Justin North creates perfect pork crackling

Justin North creates a perfect pork crackling. 
Photo / Thinkstock
Justin North creates a perfect pork crackling. Photo / Thinkstock

Justin North always gets confused when it comes to picking a menu for Christmas day.

Traditional European roast dinner or summer seafood barbie?

"Sometimes I get all excited and into the spirit of things and want to do the big lavish roast pork and crackling, and ham and turkey and all that sort of stuff, and then other times I just can't be bothered," the New Zealand-born, Sydney-based chef says.

"I think one of the most beautiful things I love doing is perfect crackling and roast pork," he says, adding that many people struggle to get the dish right.

His tip for pork crackling is to choose a good quality pig, either organic or a rare breed, bought from a reputable local butcher.

The loin and rump are his preferred cuts.

Score the skin by making thin incisions, not too deep, says North, who is the owner of Becasse, Etch, Quarter 21 and Charlie & Co.

"The idea is you want to draw moisture out of the skin and the less moisture the more puffy and crackly it will get."

Massage half a handful of flake or fine salt into the skin and leave it uncovered in the fridge overnight.

Keeping it uncovered, North says, will help dry out the skin, whereas covering it would likely make it sweat.

When you take the meat back out of the fridge the following day, brush the excess salt off and wipe away the droplets of moisture.

"It's really important just to have that salt there as a way of drawing out the moisture and then when you brush it all off you still leave a little bit there so it's nicely seasoned," North says.

Then, to get the crackling process started, put the pork skin-down in a pan with some oil and caramelise it on the stove top.

"The key is to not get that really hard crackling that sort of breaks your teeth or that chewy, tough (crackling). The idea is to puff it up and get that really nice, brittle, beautiful crackling."

When the skin is golden, flip the pork over onto an oven rack on an oven tray, and roast at about 170 to 180 degrees Celsius.

North, who alternates his Christmases between New Zealand, where he was born, and Australia, clearly has cooking a fabulous Christmas feast down-pat.

He is just one of many Australians who love a Christmas roast despite our warm climate.

A survey by salt company SAXA shows 50 per cent of Australians believe a roast, whether turkey, beef or pork, is the food most associated with Christmas.

That's followed by cold ham (22 per cent) and then seafood (20 per cent).

The SAXA Christmas Food Index has also found that more than 46 per cent of Aussies prefer a roast pork lunch ahead of summer salads and sweet treats.

That said, 65 per cent of people surveyed plan on serving a variation of hot and cold meals this Christmas.

Of the more than 1200 people who took part in the national survey (conducted online on Not Quite Nigella) 30 per cent chose eating delicious food as their favourite part of the festive season.

That's compared with 59 per cent of foodies who think the best part of Christmas is spending time with family and friends.

To ensure you have time to spend with the family and aren't stuck in the kitchen all day, North suggests jazzing up simple dishes, such as barbecue prawns, with aromatic salt mixes.

"The most important thing about Christmas-time is the family and there's nothing worse than having mum or dad or whoever just locked away in the kitchen the whole time.

"So I either recommend you just keep it really simple and chuck prawns, steaks and chops on the barbecue - even the roast pork we talked about earlier doesn't take a lot of manual labour time ... or if you're going to go a bit more extravagant ... try and organise yourself so you can get it all ready the day before and you just have to finish things off on Christmas day..."

At his mother's in New Zealand he enjoys a roast pork, ham or turkey, and "about 10 different puddings".

Although he's a "big pudding eater", he says he loves trifle as a Christmas dessert.

His mum, he says, opts to make trifle with supermarket-bought sponge, packet jelly, custard and whipped cream.

Even if it's not the way he does it, North admits it's a nice, easy way to make a trifle. He prefers, though, to make his own sponge, jelly and vanilla anglaise and use fresh berries.

You can also use juice instead of sherry to make a non-alcoholic trifle kids can enjoy.

- AAP

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