Pig skin is a beautiful, delectable thing. Not just good for making footballs. You can eat it too.
If you need a grain-free substitute for chips, these are totally the way to go. They are infinitely dip-able, crazy crispy, and even taste a little bit like popcorn, strangely.
Yes, you can probably buy pork rinds at your grocery store. And no, they’re definitely not the simplest thing to make. But wouldn’t you rather have something delicious that you knew entirely where it came from and how it was made?
Not to mention totally nutritious! (As opposed to the store-bought kind, which I’m guessing probably aren’t nearly as nutritious as mine!) Pigs soak up the sun in their skin and make Vit. D just like humans do. (Although not all pigs get to hang out in the sun! This is why it’s important to get pastured pig skin!) And since both J and I have pretty sensitive skin, we have to be careful not to get too much sun. Probably not nearly enough to get sufficient Vit. D. We’re lucky we have pastured pigs and their fat to help provide us with extra supplies of it. Pastured pork fat has supposedly the highest naturally-occurring concentrations of Vit. D than any other food aside from fermented cod liver oil — which we take lots of too — but isn’t nearly as tasty!
We’d tried making fried pork skin before with the skin that we’d slice off the pieces of pancetta that we get from our farm. But just throwing the pieces into hot oil doesn’t exactly work. Even though they’re cured, the tough collagen fibers in the skin are still intact, which makes for VERY chewy pork rinds.
The ideal with pork rinds is 1) to have the skin bubble up when fried so it’s crispy from all the air bubbles inside it, and 2) to have the collagen all broken down into gelatin, again so they’re crispy and, dare I say, delicate.
This is how I accomplished this feat:
1) I soaked a LOAD of pig skin (it was a couple of pounds, including some from pancetta rinds, some very fresh; some with lots of fat attached, and even some meat, and some with just skin) overnight in a baking soda and salt solution. I mixed about 1 T baking soda and 1 T sea salt for every pint of water, with enough to cover the full crock pot of pig skin. I think it worked out to be about 2 T each of the baking soda and salt. The salt helps flavor the skins, and I probably could have used more. The baking soda makes the skin more alkaline, which for some reason helps it to puff up better when it gets fried.
2) The next morning I removed the crock from the fridge, drained the liquid, and added fresh water. Then I put it on low in the crock pot appliance and let it cook all day.
3) Once cooked to the point at which the skin was literally falling apart (it probably didn’t need to be cooked that long, and might have been slightly easier to work with if it had been a little more intact), I pulled the pieces of skin out of the liquid and allowed them to cool on a plate.
*I saved the cooking liquid and used it as part of a delicious pork broth. It’s full of wonderful, relatively flavorless gelatin — don’t throw it out! It’s REALLY good for you.
4) Once cooled, I sliced the skin up into various sized-pieces, what seemed like would be bite-sized. I put these on my dehydrator trays.
I would advise you NOT to do that.
(I am still trying to degrease my dehydrator trays, after several sink-fulls of very soapy water. I also think the extra time in the dehydrator wasn’t the best thing for some of the fats, and some of them may have oxidized, which is not a good thing for fats to do. I’m sure I’ve eaten worse, but I try to eat the best possible all the time now.)
In the future, when I do this, I will put them in the oven on low, probably 200 or 250 degrees, laid out on my cookie cooling racks, which I will place over a roasting pan to catch the grease. Because all that fat can certainly be reused, and was a shame to throw away — it just made a HUGE MESS in my dehydrator!!
The point is, you want to dry these pieces out, but not recook them. I’m thinking a low oven, with the door cracked, for a couple of hours or overnight, would probably have been much more effective than what I did. (Oh, and you do definitely want to dehydrate them. If you threw them undehydrated in the frying oil they’d make a crazy spatter of a mess, and probably burn you in the process.)
5) Once dehydrated, the pieces can be stored indefinitely, though I think best in the fridge or freezer. Because they are very oily, and you don’t want any more of those oils to oxidize! I kept about half of them in the fridge for over a month, and I still haven’t used the ones in the freezer yet. On the bright side of things, I didn’t have to worry too much about them when we lost our power in the hurricane, because a few days above super-cold temps wasn’t going to hurt them.
6) When you’re ready to cook these, fill a small cast iron skillet with lard, or other fat which can handle high temperatures without burning. You’ll need a fair amount — I put a little less than a pint in my 8″ skillet. The oil needs to be deep enough that the rinds can easily float, although not so deep that you’re spilling hot oil out of the pan when you drop the pieces in. (You can let the oil cool once you’re done and pour it back in a container to reuse later, so you’re not wasting a ton of oil.)
7) Heat lard until relatively hot. I didn’t use a thermometer, but once it seemed pretty hot, I put a small piece of the rind in and watched until it started bubbling. If at any point the fat starts to smoke, turn it down! You don’t want to burn the oil.
8) Put in a fresh rind as a tester. If it immediately starts bubbling, floating, and curling up, your oil is hot enough. If it stays on the bottom, or only bubbles gently, your oil is definitely too cold. The key to getting perfectly crispy pork rinds is having oil that is so hot that the minute the pieces touch the oil, they start expanding rapidly. Once the oil is at the right temperature, this process goes pretty quickly, as they are finished usually faster than you can get them out of the oil and put new pieces in. As long as the oil isn’t too hot, you don’t need to rush the process, tho, since they shouldn’t burn, or at least mine didn’t.
We took a short video showing how quickly they cook — and in fact, they can poof up even more quickly than this — but it doesn’t seem to want to load here. I’ll try to load it to my facebook wall in case you want to see it.
9) Let the finished rinds cool and drain on a plate. Toss in a bowl with salt and any sort of seasonings you like. I like paprika, personally, but there are infinite possibilities, so use your imagination! They’re relatively neutral-flavored, so could take a wide variety of flavorings. Dorritos-flavored pork rinds? I don’t know, I suppose it could be possible … I used to LIVE on dorritos in high school … no wonder I’m in the state I’m in now!!
10) If you make more than you can eat in one sitting, you can put the leftovers in the fridge (or probably leave on the counter if you’re going to eat them the next day), and they can be recrisped in a 350 degree oven for about 10 or 15 minutes, until they start to smell like they’re cooking again. Some of the fattier pieces were even better, the second day, than the first, but the really super crispy ones weren’t quite as crispy and light once reheated.
This was my first really successful experience making pork rinds, so I’m still looking for things to improve … like that whole dehydrator debacle… Have you ever made them? Have any great tips to share? I’d love to hear them!
This post is part of Monday Mania, Weekend Gourmet Blog Carnival, Hunk of Meat Monday, Mangia Monday, Make a Food Friend Monday, Melt in Your Mouth Monday, Mingle Monday, Hearth and Soul Hop, Fat Tuesday, Slightly Indulgent Tuesday, Paleo Rodeo, and Tasty Tuesday.
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