Every Friday, Cara Nicoletti of The Meat Hook helps us get to know our favorite cuts of meat a little bit better – and introduces us to a few new ones, too. Read on, study up, then hightail it to your nearest butcher.
Crispy skin is usually the icing on the (meat) cake of a good recipe, but because the universe is ultimately kind and generous, crispy skin can also be the main event. To make this happen, go to your butcher and get a nice slab of pig skin. Pick up some lard for frying while you’re there, and voilà! You now have everything you need to make yourself a satisfying and insanely addictive crispy skin snack. Let’s get started.
Ingredients: 1 large piece of pork skin, trimmed of fat (about 2 pounds) 1 quart pork lard or neutral oil for frying (you may not need this much, but you want to keep your oil clean)
For seasoning: 1 lime 2 teaspoons salt 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chili powder (according to your spice tolerance)
Ask your butcher to find you pork skin that is as hairless as possible (the parboiling will help get rid of whatever hair remains). If your skin still has a large cap of white fat on it, use a sharp knife or bench scraper to remove as much as you can. Place the skin in a stockpot and cover it with about 4 inches of water, then place a plate on top of the skin to keep it below the water. Cover the pot and bring the water to a rapid boil. Lower the heat slightly, and gently boil the skin for 2 hours, checking occasionally to make sure there is still water in the pot.
After 2 hours, remove the skin and allow it to cool until you’re able to handle it. Gently remove any white fat that's left (this will be much easier now that the fat is softened from boiling).
Pat the skin dry, and place it on a perforated sheet pan with a non-perforated sheet pan underneath it to catch any fat that renders out during the next step.
Set your oven to the lowest setting (usually that’s around 200° F), and dehydrate the skin for 8 to 10 hours. (Of course, if you’re lucky enough to have a dehydrator, use that!). The skin is done when it's brittle enough to crack cleanly into pieces. Once the skin is at this point, fill a pot with about 4 inches of melted lard or frying oil and heat it 400° F.
Then you fry them up: Crack the skin into small pieces -- roughly 1-inch squares -- and fry them one or two at a time, poking them until they puff up and turn golden brown. Transfer to a paper towel to drain, and once they’ve cooled slightly, squeeze the juice of 1 lime over them and sprinkle with salt and chili powder.
Cara Nicoletti is a butcher and writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Cara started working in restaurants when she moved to New York in 2004, and was a baker and pastry chef for several years before following in her grandfather and great-grandfathers' footsteps and becoming a butcher. She is the writer behind the literary recipe blog, Yummy-Books.com, and author of Voracious, which will be published by Little, Brown in 2015. She is currently a whole-animal butcher and sausage-making teacher at The Meat Hook in Williamsburg.