My first entry on this blog, back in 2006, boasted about how I had achieved the perfect combination of tender belly pork and crisp crackling. I should have been mindful that cookery is like tennis or golf: claiming that you have perfected some technique is foolhardy, and likely to be punished. My record with crackling since then has been patchy.
Two recent Guardian recipes have offered conflicting advice. Yotam Ottolenghi's suggests cooking your pork belly at the highest oven temperature for an hour, before turning down the dial. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's, for shoulder of pork, tells you to wrap the meat in foil and to cook it slowly, before slicing off the crackling and crisping it at a high temperature. It is the Fearnley-Whittingstall method that has usually gone wrong for me: the crackling goes from rubbery to burned, without passing through an intermediate stage of crunchiness.
So I decided to try Ottolenghi's advice, though nervous of cooking meat at such a high temperature (and puzzled that he should surround it with liquid - surely the steam will compromise the crackling?) I had prepared the crackling by leaving out the pork, uncovered, for several hours before cooking; and by sprinkling it with salt, allowing it to sweat, and patting it dry with a paper towel.
My piece of pork was a kilo smaller than his, and was very brown on top after 45 minutes; that was when I turned down the dial, to gas mark 1/150C, and cooked the joint for a further hour and a quarter.
The crackling was not quite crisp. I sliced it off, and returned it to the oven (meanwhile resting the meat, which I covered in foil), at gas mark 7/220C, for another 30 minutes.
It worked very well. The belly pork, being a forgiving cut, remained tender in spite of the blasting; and the crackling was crisp. Perhaps it is the first phase of cooking that is crucial.