Monday, February 8, 2010

From across the room.

My maternal grandfather was a cook in the US Army. I never really asked him anything about it while he was alive. He'd occasionally make a crack about peeling potatoes, but that was all I really remember about him relating to food except for a few things I knew he loved to eat. He loved the fried catfish at Barney's, the BBQ at the Caboose, Buffalo Wings at Schooners (who doesn't love these?!), the Fried Chicken from the Grand Hotel and fried livers and gizzards, but I don't remember where he got those. But he didn't cook much at home. I do remember loving his huge batches of hamburger hash cooked up in an ancient seeming cast-iron skillet, something I always pictured him cooking for the ranks back during The War. Since I spent a lot of time at their place during the summers, there are two very distinct foods that always accompanied his quart of Busch as he swore at Andre Dawson or cheered on Ryne Sandburg (OK, we all know it was mostly swearing as any die-hard Cubs fan does, a lot). They were salted, roasted-in-the-shell peanuts and pork rinds. If you heard a bag being opened in the kitchen, you knew a small snack was at hand. But unless you were paying attention you didn't know which it was until Charlie took his first bite. And if it was pork rinds, you knew it from across the room.

These bizarrely shaped super-crunchy curls of deliciousness always intrigued me.
"What is a rind?"
"What part does it come from?"
"This can't really be the skin."

These days, when you buy a bag at the store a lot of them come with a small packet of hot-sauce. Clearly an influence of our central American population and their treatment of the "chicharron," though this wasn't the case back when I first started eating them. But as with so many things that once just had its place, the crispy bits of often discarded deliciousness, pork rinds seem to have been moved to a new status. Being seen on pork-centric and gastro-pub menus across the country, they are perhaps almost, chic? But I assure you, that with his white t-shirt and fatigue pants driving down the street in a woody-station-wagon, Charlie was not looking to set any trends!

But being the combo D.I.Y./culinarian that I am, I have learned to make crispy rinds at home. One fact I must add though is it has been quite a journey to master these. Actually, I have had to edit this post 3 times before publishing just because when I thought that last batch was perfect, I wanted it better. Since I buy all my belly whole, I always keep the skin, like when I made the New Year Paté. So start with a section of skin from which you have removed as much of the remaining fat and meat as you can. This piece is a little over a square foot. For sake of pot size, I cut this down into quarters and put it in a small stock pot filled with cold water. Bring this up to a soft boil and boil it for an hour. Be careful not to over-cook it (rolling boil) as to allow the skin itself to start breaking down, this makes the next step a PAIN!

Leave the sections in the warm water and work with them one at a time. You are going to take a sharp knife and remove the remaining fat that has not rendered off. The left picture is an untouched piece, while the right has been cleaned. I do this as I would remove skin from a fish. I leave the skin side down and hold the piece flat while I separate, in one piece, the layer of fat. Don't be afraid to take off too much, this is hard to do, unless you cut through the skin. Others have told me they simply scrape the fat off with the knife. I have found this makes it way too easy to tear the skin, but if it's easier for you then go with that method. (One could easily save the removed layer of fat and add into your next batch of Trotter Gear, or anything that would benefit from it)

As I finish each section I cut them into small pieces, roughly about a square inch. Sometimes I always go square, sometime I try to make them look a bit less perfect. I have even cut them into long strips of 1/4" by 2" just for fun (they almost cook up like a curly pig's tail shape). I then lay them out on trays of my Nesco Gardenmaster dehydrator. Each tray can hold about a square foot of skin. I dehydrate them for about 18 hours at 145˚. The picture above on the left is before dehydrating while the right is after. At this point you can see how well you did removing all the fat from the skin. If there is any fat left on, when you fry the pieces they will actually curl around the fat side of the skin and prevent it from poofing up as desired.

The next step is where you see how well you did. Heat up some frying oil to 400˚. If at home, give yourself room in your frying vessel because these expand about 4 times their starting size and need to remain fairly submerged in the oil. I'd use a large pot about 1/3 full and work in smaller batches. As with anything fried, it is best to season the items as soon as they come out of the oil so the seasoning adheres better. And this is where you can personalize the rinds. Simple things like fine salt, more adventurous things like powdered cheese, nutritional yeast or smoked paprika are all great ways to accent these treats!


  1. this sounds great how did u get it to puff?

  2. Nice story. Can't wait to try this out when I can fire up my little fryer outside on my patio. It's always interesting to see examples of food that have tended to be stereotyped negatively, actually be considered "gourmet."

  3. @passion, in the past getting the right poof had always been the trouble. The flavor was always right but the poof fell a little short. I had been frying at 375˚, but since I didn't want to fill up my little deep-fat fryer as Art mentions doing, I simply did it in a pot which had climbed to 400˚, and it resulted in the the best poof yet. Just don't leave them in too long or they will shrink and darken, no good for these things!

    @Art, yeah, so many things have taken on this status lately, and I will admit due to sheer ignorance, change in tastes or simply lack of exposure I held some negative thoughts towards things you'll see me making on this blog. So now I seem to be making up for lost time with these goodies!