Mexican Pork Scratchings – Chicharrón

I’m in the process of putting another blog entry together about home made dry-cure bacon and after buying a 4.5Kg pork belly from the butchers there were some leftovers, some ribs, a weird strip of meat from under the belly and a rather large piece of skin. Cracking/Pork Scratchings seemed like the obvious idea and it reminded me of some rather amazing Mexican pork scratchings on Thomasina Miers program Mexican Food Made Simple and so here we are making pork scratchings.

Its a little involved but the result is amazing and not particularly fatty, think all of the best aspects of crackling but without so much fat/grease, not that I’m saying these are healthy snacks but as much of the fat as possible gets removed in the processing.

The first step is to gently simmer the skin for 90 minutes, the big challenge for me was to get the skin to stay under the water and in the end it took a couple of bamboo skewers wedged into the saucepan to make it happen.

Experimenting with recipes is fun and always a learning experience, the learning experience of simmering a piece of pig skin for 90 minutes is that the hotter it is the more likely it is to fall apart. My 60cm x  30cm of skin could not hold its own weight to be lifted out of the water and promptly split into a number of pieces. Next time (and they are nice enough for there to be a next time) I will leave it in the water to cool down, the cooler it is the easier it was to handle.

As you can see above its all in pieces. The next step is to remove ALL of the fat and just leave the skin. You really need to put as much effort as possible into removing as much fat as you can as this will pay dividends later when drying, as once the skin starts to dry/shrink it will squeeze out any fat you’ve left. When its cool enough to handle then get a large sharp knife and scrape away the fat from the skin, be gentle as first, you’ll soon get the hang of how much force you can apply without damaging the skin. This bit of the recipe is rather icky and messy as there is quite a bit of fat and quite a bit of mess, both liquid and solid fat. Once you’ve done scraping you should have this roughly 3mm thick piece of skin with no fat at all, just the skin, you can almost see through it.

You can see in the middle shot above just how greasy things get, have plenty of kitchen towels to hand, you can absorb the last of the fat from the skin by pressing between a couple of pieces. On the right is the final result before starting to dry it out. The next step is a longish one but doesn’t really need any of your attention. Put the cleaned up pieces on skin on a rack, make sure you place a baking tray under the rack, then place into the oven on its lowest possible setting to dry them out. My oven set on its lowest 50C was actually more like 80C and I just propped the door open slightly with a chopstick to bring the temp down. Remember, you are drying not cooking.

Left to right you can see the drying process, left is the rubbery skin after simmering. The middle picture is after about 7 hours of drying, at this point the skin is rather like plastic, hard but flexible, it bends. Finally on the right after about 12 hours of drying you can see the final result, at this point its like rock, very hard and quite brittle, you can snap pieces off. One thing to be aware of is that as it shrinks/dries and fat left on the skin will get squeezed out and will drip onto the tray below. I also gave mine a final bit of de-fatting with some paper towels to absorb any left over residue.

Now its time for the eating, the best way to cook them is to fry in hot oil at around 180C/190C. Break off some smallish pieces and drop into the hot oil, for a couple of seconds it will look like nothing is happening and then they will puff up, you’ll notice quite a difference between what goes in and what comes out. Cook them for around 10 seconds.

Sprinkle with some salt and eat, they are supposedly very nice with some beer but sadly all I had to hand was some diet coke. YUM!