Credited as an aphrodisiac and enjoyed by both film stars and pub goers, our love affair with the humble pork scratching is far from abating, says Rupert Ponsonby.
The delightful pink creatures floated with me into the tent, all eight of them. It was my wedding day and the River Thames was glistening in the spring sunshine. My mother-in-law knew that I liked pigs, so she had dispensed with the habitual flowers and imported eight shimmering piglets instead. The hotel had recently hosted flamingos for Pink Floyd, allegedly, and the functions manager took the piglets in his stride.
All went well until my godmother decided to give them a drink. This propelled their internals to meet the outside world and gave my mother-in-law’s sparkling wines ‘aromatics’ never previously met in Champagne. The unexpected arrival of the Prime Minister, my wife’s employer, saw her ominously close to the pen — but the lady was not for turning.
That day began my enduring love affair with pigs. There is something so honest and straightforward about them. They look Neanderthal and they rarely hide their views. They love their food, grunt a lot and speak of their appreciation volubly. In addition, they hate waste of any sort and are at the pinnacle of my Honours List for their realisation that the words ‘best before’ are so hideously beyond the pale.
Churchill said that ‘a cat looks down on man, a dog looks up to man, but a pig will look man right in the eye and see his equal’. I’m with him all the way. Sitting in an orchard with my back against a sleeping pig, reading a book, is one of life’s great joys, for which I am forever gruntled.
Anyway, on to pork scratchings. A pork scratching is made from strips of rind and underlying fat from the pig’s back legs, just above the ankle. A piece roughly the size of a Yorkie Bar is cut, with a healthy layer of fat underneath. This is vital, as it is in its own fat that a pork scratching is deep-cooked. Scratchings benefit from lots of deliciously unsaturated fats (time to appreciate fat once more) and they are high in protein and nutrients, low in carbs and therefore beloved by followers of the KETO diet.
Scratchings are known as chicharones in Spain, gratons in France and oreilles de Christ in Quebec — Christ’s ear — and are celebrated globally. It is thought that the British pork scratching originated in the Midlands in the 1800s, converting a home owner’s waste food into a celebratory meat. In the 1930s, butchers started cooking them to increase their range; as those butchers wilted away in the 1970s and 1980s, specialist pork-scratching producers picked up the reins.
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My personal passion for this favourite pub snack actually began with a seven-course tasting menu in the White Horse pub on London’s Parsons Green. I had been asked to demonstrate the affinity between beer and scratchings, so every course was accompanied by two beers. I had never thought deeply about this finest of snacks before, but it was the start of an obsession.
The first course was scratchings served hot with apple sauce, the second with gooseberry, followed by terrine and a pork scratching crumble atop fish pie — that dish was truly awesome. The dinner’s finale split the vote: statuesque scratchings dipped in dark chocolate stood vertically in a circle, with ice cream resplendent in the middle. Full moon at Stonehenge, with pork.
That dinner — and, perhaps, the 14 beers — made us resolve to start a company, which we called Mr Trotter. The dream was to elevate the humble scratching as crisp companies had done so cleverly for British spuds. We hailed a metaphorical cab and set off for the Midlands, where we found my business partner, a pork-scratching czar called Graham.
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By adapting the Heston Blumenthal technique of triple cooking, he and his team found they could add drool-inducing crunch and waste away the fats. This made the cracklings a loving partner not only for beers, but also for gin and tonic, Sauvignon Blanc, Tio Pepe sherry, and, oddly, Sauternes, in the case of the Jalapeño Chilli Scratchings.
This tasty titbit has its celebrity supporters. A former Argentine president credited them with re-igniting her love of sex; explorer David Hempleman Adams took them to the top of Everest; and both Kate Moss and Cameron Diaz (‘pork scratchings are my favourite snack in the world’) have expressed their love.
Personally, I love them for themselves, for that exhilarating porkiness and crunch, a seemingly ‘waste’ product that loves its beers and remains at the heart of the British pub.
This lovely recipe for pork and apple burgers is simple, and hits the spot.