The height of hydration, I am told and want to believe, is two pints of ale and a packet of pork scratchings. Less credible is the news that the high-fat, high-salt, protein-rich snacks are beloved not just by the drinkers, but also the do-you-even-lift-leg-day-paleo bros. Personally, I like my pig skin without all the grunting.
The by-product of harder times, when no bit of the animal could be wasted, scratchings are created when the skin is flayed, fried and salted. Canny publicans have always served heavily salted food as a thirst inducing scheme. Back in the 17th century, Samuel Pepys complained that his bar anchovies were too salted, causing his exceptional drunkenness that night.
That salt is moreish, and that snapping skin and yielding fat is addictive. It’s impossible to have but one nugget. Frankly, I find one packet is not enough, and only society’s prudish mores hinder my descent into pork-driven dehydration. This dependency on fried skin is one shared by my exceedingly greedy Jack Russell, who will go around the pub snubbing anyone offering an inferior snack, sitting resolutely and immovably at their feet until he is bought off.
As with sausages, I would balk at seeing the process. I just cannot imagine the industrial means of flaying and frying are going to be all that pretty. However, making the more domestic sibling, crackling on roast pork, is thoroughly therapeutic.
TV chef Fanny Cradock, a difficult woman by all accounts, said that the only way to get the skin to blister and crisp is to rub salt into it as though into the face of your worst enemy. I have plenty of candidates and do this with particular glee. You then need only blot out any moisture and apply a thin anointing of oil before roasting the joint in a fierce oven. Others suggest pouring boiling water over the meat and this does make the skin seize up, but I think it’s unnecessary and a hindrance to the drying and salting process.
Inferior pork will not produce crackling. The skin needs to be suitably thick to actually rise up and become that beautiful, brittle crust. As I have learnt, you only get a thick skin by enduring the waves of life’s shit, so a pig needs to have lived an equally roaming life to get that skin. What matters most is the fat.
The pork which can be bought packaged in cellophane containers is far too lean. It would be like trying to eat Victoria Beckham, a prospect I do not relish. Not only does the fat keep the meat juicy as it cooks, but it also provides the necessary medium for the skin to cook.
Whilst the Black Country might claim to be the home of the scratching, the best pork of course comes from Yorkshire, with its dedicated pork butchers, and it is here where we can still get hold of good fat pork. It is here where we can indulge in a Sunday lunch with tender flesh and crisp skin.
Fads come and go. That desperate pursuit of the six pack which scratchings have been swept up in will eventually give way to middle-age flabbiness. The pork scratching endures. I hope that my teeth do too.
Words by Oliver McKinley