Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Pork Scratchings – Love won’t just break your heart…

My affair with pork scratchings – or pork rinds as they are called in the US of A - is based on a few chance and fleeting meetings on English soil. An introduction in the Jolly Waggoner in Hounslow in the late eighties, where I dismissed them as a too-small pack of hard Ranchero-like treats or something equally mundane, but still with an addictive quality. Next came a surprise meeting in The Old Green Tree in Bath many years later when they landed on the table accompanied by a jar of pickled periwinkles. Those periwinkles were nice but the scratchings were nicer again, even if they did loosen a few fillings. I looked at the pack and there was Mr. Porky himself doffing his hat to me with his cheeky smile. He knew, yeah he knew alright – we’d meet again.

Apart from having a little crackling on the side, I forgot about these little nuggets of pure joy for another few years until I bumped in to Mr Porky once more in my local Iceland - that purveyor of all things British - and I although I was abstaining from all things fat, I guiltily put them into my basket, knowing it was wrong but also that it felt so right.
Back home I opened the pack to be greeted by that familiar smell of wet dog and flatulence. This soon dissipated and the little morsels of fried pig skin and fat were crunched away in no time, and I was soon sated, but filled with remorse, finally knowing what the term ‘Guilty Pleasure’ really, really meant.

So I thought, perhaps if I cook them myself I can control and accept this urge and want? If cooked at home then it will surely by OK won’t it? Yeah, of course it will, it will be fine then. Great.

So off I went to the warm and inviting chilled shelves of my local craft butcher and grabbed a vac-packed pig skin from amongst the pig's heads and trotters, a bargain I thought at 84c for a piece 30cm by 30cm approx.
Back home the first thing I did – and this is not for the squeamish – was remove any blemishes and, er, nubbins from the piece and gave it a wash before drying it thoroughly with paper towels. Next I cut it in half and rubbed the skin side with vinegar, which tightens the skin a little as well as adding an extra subtle depth of flavour. I then turned it skin side down on my grilling tray rack and sprinkled on plenty of salt and smoked paprika. (You can use any spice you like here but I have found that either smoked or sweet paprika, or Chinese five-spice work best for my tastes.) I added some water to the bottom of the grill tray to help stop the pork fat from smoking too much - but it will still smoke so make sure you have good ventilation!

The next step is the cooking. Place the tray in the top of an oven at 180c for 45 minutes, then flip it skin side up, add more salt to the pork and water to the tray, and cook for another 30 minutes but keep a close eye on it as you want it golden and not brown at this point.
Next is the tricky stage. Turn off the oven and turn on the grill. In a few minutes you’ll see the pork skin start to bubble, rise and crackle and the secret is to take it out just before it starts to burn so watch it closely. It take less that 5 minutes under my grill.

Next take it out, cover with kitchen towel and let it cool down. When cold, chop up with a sharp, strong knife and put in sealable bag or container. Shake in more salt to taste and eat immediately or within the next 48 hours, as in my experience the pieces get chewy after that!
They are much nicer than pre-packed scratchings in my opinion, although they do still smell faintly of wet dog when you re-open the bag…

Beer pairing? Hoppy beers don't work for me with scratchings but smoked malty lagers, not-so-dry stouts and English-style mild ales do. But do experiment yourselves!

So do I still feel guilty? Yep, but I've learned to accept and embrace the guilt. After all, you can’t fight the love. Can you?

Warnings and disclaimers!
This is not a treat for kids or those with weak teeth.
It is in no way healthy.
I am not a trained cook so any hygiene or other issues I might have missed are down to you to research!