I’m sure you’ve all heard of chicharrones. Also known as pork rinds or cracklin’s and often sold in liquor stores with a small packet of hot sauce, these puffy pig fat treats are a mere shadow of the real thing. If you’re lucky, you’ve got a good authentic Mexican restaurant in your town where you can get a fresh fried chicharrone, possibly with some actual pork skin. If you’re brave, you might even try making them yourself.
While technically not bacon, this Latin American treat is closely related enough for me to justify talking about it here. Last week I made chile verde, using a pork shoulder (or butt) roast. There’s usually a thick layer of fat on one side, with a streak of meat running through the center, but not enough to try to salvage. I generally cut off all this fat and toss it, but for some reason I was struck with the idea of trying to make chicharrones this time. I’d never done it before, and didn’t know if this cut of fat even qualified, but still I charged forth.
I started by placing the pieces into a skillet with a miniscule amount of olive oil, just to get the frying started. I sprinkled them lightly with salt and cooked them on the stove on low heat for nearly an hour, turning occassionally. After that amount of time, they weren’t anywhere near crispy, so I heated the oven to 300 degrees and cooked them for another hour. Still not crispy enough! Apparently it takes quite a while to cook all the moisture out of pork fat. So I let them go one more hour and finally felt they were done enough. Sadly, I’m an idiot and didn’t realize I would be blogging about this, so only took one crappy photo (on my phone, of course) toward the end of the process.
How can I describe these savory bites? They were so rich and fatty, at once wildly satisfying and horribly guilt-inducing. I’ve had other homemade chicharrones that were overcooked and had a burnt flavor, but the long, slow cooking time caused no burning, and made them crispy, slightly chewy toward the center and kind of melt-in-your-mouth delicious. They were so good, I promised myself I wouldn’t make them more than once a year. Clearly I am not a sweets person…for me this was like a chocoholic eating a whole box of See’s candy in a sitting.
If you’re a true bacon lover, I highly recommend trying this out for yourself. But I warn you, chicharrones may be habit forming. Do not attempt to operate heavy machinery with greasy fingers. If you feel you are at risk of pork fat overdose, eat a salad…and don’t forget the bacon bits.