Crispy roasted pork (porchetta)
A traditional porchetta rubbed with Vietnamese 5 spice powder.
Recently we've been on a culinary quest to make a holiday pork roast with the most irresistible crispy, crackly, and bubbly skin possible – the type of crispy crackling that will have guests fighting over and craving for more. What immediately came to mind was the Italian style porchetta of San Francisco fame, Roli Roti, and the Vietnamese preparation of roasted pork belly called heo quay, also called sieu yuk in Chinese, and lechon kawali in the Filipino version. The common thread among these versions is the unmistakable crackly skin, but how to achieve that in the home kitchen is another matter entirely. The Internet is replete with crispy roasted pork recipes advocating different techniques from deep frying, to salting, and basting with rice vinegar to achieve that holy grail of pork skin crispiness.Skip to next paragraph
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So in the last month, we've tried both the salt and vinegar method to see what works best. However, we also roasted one doing neither. The only method we didn't try was deep frying. No doubt deep frying the pork skin works, but it can get quite messy and for our purposes of a big roast, not something we were interested in trying. After these attempts, we're not 100% convinced that it's the salt or vinegar that makes the skin crackly and bubbly. In fact, we also had great results doing neither.
From these attempts we've identified several key steps that consistently gets good results, but first let's understand what this crispy, bubbly, crackly skin is all about. Essentially what this represents is a second degree burn of the pork skin. We have to have expose the skin to enough heat to burn through the thick layer of skin to get bubbly blisters without charring it. At the same time, this heat will render out fat and contract the skin, resulting in the desirable hardened and crackly and not rubbery texture. The second key step is to make the skin as dry as possible. Leaving the skin to dry overnight or 24 hrs in the fridge while the dry seasoning rub permeates on the belly side helps both in terms of crackly skin and flavor. Finally, scoring the skin helps render the fat, also helping to crispen the skin. However, there are also many ways to score the skin from diamonds to simple slits, to tiny pricks with nails. There is no one correct way, but we like to keep the skin intact so we use a small clean nail or large safety pin to prick the skin all over (some Asian markets sell meat tenderizers embedded with many nails).
A traditional porchetta is rubbed with a spice blend of garlic, rosemary, and fennel. But typically for our holiday parties there is always a dichotomy of traditional "American" vs. traditional "Vietnamese/Asian." So to appease everyone, we instead rubbed it with a spice rub highlighted by 5 spice powder. But feel free to substitute your spices and try our roasting method. We also brined the pork tenderloin, but this step is optional, especially if you are salt adverse.