Chicharrón may just be my favorite thing in the world—well, this week anyway. In all seriousness, though: what’s not to love: all the crisp deliciousness of a chip but made out of meat!
The idea to make chicharrón has been kicking about in my head for a while. I was first inspired when I was walking the aisles of a supermarket in Fulton, TX that had a truly impressive selection of chicharrón—short and curly, long and finger-like, dusted with fiery-looking spices, or just that lovely golden-bronze of all good fried things.
I came home determined to make my own chicharrón. There are, of course, any number of ways to make chicharrón. Dominican restaurants around NYC serve the more substantial variety—bricks of pork belly cooked in lard till crisp and brittle and then hacked up to order at the counter right in front of you. The flesh is often a little fibrous and dry, but with a little spritz of lime, it’s to die for, with thick, brittle skin fried to a dark caramel brown.
As much as I love this kind of chicharrón, I was looking for something closer to the kind of chicharrón you can find in a supermarket—ethereal, light, crisp, with an almost cottony interior. Overinflated pork rinds, basically.
The key to making these cotton candy pork rinds is to use only the skin of the pork belly. Though this might be a little impractical if you’re just looking to make chicharrón, it works out perfectly if you can find a use for a couple of pounds of pork belly. (My suggestion: homemade bacon!). Alternately, if your butcher will just sell you some pork belly skin, just do that, and lucky you!
Though this recipe does take quite a long time to make, it doesn’t require much hands-on work. Do yourself a favor, though, and ask your butcher to remove the skin from your piece of pork belly. This is something you can do fairly easily at home, but your butcher will be able to do this in a fraction of the time it will take you.
A note on lard: It seems unseemly to me to cook chicharrón in anything other than lard. However, if you don’t have access to inexpensive, good-quality lard from a butcher shop, feel free to use a neutral-tasting vegetable oil.
A note on chaat masala: Chaat masala is a snack-time staple in many Indian households. Usually a mixture of black salt, dried mango powder, and a variety of other spices, it’s often used to give fruit a tangy kick. Sprinkle liberally over salads, fruit, and fried food.
Chaat Masala Chicharrón
1 large piece pork belly skin, approximately 11 inches x 17 inches (the exact size isn’t important)
Lard for frying
Fill a large saucepan with salted water and bring to a boil.
While the water is boiling, remove any stray hairs from the surface of the pork skin and rinse thoroughly under cool water.
Once the water has come to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and gently lower the pork skin into the pan. Place a small plate in the pan over the pork to keep it submerged. Make sure that the water is only just bubbling.
Allow to cook for at least an hour and a half, until the pork skin is tender enough to cut easily with the side of a spoon.
Leave the pork in the cooking liquid until it is cool enough to handle.
Spread the pork skin-side-down on a cutting board. Using a small knife and your fingers, remove any bits of fat and meat from the underside of the pork. Work gently since the skin will have become quite delicate by this point and will tear easily. Either discard the scraps of meat or reserve for another use. (FYI, they make a delicious stir-fry with some vegetables!).
Preheat the oven to its lowest setting, approximately 150°F, with a rack positioned in the center.
Line a half-sheet pan with parchment paper and place a cooling rack inside it.
Spread the pork skin out on the cooling rack and place the pan inside the oven. Let it dry for at least 8 hours or preferably overnight.
When the pork is ready it will be brittle and have a glassy appearance. Break the pork skin into 1-inch squares and set aside until you’re ready to make your chicharrón.
To fry the chicharrón, heat 1 inch of lard in a heavy-bottomed pan until the oil registers 350°F on an instant-read thermometer.
Working with 4 to 5 pieces at a time, carefully drop the pieces of pork skin into the hot lard. They will initially sink to the bottom of the pan and then resurface, slowly expanding and puffing up to several times their original size. Use a slotted spoon to gently keep the pieces submerged in the hot oil, turning them occasionally so that all sides are evenly cooked.
Each batch should take no longer than 30 seconds. Remember that the pork will continue to cook even after you remove it from the oil so make sure not to let it get too brown!
Remove from the hot oil and place in a half-sheet pan lined with paper towels. Repeat with the rest of the pork skin until done.
If you see an excess of oil on your chicharrón, just dab them with some wadded paper towels to soak it up.
Put the chicharrón into a large bowl and sprinkle with fine sea salt and a healthy amount of chaat masala. Toss well to distribute the salt and chaat masala.
Eat immediately or, if you can stand the temptation, store in the refrigerator for upto a week.