Why It Works
- Early salting of the loin is crucial to keeping the pork juicy and flavorful.
- Salting and drying the skin, then cooking it initially at a high temperature ensures you’ll get delicious, puffy crackling.
- Keeping the ribs partially attached to the pork makes it easy to season and salt the meat, helps reduce cooking time (preventing the pork from drying out), and gives you a tasty bone to gnaw on!
- The sweet and tart chutney is the perfect accompaniment to the rich pork.
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.
The Lowdown on 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 five 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!
Buying the Pork Loin
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.
Preparing and Roasting the Meat
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.
Serving the Finished Dish
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.
For the Pork Loin:
One (4- to 5-pound; 2- to 2 1/2-kg) pork loin, center cut with rind still intact (see notes)
1/4 cup (60ml) neutral oil, like canola or grapeseed
2 heads garlic, cut in half across the bulbs
8 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
For the Spiced Apple Chutney:
4 tart baking apples (such as Granny Smith), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
3/4 cup chopped yellow onion
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated (20g)
1/2 cup pomegranate juice (120ml)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (150ml)
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed (about 5 ounces; 140g)
1 teaspoon mustard seeds (about 2g)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 star anise pod
For the pork: Dry the skin as much as possible with a paper towel. Generously season the meat (not the skin) with kosher salt, including in between the ribs and meat. Place the roast on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet. Transfer to the refrigerator and let rest, uncovered, at least overnight and up to 3 days.
When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 475°F (250°C). If the butcher has not done it for you, score the rind with a very sharp knife, using long, parallel slits 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch apart across the width of the loin; be careful not to cut into the flesh.
Flip the loin over and rub the flesh side with 2 tablespoons of oil. Lift the meat from the bones. Place the garlic, thyme, and rosemary up against the meat. Using butcher's twine, tie the ribs back to the loin, with the aromatics sandwiched in between.
Rub the rind with more salt, ensuring that the salt is rubbed well into the slits. Brush the rind with remaining oil.
Place the loin, skin-side up, on a rack in a roasting pan or baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to 325°F (160°C) and cook until an instant-read thermometer poked into the center of the loin reaches 130°F (54°C) for medium-rare, or 140°F (60°C) for medium, about 1 hour. Skin should be puffy and crisp; if it’s not puffy enough, remove the roast from the oven, preheat the broiler, and place the roast a few inches under the broiler until the skin puffs.
While the pork roasts, make the apple chutney: In a large saucepan, combine the apples, onion, ginger, pomegranate juice, vinegar, brown sugar, mustard seeds, pepper flakes, star anise, and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to a simmer and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 45 minutes. Remove the star anise and allow to cool.
When the roast is done, remove it from the oven and let the loin rest on a carving board for 30 minutes.
Remove the ribs by cutting the remaining flap, discard the garlic and herbs. Carve the loin into slices following the scores so that each slice has a segment of crackling (approximately a 1/4-inch-wide strip). Serve the warm pork loin with apple chutney and your preferred sides. (We like Yorkshire puddings and a bitter green salad).
Ask your butcher in advance for a center-cut pork loin with the skin and bones intact. Ask for “easy carve” which means the bones are mostly separated from the meat. You can also go completely boneless, but the ribs make a striking presentation. You can also have your butcher score the skin with parallel slits 1/4-inch apart across the width of the loin. If you can’t find a skin-on loin, you can still make the recipe (minus the crackling). Make sure you find a loin with a thick fat cap, or the meat will be dry.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 34g||43%|
|Saturated Fat 12g||58%|
|Total Carbohydrate 34g||12%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||6%|
|Total Sugars 31g|
|Vitamin C 1mg||6%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|