As a Brit living in the US, there are times when I’m asked to explain a particularly confusing aspect of my native culture. One of these is the age-old conundrum of what, exactly, is the difference between lunch, dinner, tea, and supper, and how and when the terms can be used interchangeably. The full answer requires a lot of hand-waving about geography, generational differences, and social class, but inevitably it will touch at some point upon the concept of a Sunday lunch, which is often a large family gathering involving a roast of some kind, of which the most important element, by far, is crackling.
Crackling, I’ve decided, is a really good reason to have a good relationship with your local butcher. Given a few days notice, they should be able to provide you with a pork loin of the size required (we ordered a four- to five-pound cut, which contained 5 ribs—plenty enough for six people at one sitting). Ask them to partially detach the ribs but leave them attached at one end. This lets you season with salt and herbs in the pocket between bones and meat. In this case, we’re stuffing that cavity with thyme, rosemary, and a couple whole heads of garlic. Yes, whole heads. Don’t worry, it’ll all fit!
You can ask your butcher to fully detach the bones, but you’ll just need to tie everything together more securely when you bake it. Finally, and this is the crucial step, you want the fat cap and skin left on (not detached). This allows you (or your butcher) to score the rind so that it crisps up and renders better during cooking (see the photo below). The cuts should go just past the skin into the fat, but not fully into the meat. We recommend scoring in long parallel lines rather than in a crosshatch pattern, as crosshatching results in smaller bits of crackling that are more likely to burn. Lengthwise scoring ensures nice, crisp strips of crackling for all of your guests.
We prepare the loin in approximately the same way that we get a turkey ready for Thanksgiving: We add a good, almost surprising amount of salt to the meat, and let it sit, uncovered, in the fridge for a couple of days. This allows the skin to dry and the salt to permeate through the meat (this is commonly referred to as a “dry brine,” which plumps up the cells, adding moisture and flavor when the pork is roasted. Read more about it here). Brushing the skin with a little oil helps it to brown more evenly.
We start the oven very hot, which does most of the work to render the fat and crisp the skin. After half an hour, we reduce the temperature to finish cooking more gently. We aim to pull the pork out at 140°F (60°C), which takes about an hour longer, and after carryover cooking, it should be a rosy-pink medium. You can, of course, cook the roast more or less to your liking. You could also reverse-sear it, starting low and finishing hot, but with bones insulating one side and skin insulating the other, the benefits of the reverse-sear are not as obvious for a cut like this.
After resting, we carve it up and serve it, as is tradition, with Yorkshire puddings, a tart and spicy Apple Chutney (the recipe is included!) and a salad with spicy arugula, shaved red cabbage, and fresh apples.
Doesn’t that crackling look lovely?