The fantasy joint of roast pork always has a tempting coating of bubbly, crispy crackling, just like you see in recipe book photos. Sadly the reality is often patches of tough, hard skin with the occasional bubble here and there.
One way round this is to cook the meat and the skin separately. The trouble with this, though, is that the meat can dry out and become tough without its protective coating of skin - so how about replacing the skin with a layer of sage and onion stuffing to both flavour and protect the meat, as well as being a delicious accompaniment to it?
To make this, I used a piece of boneless pork loin weighing about 750g - you could use a bigger piece but a very big one would need such a long cooking time that it would scorch the stuffing.
First of all, carefully cut off the skin with a little of the fat, making sure there is still some fat covering the surface of the meat. Now use a very sharp knife to cut the skin into strips about 7mm wide and 10 cm long. Put them on a baking sheet that has raised edges all round (to stop the fat running off into the oven) and toss with a sprinkling of salt and 1 tsp sunflower oil, then arrange them on the sheet so they don't touch each other.
If you are cooking the cracking after you cook the pork, scroll down past the photo now and get started on your stuffing. Otherwise read on.....
The crackling pieces need to cook for 15-20 minutes in a very hot oven, about 200 C (Fan), 220C (non-fan), 400F, gas mark 7. You can either do this ahead of cooking the pork, and serve the crackling cold, or when you take the pork out of the oven to stand and carve you can whack the temperature up and cook it then, if you prefer it hot. Whichever way you do it, as soon as it comes out of the oven use tongs or a slotted spoon to lift the lovely, crispy, curly, bubbly pieces of gorgeousness out of the fat and onto kitchen paper to dry, then see if you can resist eating them before the rest of your meal is ready.
Next you need to prepare the stuffing. Peel two small onions, keeping them whole, place in a small saucepan, cover with water and boil for an hour, then allow to cool slightly and lift the onions out of the pan, keeping the liquid. Meanwhile chop the leaves from a few sprigs of sage in a food processor or blender. I like to use quite a lot of sage, about 30 leaves, but that makes it pretty strong and it's fine to use less. When the onions have cooled a little, add them to the sage in the blender and whizz to a green-flecked pulp. Scrape this into a bowl and add salt and pepper, 50g shredded suet and enough fresh white breadcrumbs to give a stiff mixture - about 75g usually does the trick but it depends on the size and moisture content of the onions. Then add one beaten egg, mixing thoroughly. You need a soft, mouldable consistency - adjust it with either more breadcrumbs or some of the onion water until you have a texture that you can press all over the surface of the pork with your hands, so that it looks like this
Now roast your pork in your usual way, but remember that because the crackling has been removed it doesn't need that extra-hot blast you are probably used to starting or finishing with. The finished pork will have a crunchy brown stuffing crust. Depending on the cut of pork, you can either slice straight down through stuffing and meat, or remove the stuffing and break into chunks to serve alongside the carved meat.
I used the juices left in the tin to make a cider gravy, or as my mother always calls it, "Gravy that uses cider instead of sock". Yes, sock.