I recently read an article about waste that has really stuck with me. I haven’t been able to get it off my mind. Generally speaking, I absolutely can’t stand to see things go to waste or to spend valuable dollars on frivolous purchases. (One exception to this is when said purchases involve secondhand food props, in which case I’m all, “Please, Marrow Man? I really do need this $1 baby bowl for a blog post that I’m planning…”)
In all seriousness, though, wastefulness literally goes against every fiber of my being, especially when it comes to food. Case in point: This morning I threw an overripe avocado in the garbage and was practically brought to tears over it. That poor bumpy-skinned avocado had a life at one point. It’s insides were smooth and bright and full of life. It deserved to get blended into my morning smoothie, not only because of the dollars I’d spent on it and the time I’d spent hemming and hawing over the avocado bin at the grocery store, but also because of the nutrients it could provide. Nutrients that are now going to end up in buried in the earth rather than providing sustenance to the human body. That simple little toss literally made my heart lurch and my stomach clench. I felt so…ashamed. So sad for the brown, mushy avocado.
I also have a love for parts of the animal that generally go uneaten, as I’m sure you can tell from my blog name alone. When I consume meat, I like to know that every part of that animal is being used and appreciated. I almost always fry up the livers and giblets that come in a turkey and turn chicken carcasses into a rich bone broth.
Actually, I tend to think that almost anything on an animal is edible and can taste delicious if prepared well. Some of my personal favorite dishes that use odd bits include creamy pâté de foie gras (liver), savory headcheese terrines (head parts not including eyes and ears), crispy pan-fried sweetbreads (thymus glands), and, of course, roasted bone marrow.
And now I officially sound a little Hannibal Lecter-ish. Awesome.
Fried pig skins are also a favorite of mine. They’re known as rinds, cracklins or chicharrones in different parts of the world, but, regardless of what we call them and where I am when I’m eating them, they’re something that will always remind me of growing up in the south. I’d munch on a bag of chile-dusted rinds with my sister when I was younger, both of us ignorant as to what they were or how they were part of the Nose-to-Tail eating movement at the time.
But when I started thinking heavily about waste earlier this week, I couldn’t help but circle back to those crispy rind-filled days and think how wonderful it is that so many different cultures around the world have found a delicious and extraordinary way of consuming this part of the pig rather than wasting it. So I’ve decided to prepare them here today as a kind of homage to one of my favorite childhood foods as well as to the ever-growing nose-to-tail movement that I feel so passionate about.
So I started to recipe plan, thinking it wouldn’t take all that long to make these little gems: “Fried pig skins. Easy, peasy. All I have to do is procure some skins from the local Asian market and fry them up!” Oh, how naive I was…
As it turns out, this is probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever made for this blog. Even more intense than the Xiao Long Bao, I think. Come to find out, it’s the little, technical details that make all the difference between ending up with thin, unpuffed strips of concrete and the crispy, delicate rinds you see here.
But once I got that down, these crisps were everything I ever dreamed of. The thin strips were light-as-air, their tiny bubbles popping with a loud crunch as I bit down into them straight out of the fryer. I dusted them with a savory sweet Chinese 5-spice powder, which gave them a distinctly un-southern flavor, one that I fully loved and appreciated, especially when dipped in the sour ginger and black vinegar dipping sauce.
But the best part was, after all was said and done, I felt good knowing that this particular part of this particular pig hadn’t just been tossed in the trash. It fed us. It brought my husband and I together in the kitchen (all three times I made them!) It brought joy and excitement to our neighbors and our friends. And I was again reminded of the beauty that is found in not wasting. The simple beauty of appreciation.
- 4 pounds of pork skin (with fat still attached; if using skin that has already had the fat taken off, scale back to 2 pounds of pork skin)
- Canola or peanut oil for frying, enough to fill 2-inches in your cast iron skillet or other frying container
- 1 teaspoon of Chinese 5-spice powder
- 1 teaspoon of sea salt
- 1 teaspoon of white pepper
- 1 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger
- 2 tablespoons of Chinese black vinegar
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1 teaspoon of white pepper
- Begin by cutting the skin into 1” squares or rectangles. These will eventually become the rough size/shape of your rinds, so keep that in mind. If you notice any large chunks of meat still attached to the fat or any nipples on the skin, carefully cut them off.
- Fill a large pot with boiling water and heat over high. Once boiling, add the pork skins, making sure there is enough water to cover all of the skins. Boil uncovered for 1 hour or until the water turns a milky white color. This step softens the skin and begins to separate it from the fatty tissue.
- After 1 hour, drain the liquid and allow the skins to cool for 1 hour. Once cooled, return to the empty pot, cover with a paper towel, and allow to rest in the refrigerator for 2 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 170 degrees F. (Some ovens won’t go that low, in which case you should preheat it to the lowest possible setting.)
- Remove the skins from the refrigerator and scrape the fat off of of them using a spoon. I found it was easiest to insert the spoon’s tip exactly where the skin meets the fat to get the separation started and usually it would peel right off easily from there. There will likely be a little bit of fat that remains, but fat will make the rinds chewy in the end, so it’s good to get as much off as possible. Set a wire rack over a rimmed baking tray and place the skins on the rack, former fatty side down so that any little bits of fat will drip off while they’re dehydrating.
- Dehydrate the skins by placing them in the preheated oven for 10-12 hours. This removes excess water from the skin and also helps any remaining fat drip off. Skipping or rushing this step will make your skins explode when added to the hot oil. (Trust me. I’m always looking for short cuts in the kitchen and learned this one the hard way…twice!)
- Once dehydrated, heat 2 inches of oil in a deep cast iron skillet, fryer, or dutch oven.
- While the oil is heating, combine the 5-spice powder, salt, and white pepper in a small bowl or shaker. Set aside. Next, make the ginger black vinegar dipping sauce (optional) by whisking together the ginger, black vinegar, salt, white pepper, and red peppers. Set aside.
- Once you notice the oil begin to shimmer on the surface, add one of the dehydrated skins. It should sink straight to the bottom and then about 20-30 seconds later pop up to the surface and begin to puff. If it takes longer than that, let your oil continue to heat a bit more. If it happens much more quickly than that, turn the heat down to medium and wait for it to cool off so that the rinds don’t burn. Once you’ve reached the ideal temperature, add several (10 1”-squares at a time) of the dehydrated skins to the oil. Use a wooden spoon to prod them around while they fry, flipping them over to make sure all of the rind cooks evenly.
- Set fried rinds on paper towels to cool and drain of oil. Season by sprinkling with the 5-spice blend while still hot. Dip in ginger black vinegar sauce and enjoy!