Homemade pork rinds, or chicharrones, are a healthy and flavorful low carb snack without the additives or hydrogenated oils. The ultimate paleo snack!
I have to confess that pork rinds used to freak me out. It was in my younger, more squeamish days, and may have something to do with the trauma of being chased around by a college friend with a dried pig’s ear he’d purchased for his dog. Come to think of it, though, the store-bought brands still freak me out, what with all the additives, MSG, hydrogenated oils and other unmentionables. But having tasted some freshly made chicharrones at a few restaurants, I no longer tar them all with the same brush. Pork rinds are being elevated from their junk food status into a true delicacy. I have overcome my distaste for them and you will be glad I did. Because I have been experimenting in the kitchen and can honestly say that homemade chicharrones are a delicious and healthy low carb snack. And they really aren’t that hard to make either. So let’s get cracklin…
The hardest part of the whole process is sourcing the pork skin. I couldn’t find pork skin for love nor money at any regular grocery stores in my vicinity and was considering purchasing pork belly at a local Asian market because it often comes with the skin still attached. But this was a much pricier option and it went against my waste-not-want-not nature. Knowing that many butchers are simply throwing back fat and skin away since there is so little demand for it, I was sure I could find a better solution.
Enter John Crow Farm in Groton, MA. I could go on and on about how much I love John Crow Farm. We discovered them at our local farmer’s market a few summers ago and have been purchasing grassfed and pasture-raised meat from them ever since. They offer a meat CSA and we get our share every month, a random mixture of beef, pork, lamb and chicken, with the occasional cut of goat thrown in for good measure. The carnivore in me loves the meat, of course, but I also appreciate the passion and personality of the farmers and farm workers. Every so often we get updates and emails about goings-on at the farm that are written with a bitingly dry humour I love. They were clearly my best option for pork skin and they happily included some in my next farm share. They wouldn’t take a penny in payment for it either and have said I can have as much of it as I want.
So with a veritable treasure trove of pork skin, I was off to the chicharrone races. My first attempt was tasty but I wouldn’t call it a success. I left far too much of the fat on the skin, having read that it was fine to do so. This appealed to me in part because it eliminated the extra work of cutting the fat off the skin, but also because I thought it would be tastier. It is not fine to do so, however, since when you go to fry the pork rinds, the fat puffs up into something resembling a pillow and floats with the pork skin on top. It’s like a little life jacket for each piece of pork skin, rescuing it from drowning in the hot oil. Your pork skin won’t sizzle and get all crispy, but instead become hard and impossible to chew and the only part you will be able to eat is the fatty pillow attached to the skin.
It wasn’t until my third attempt that I nailed down the process and ended up with perfectly crispy chicharrones. You really do need to remove the majority of the fat from the skin, and it’s not as hard as it appears. Cutting the skin into long strips about 2 inches wide made the removal more manageable. I then scored the fat and the slid a sharp knife (really sharp knife, so get out that knife sharpener!) under the first piece of fat. Once that was removed, I could use that part of the skin to hold onto and slide my knife easily under the remaining pieces of fat (see photo below). From there, I could cut my strips of skin into 2 inch pieces.
This leaves you with a lot of cubed fat and most recipes will tell you to discard it. Don’t you DARE! That is good stuff and super healthy if you’ve managed to procure some pasture-raised pork skin. You can do a number of things with it, including making sausage, rendering your own lard (healthy lard!) and even using it to fry the chicharrones themselves. In fact, many recipes I came across have you frying the chicharrones in lard and why not fry it in its own lard instead of the hydrogenated store bought variety? This last time, I cubed the fat and froze about half of it for future sausage making, and then rendered the rest and used it to fry the chicharrones. It wasn’t quite enough lard, so I added some cooking oil (grapeseed) to top it up.
When I started investigating making my own pork rinds, I saw any number of methods and some of them were quite laborious. Hours of boiling in water to render off the fat and soften the skin and then another hour of boiling in hot oil until they puff up and become crispy. I was beginning to think I really didn’t want to make them at all when I came across this recipe for Cuban Chicharrones. It offered me a choice of two methods, one of which meant I could turn on my oven at a low temperature for several hours and leave the skins to their own devices. Once they were sufficiently dried, I could then fry them up to cracklin’ perfection. It worked beautifully and I wouldn’t make them any other way.
As for flavourings and seasonings, you have so many great choices. I’d say the best approach to adding flavour is to wait until the crispy skins come out of the hot fat, and then toss them immediately with any spices then. For now, I am just enjoying the flavour of the chicharrones all on their own, enhanced only be a little salt and pepper.