Wednesday, April 5, 2017


My previous post about Schweinsstelze, and particularly about crackling, seemed to stir something in the collective bosom.

I was directed to an article in the Guardian by Felicity Cloake, from 2010, in which she cooks pork crackling by seven different methods, most of them \recommendations from “name” chefs.  Some involving doing very little, although one of them, which turns out to be her favorite, involves drying out the skin with a hairdryer before cooking.  I can see the logic of that.

In the end she makes it sound all too easy: she finds that most of the methods work – the only disaster being Prue Leith’s, which involved rubbing the skin with oil, which I think is an absolute no-no.

On a good day I can generally get my crackling there or there abouts but it’s always a bit hit and miss.  My method remains constant but results, as they say, may vary.  Yes, it’s important to have the skin dry, it’s good to have the oven extra hot at the beginning and at the very end of cooking, it’s important that when you score the meat you don’t cut too deep.  I’m personally against pre-salting but I seem to be a bit of a lone voice in that area.  I do my best, but of course there are still failures, and I sometimes don’t understand why.

With this in mind, at the weekend, back home in Los Angeles, I cooked a small “picnic shoulder” – American butchery and terminology is certainly different from British and I assume wildly different from the way the Austrians do things, but you have to work with what you’ve got.   It had a nice piece of skin on it, it had a biggish bone running through it, and the result was as they say “good in parts,” not so good in others. 

Some of the crackling was good and crisp, some of it was too soft and chewy.  I think it could have used more time in the oven, but the pork itself was already getting overcooked.  Maybe a blow torch to crisp up the skin would have been the answer – a method mentioned not quite seriously in Felicity Cloake’s article.  I’m inclined to think the piece of pork was just too small, and the layer of subcutaneous fat was too thin, but I have no absolute answer.

Those folks at Marks and Spencer have found a partial solution.  When I was in England I made a staggering discovery of their “Snacking Crackling” – that's it above - crunchy skin with no meat whatsoever, sold as an eat-anywhere-any-time snack. There is something wonderful but maybe slightly sinister about that.  How do they get them to stay so crisp? My crackling, even the best of it, is soggy the day after it’s cooked.  Ah the wonder of M and S.

And again, back in the southern California saddle, I just bought myself a bag of Baken-ets Chicharrones – that’s the Mexican term for fried pork skins: Chicharrones, not Baken-ets, obviously.  These were “hot n spicy” (which I don’t absolutely need in a pork skin) and it said on the front of the pack in very small letters “colored with paprika.”  Also, according to the list of ingredients on the back, colored with “Artificial Color (Red 40 Lake, Yellow 6 Lake, Blue 1 Lake” – I guess that’s all right, but I really don’t know.  Also containing monosodium glutamate (which I personally find unobjectionable), and Torula Yeast, which I’d never heard of, but having looked it up online I suspect it’s worth a blog in itself – “a type of yeast that is grown for the food industry by feeding on wood alcohols. It is also a byproduct of the paper industry. The end result after drying is a fine tan powder with a meaty flavor” – that’s according to  
With a beer – actually an Australian Fosters, the hot n spicy chicharrones tasted just fine; without one they’d have been very hard work.  Hands across the sea, right?


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