For me, as I’m sure for a lot of people, it’s one of the most memorable meals of the year. It’s not so much about the food as such, as good as it often is. It’s more about the gathering of the extended family together to share an indulgent, communal feast prepared with love.
As is tradition, each year I find myself celebrating Christmas with my second family, the family of a close childhood friend, rather than with my own. With no extended family in the country to speak of, sister living abroad and mother often using that time of the year to go traveling with her friends, it works out well for all involved.
Each Christmas, I take it upon myself to contribute a few dishes for Christmas lunch. This year, one of the dishes that I’d prepared was inspired by a family favourite, lovingly referred to as “Dead Sea” Crackling.
The origins of the “Dead Sea” Crackling seem somewhat mythical in nature. As with myth, the details regarding the specific, date, time & conditions of its origin were unclear and inconsistent.
The story as I know it goes that one Christmas the father was asked to salt the pork roast for crackling. However, rather than using a modest amount of salt the mother (and really, most people) would use, copious amounts of salt were packed onto rind, far more than what most people would consider sensible.
The resultant cracking, whilst tasting as if it had as much salt as the Dead Sea, was some of the best crackling that that family had ever had. Though crackling has never been prepared that way since that time, it’s still spoken about to this day, often with a tone of reverence.
While a full recipe is supplied at the end of the post, I just wanted to point out a few things to note.
With the right butcher, large slabs of pork rind are usually easy to come by and quite inexpensive. I’d gotten my hands on approx. 80cm x 25cm slabs of pork rind with fat attached, from a Chinese butcher for only a couple of dollars.
Regarding salt, unless you feel particularly rich and/or masochistic, put away the Fleur de Sel, Maldon or other pricy salts as it will mostly go to waste with this recipe (and I’d argue other crackling recipes as well). In this particular case, the salt is used more as a cooking aid than as a seasoning. This is the time to pull out the cheap stuff, and lots of it.
Though a fair amount of salt is used in the recipe, more than what most crackling recipes suggest, the vast majority of it can be shaken & brushed off at the end.
With a little research, I found a number of techniques for preparing the pork rind for crackling. A few things to note regarding these techniques:
- Rubbing oil – Aids salt adhesion, which is useful when the pork rind is on a round roast. However, I found that the rind and salt hold onto the oil and just makes the skin a little tougher and gives it a greasy mouth feel.
- Boiling water – Pouring boiling water briefly onto the scored rind does aid with getting salt & other flavouring into the score marks as the skin shrinks, making the score marks wider. However, aside from visual appearance, I found the end result much the same as this recipe with regards to taste & texture.
- Salt curing – Curing the pork rind in salt overnight, though drew away an appreciable amount of water from the rind as the salt was rather damp, it didn’t seem to affect the end result all that much. Most of the oil and moisture renders away anyhow as a part of the cooking process.
- Seasoning the fat – Salt rubbed onto the fat side just fell away as the fat was rendered off. Naturally, this meant that it didn’t provide a noticeable difference in seasoning or texture.
- Varying temperature – One recipe I found required the crackling to be cooked for a time at a high temperature and then later at a lower one. For me, there wasn’t any appreciable difference to the end product. Just extra work and time spent waiting for the oven temperature to drop.
The method used for this recipe requires no oil, plenty of salt & roasts at a single moderate-high temperature. This produces robust crackling with a firm crunch, but isn’t tough to chew or too greasy.
Four sets of crackling the size of shin pads, was served up Christmas lunch. I assure you, no one was left wanting, and there was even some left overs for the following day.
I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I did.
“Dead Sea” Crackling
A slab of pork rind (40cm x 25cm)
2 Tsp fennel seeds
1/2 cup salt
Maple syrup (optional)
- Trim any lingering meat off the fat side of the pork rind, if any. If required, trim down fat so that there is approx. 5mm fat covering the underside of the pork rind.
- On the skin side, score diagonally in one direction and then the other to form a lattice with the tip of a sharp knife. The score marks should just break into the fat layer.
- A clean utility/Stanley knife works even better.
- Place the pork rind onto a cooling rack, which is then placed onto a baking tray with raised sides. A baking tray with raised sides is required as a considerable amount of fat renders off.
- Alternatively, if you don’t have either a cooling rack or suitable baking tray, place the pork rind directly onto the oven rack and place a baking dish below to catch the rendering fat.
- Wipe down any excess moisture off the skin with a kitchen towel until it’s mostly dry.
- Place the fennel seed and an equal amount of salt into a mortar & pestle and pound until the fennel seeds have all cracked, releasing their fragrant oils.
- Rub the fennel/salt mix into the skin, making cure that as much of the mix get in between the score marks.
- With the remainder of the 1/2 cup of salt, liberally sprinkle the salt so that a moderate layer of salt covers the entire surface of skin. Use more or less salt as required.
- Place the pork into an oven preheated to 200C and roast for at least 20 minutes.
- With a utensil such as tongs or a fork, test that the centre of the crackling is rock hard and does not yield to pressure. Check back every 5-10 minutes until the crackling is done.
- Remove from the oven, being mindful of the molten fat. Brush and shake off all the salt onto a clean plate or tray.
- Brush on or drizzle a light coat of maple syrup. Sprinkle some of the fennel salt back onto the crackling.
- Maple syrup may be omitted entirely. In that case, brush off most but not all of the salt from the crackling.
- Break down the crackling into smaller pieces either with a sturdy knife or by hand, and serve.