When I cook a holiday meal for a crowd, I like to lay out a buffet of several main dishes and plenty of sides, so everyone has a lot of choice. For vegetarians, I make quiche, salad and protein-rich tofu dishes that (I hope) the omnivores will enjoy too. For everyone else, I grill some chicken and roast one large cut of meat, to serve as the centrepiece of the buffet. Five-spice roasted pork rack This recipe took several attempts before I got it right. The problem was that pork rack has a thick, dense “eye” – the loin – that’s covered on one side by the bones, which makes it difficult for the salt and other seasonings to penetrate. My normal practice of pre-salting a roast didn’t work. Brining the meat works better: because the salt and sugar are dissolved in water, it is easier for them to penetrate the meat. A warning though: this takes time. You need at least one day to brine the meat and another to let it air-dry, so the skin will be crisp when cooked. This means you will need to start the preparations a minimum of two days in advance. The crackling is so important that I cook an extra piece of skin, so everyone will have enough. To help the brine penetrate, you can use either a marinade injector (the best option) or a meat spike. The former looks like an enormous syringe, and injects the brine deep into the meat; the latter looks like a medieval weapon – it is a piece of plastic or wood embedded with long, sharp spikes – and you use it to pierce the meat all over. You can also use sharp metal skewers to poke deep into the meat. The meat spike is also good for piercing the skin of the pork loin, to help it crisp up when roasted. Air-drying the skin, then brushing it with vinegar and using a salt and egg white crust, also help achieve a great crackling crust. How to make pork pie with chestnuts and Chinese sausage, a holiday treat If you can’t find a meat spike (the ones sold at Chinese restaurant supply shops are best), corn holders – two-pronged utensils used when eating corn on the cob – will work at a pinch, although the spikes aren’t nearly as long and they are quite fragile, so you will need several pairs. To make sure the proportions of seasonings are correct, you need a digital scale that can measure small amounts. There is a lot of variation when measuring with cups and spoons. One pork rack that’s about 2.5kg (5½ pounds) is enough to serve at least 15 people for a holiday buffet (assuming you have enough other dishes), and about eight if it is the main course of a dinner party. If you are serving more, it is better to buy two pork racks that are about the same size, rather than cooking a single larger roast. The rule of cooking pork until it is well done (71 degrees Celsius/160 degrees Fahrenheit) is considered outdated; the chance of getting trichinosis from pigs raised on licensed farms is extremely rare, and besides, the meat is very dry at that temperature. If you want to be absolutely safe, cook the pork rack to 58 degrees (136 degrees Fahrenheit); the temperature will rise to at least 71 degrees during its 30-minute resting time. For moister meat, take the pork rack from the oven when it reaches 50 degrees (122 degrees Fahrenheit); the internal temperature will rise to 63 degrees (145 degrees Fahrenheit) as it rests. Or cook it to somewhere in between those two extremes, depending on how well done you like your meat. 1 pork rack, about 2.5kg (5½ pounds) Fine sea salt Granulated sugar Five-spice powder Finely ground white pepper About 5ml (1 tsp) white vinegar About 10 grams (⅓ oz) egg white 6 whole heads of garlic About 90ml (¼ cup and 2 tbsp) olive oil 1 At least two days before cooking, start preparing the pork rack. If necessary, French the rack by removing some of the meat between the tips of the bones, cutting about 2.5cm (1 in) down. 2 Weigh the pork rack and write down the weight. Multiply the weight of the roast by 20 per cent: this is the amount of water (in ml) you will need. 3 Multiply the weight of the roast by 1.5 per cent: this is the amount of salt you will need. How to make Hong Kong-style waffles: two recipes for a local favourite 4 Halve the weight of the salt: this is the amount of sugar you will need. 5 Divide the weight of the salt by three: this is the amount of five-spice powder you will need. 6 Divide the weight of salt by five: this is the amount of white pepper you will need. 7 Put the correct amount of water in a container, add the salt and sugar and stir until dissolved. Stir in the five spice and white pepper, then refrigerate until cold. 8 If using a meat spike (and long skewers), wash in hot, soapy water, then rinse well. Use the spike to pierce lots of holes in the skin of the pork rack – you need to press hard to get through the tough skin. If you don’t have a marinade injector, turn the pork rack over and make many deep holes – the depth of the spikes (or skewers) – in the meaty part of the rack. 9 Pour the marinade into a large ziplock bag. Add the pork rack, then tightly seal the top. Place the bag on a tray (in case it leaks) and refrigerate the rack skin-side up for at least 24 hours, occasionally massaging the meat through the bag, and swishing around the liquid. How to make strawberry sweet and sour pork, a no-ketchup recipe 10 If you have a marinade injector, use the metal spike to poke holes in the skin of the pork rack, as directed in step eight. Fill the injector with the brine and inject it deep into the meaty parts of the pork rack in several places. Put the pork rack and the remaining brine in a ziplock bag and seal it, then place it skin-side up on a tray. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours, occasionally massaging the meat through the bag. 11 The day before cooking the pork rack, take it out of the bag; discard the brine. Place the rack skin-side up on a tray. Wipe the moisture from the skin, then refrigerate it, uncovered, for at least 12 hours. 12 Two and a half to three hours before you want to serve dinner, preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit). Brush the skin of the pork rack with white vinegar. 13 Whisk the egg white until frothy, then add it to 100 grams (3 ½ oz) of salt – the mixture will be slightly damp. Press the salt over the skin of the pork rack in a thin but even layer, using more salt and egg white, if necessary. 14 Set a probe-type meat thermometer to the desired temperature. Insert the probe into the thickest part of the pork rack, not touching the bones. Place the meat on a metal rack set in a roasting pan and bake for an hour. 15 Remove the excess papery skin from the heads of garlic, but do not peel them. Drizzle the heads of garlic with olive oil and place them in the roasting pan. Continue to roast the meat for about 30-45 more minutes, or until it reaches the desired temperature. Remove the pan from the oven and let the meat rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. 16 Carefully remove and discard the salt crust from the pork skin. Turn the oven to the grill setting. Put the pork back in the oven, about 5cm (2 in) from the heating element, and grill until the skin is evenly blistered, and charred in spots; turn the meat around as necessary. If needed, use a propane or butane torch to lightly char spots that weren’t blistered in the oven. 17 To serve, use a large knife to carve the ribs away from the loin, then cut them between the bones. Slice the meat, making sure each piece gets some crackling. Or, you can slice the crackling from the meat and cut it up separately. Serve the roasted garlic on the side, and tell your guests to squeeze the garlic from the skin. Food styling: Nellie Ming Lee. Kitchen: courtesy of Wolf at House of Madison Like this recipe? Look for more in the SCMP Post Magazine , or on SCMP Cooking .