I have to be honest – once you’ve eaten pork in Italy you have to really look around for anything as fine over here. You see, we’ve become attracted to breeds of pigs that grow very fast to be butchered and sold on ASAP, whereas our old farming methods used breeds that are now considered rare. They take longer to grow to maturity, which gives the meat a fantastic depth of flavour and plenty of snowy white, waxy fat that just melts in the pan. Once you’ve tried that, everything else comes second best.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas 6. Parboil your potatoes in salted boiling water for around 15 minutes until tender, then drain. Score the pork skin, season it and put it in a hot roasting tray with a drizzle of olive oil. As it begins to crisp up, add your potatoes and thyme. Toss once or twice (making sure the crackling ends up on top of the potatoes so it crisps up even more) and put in the oven for around 15 minutes until cooked.
Meanwhile, pound up your fennel seeds and bay leaves in a pestle and mortar with 2 tablespoons of salt until you have a fine green moist paste. Shake this through a sieve into a bowl – this will stop it from sticking together in lumps. Pat your pork chops with a little oil – this will stop them sticking to the pan. Season the pork chops on both sides with the herb salt and keep any excess to use another day. Preheat your griddle pan until really hot. Don’t add any extra oil to the pan – if you do it will start to smoke. Add your pork chops, and cook for around 3-4 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of the pork. Try to avoid the temptation to overcook them. Once cooked allow to rest for about 4 minutes.
Heat a little pan and add the cider and mustard. Bring to the boil, then reduce by half and add the crème fraîche. Bring back to the boil and reduce again until the sauce thickens, then remove from the heat. Add the butter and shake the pan around a bit so the sauce thickens and shines. Season to taste.
Serve up the potatoes – I like to bash up half of them so they kind of smash and crumble – with the pork, a lovely piece of crackling and any resting juices from the meat. Drizzle over the cider sauce and eat – what a pleasure. Nice with a simple green salad and a pint of cider.