When faced with the question this past fall of what I would do with a bacon rind, I used some to enrich a pot of beans and used a batch of fresh skin, nipple-on no less, to do the same for meatballs. Certainly delicious, if perhaps a little too precious. Faced with a slightly different challenge from myself, what to do with a bunch of rind from an already dried serrano ham, I followed Michael Ruhlman’s direction from the Butcher & Larder event and went directly for the jugular. I would attempt cracklins. Simple, delicious, undistilled, pure pork skin. But there was risk.
I had no idea if this would work. In fact, until I dropped them into the lard, I was sure that it would not work. Fresh skin is one thing. I knew how those would behave, but serrano ham was already heavily salted and dried for almost a full year. The skin was completely different than regular pork skin, it was like one of those old plastic sheets on which I used to make Christmas cookies when I was kid. Yet a second after dropping the skins in the lard, I was happy to see that cracklins could be made from the last “dregs” of a ham.
This skin was the last remnant that I had of the wonderful serrano ham from Bessie the Hog. After using the last of the meat to make Ferran Adria’s peas and ham and the last of the bones for making serrano stock, I was left with the skin. With hopes of making cracklins for the first time, I worked the skin in the same way as I would regular fresh pork skin with hopes that life could be pulled from the dried skins.
First, I boiled the skin for a few hours. Not to be too general time wise, I boiled the hell out of the skin until it felt fragile when I handled it. For the serrano skins, that took upwards of 2 hours. After it was cool enough to handle, I scraped all of the goodness from the inside of the skin, in some cases getting a cooks treat of rehydrated serrano ham. Then I cut the pieces into rectangles and dehydrated the pieces in a low oven overnight. When they were ready, they were no longer bendable and were strong enough where I doubt that they were breakable.
When ready to make an attempt at cracklins, I heated a pot with about an two inches of pork and bacon fat at the bottom. When hot enough to fry, I dropped some of the pieces of dehydrated skin into the fat and they instantly poofed. I was so pleased. After another 30 seconds in the oil, I scooped the cracklins onto some draining paper, sprinkling them with a combination of smoked sea salt and pimenton.
Maybe it is that no cracklin beats the cracklin fresh out of the lard, but these were flat out tremendous. Frankly, besides the cracklins eaten at the Publican here in Chicago, I have never been impressed with puffed pork skin. The ham taste was right on, the texture with extremely crispy and airy, but until I added the Co-op Too Hot Jack O’Lantern Sauce (with chocolate habanero), it was not complete. Once the hot sauce hit the cracklin, it was perfect. You had the essence of dry cured ham, but hidden behind the taste of great pig was the sharp vinegar-y hit of heat from the habanero sauce.
Extrapolating the ability to make cracklins from ham rind, I would estimate that bacon skin cracklins are delicious, country ham cracklins would be delicious, and porchetta skin cracklins would be delicious. Making the serrano ham skins into cracklins just opened up a whole new world of fried pork skin. Act accordingly.