You could say that every bit of roast pork is only as good as its crackling, and there are certainly enough wives' tales about how to get the crackling really crisp, but the glory of a good pork scratching lies in its wickedness. Pork scratchings should be fatty, greasy, salty and satisfying. A taste bomb - that's why it's so at home in pubs that sell good beer.
The commercial scratching producers start with sheets of pigskin with the fat attached (they insist that the skin from the top of the leg is best); it should be 19mm thick. They chop it up and fry it. After a single frying the pork scratching is delicious and tooth-breakingly crisp, but for the "pork crackling" (a relative newcomer to the marketplace) the method is to fry it a second time which gives a lighter, crisper snack. Fry the rind for a third time and you end up with a puffy, porky mouthful that is very like the Spanish and Mexican versions known as chicharrones.
Here are a few guidelines for making scratchings at home:
Unless you're a fanatic, don't use a deep fat fryer. Your oven at its highest setting will do the job.
I prefer belly pork, only you can decide how much fat you leave under the skin. Ask your butcher for something suitable.
Be sure to cut the pieces into narrow strips - much easier on the teeth.
Both pork crackling and pork scratchings derive from very "dry" pigskin being subjected to an awesome blast of heat. My best tip for conventional, shrapnel-crisp roast pork crackling is to rub the skin over with white wine vinegar before roasting. In his excellent book Hix Oyster & Chop House, Mark Hix recommends cooking the pork in boiling water for 15 minutes before roasting. Chinese restaurants routinely pour a kettle of boiling water over pork before roasting it. All these techniques work, but in my opinion the vinegar trick works best of all.
Set your oven as high as it will go (warp factor 7?), rub the pork with vinegar, cut it into strips, then roast it on a rack in the hottest part of the oven. The rest is down to vigilance. You want pork scratchings, not a burnt offering.
When it has cooled down, add unhealthy amounts of salt - that's what makes this public bar delicacy so more-ish.
Use celery salt, old-fashioned but savoury and magnificent.
Accompany your scratchings with a pint of bitter beer.
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For a more step-by-step recipe for pork scratchings, check out this blog post on homemade pork scratchings. Have you made your own scratchings, or are you tempted after reading this blog post? Tell us all about it...
Charles Campion appears on this week's Food Programme indulging his love of pork scratchings.
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