coffee-like smokiness to it by comparison.

I found the maple syrup worked well with the chokos which took the place of my usual apple sauce accompaniment to roast pork. It's a vegetable and condiment replacement in one. Or perhaps serve it with vanilla ice cream and turn it into dessert!

What's your recommendation on how to make the best pork crackling?
16 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 8/08/2009 12:17:00 am


  • At 8/08/2009 1:16 am, Blogger Peter G | Souvlaki For The Soul said…

    We must be on the same psychic path as I just finished my first pork roast with crackling...I tried the boiling water method...interesting but I wish the skin was cracklier!

  • At 8/08/2009 1:29 am, Anonymous Yas @ hungry.digital.elf. said…

    chokos! I've seen them at produce markets but never tried before. Looks yummy!

    I guess I have sort of tried the boiling method for pork belly - which didn't really turned out well as I expected.

    I wish there was a bag of cracklings like potato chips... (one step closer to oily cardiac arrest)

  • At 8/08/2009 8:40 am, Anonymous Al said…

    After extensive research... find the best piece of pork you can find, preferably one from a butcher that doesn't have it wrapped up in glad wrap (otherwise drying it is essential - same way Chinese crispy pork is made). Score the skin about 5mm apart using a craft knife. Salt with maldon sea salt. Then put into a really hot oven for the first 15 minutes, then turn it down for the remainder.

    It's great too using the rub that Jamie Oliver uses in his porchetta recipe (fennel, chilli, salt, bay and lemon zest ground in a mortar).

    Starving now.

  • At 8/08/2009 10:30 am, Blogger BruceT said…

    In my experience, after scoring and salting it just comes down to temperature and time.

    I follow the advice of 220c for about 20-25 minutes then turn down to 180. Then about 20 minutes before it's done I check of the crackling and crank up the heat again if needed.

    I also never tie a roast, as that seems to work against the scoring by keeping the fat together (unless maybe you could have the string go through the scores somehow.)

    Finally I have seen many recipes suggest 2 tablespoons of salt on crackling which is way too much (and I like my salt.) Now I just add 1-2 teaspoons and that turns out better for me.

  • At 8/08/2009 11:18 am, Blogger Simon Leong said…

    cooking a good pork crackling is still a mystery to me so your 1a sounds great and looks like it worked well. will have to remember for next time. growing up i hated chokos but i think it's because we didn't know how to cook them. your recipe sounds good. although i'm too traumatized to ever try them again i think.

  • At 8/08/2009 12:42 pm, Blogger Y said…

    Your crackling looks amazing. I love watching it bubble in the oven. I find chokoes fascinating, maybe for the apple pie connection. Have only ever made pickles out of them, but choko fries sound like a great idea too!

  • At 8/08/2009 1:32 pm, Blogger 2-minute Noodle Cook said…

    I do a spice rub on the meat and cold age in the fridge for 3 days while keeping the skin dry. Then sprinkle salt on the skin just before cooking at 220 for 20 min. Don't let the salt sprinkle dissolve else the skin doesn't crackle as well.

  • At 8/08/2009 7:34 pm, Blogger lex said…

    Love those maple syrup choko fries; am going to try them with celeriac mash and pork belly. *thumbs up* good timing - where did you get your maple syrup from? to note when I run out of my trip-to-canada stockpile haha

  • At 8/08/2009 11:44 pm, Blogger pigpigscorner said…

    The crackling looks amazing! I have to try this method, mine always turn out chewy!

  • At 8/09/2009 2:49 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Peter G - Great pigs think alike? lol. Had heard that the boiling water method worked wonders, so that's a shame. Will be interesting to see what others suggest. I find that drying it out in the fridge seems to work quite well, plus a bit of griller action always helps!

    Hi Yas - I was lucky to grow up with a neighbour who had a never-ending supply of chokos in his backyard. They grow like a weed!

    I did the boiling method for my Chinese roast pork but that involved drying overnight in the fridge.

    And omg you obviously haven't been to a Thai grocery store - they have bags of pork crackling and chicken crackling. Yes chicken skin crackling! Go go!

    Hi Al - Thanks for the tips! I agree that a good piece of pork is probably the best starting point. I never use a rub but will have to give that a go too.

    Hi Bruce - I agree, the string tying always seemed counter-active to the intended puffiness of crackling. Thanks for your feedback!

    Hi Simon Food Favourites - Oh I love chokos. We used to eat them steamed and my mum would often saute them and serve with soy. I know people who microwave them and then scoop out and eat like an avocade.

    Hi Y - I, on the other hand, have never made choko pickles. The whole bottling process always freaks me out as I'm convinced I will not do the sterilising process properly.

    Chokos are such good eating. I do baulk whenever I see them for sale, especially when our friendly neighbour used to deliver great big bags of them to us all the time.

    And yes, oven tv is great. Suze loves the crackling channel too :)

    Hi 2-minute noodle cook - Ahhh another method. Thanks for letting me know. Three days dry-age sounds hard-core! Might have to try this next time.

    Hi Lex - The maple syrup came direct from Brien as a sampler. I've checked and unfortunately there are no stockists in Australia yet.

    Hi pigpigscorner - I find that chewy crackling can always be fixed with a bit of tanning under the grill. Make sure you watch it though as it burns easily. You can cover up the bits already done with foil to stop them burning.

  • At 8/09/2009 2:52 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I use a combination method of 1a with step 4 as well. I also find no matter how good the butcher, you usually need to go over the scoring on the skin to make sure all the cuts are taken to the edge. A very sharp knife or razor blade is easiest. I then salt and place in fridge to dry out overnight. Then before cooking pour over boiling water (a kettle full will do) which really opens up the scoring and rub in more salt (using flakes rather than table salt will keep it from being too salty) and then oil before roasting. Happy crackling all :)

  • At 8/09/2009 6:03 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Ahh the magic of crackling /tear Looks so beautiful! And oh never tried chokos before (if I have I had no idea haha) but sounds tasty mmm mapley

  • At 8/09/2009 9:02 pm, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    Ooh I'm very intrigued by your maple choko fries, I never really knew what to do with chokos. Maple syrups makes everything taste amazing though :) Fantastic crackling, I'm with you, I don't get people who don't like it, or pork fat in general.

  • At 8/09/2009 9:40 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Tina - Oh an interesting twist to do the drying out + the boiling water. Good tip with the flakes too. Thanks!

    Hi FFichiban - Chokos are quite mild in flavour, a faint nutty sweetness if you're lucky. And maple syrup is always good!

    Hi Stephcookie - Maple syrup does add magic to everything. My mum has also braised them with vermicelli and soy, or you can steam/microwave them and eat them plain.

    I've seen people reject Chinese roast pork because there's "too much fat". More for me! lol.

  • At 8/13/2009 3:44 pm, Blogger TheBigB3n said…

    whichever method, the salt is crucial as thats whats helping to draw the moisture out, I won't suggest leaving it in the fridge uncovered as sure it does draw out moisture, but its also essentially a constant circulation of air which causes things to stale.

  • At 10/07/2009 9:57 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi TheBigB3n - Interesting tip re: the effect of leaving it in the fridge uncovered. I agree, salt is key to super crispness.


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