Mission: Chicharrones

pork_rinds For some reason I felt a weird compulsion to attempt to make my own chicharrones this weekend. Chicharrones are pork rinds, but not at all like the kind I grew up with (and never really liked). Those are the the sad, distant cousins of the type of pork rind I discovered a couple of years ago at a local Mexican bakery and sandwich shop. These still have meat attached and are chewy and decadent (or disgusting, depending on where you stand on the whole skin-eating thing). Over the past two or three years, I’ve gotten chicharrones maybe 8 or 10 times. Of those, maybe only half of the times were they really, really good. They don’t do well under heat lamps, and unless you get there early (and I never get anywhere early), you’ll be stuck with dried-out, hard bits of pig. I decided to try to make my own so that I would be assured of getting some that were fresh and delectable (or fresh and disgusting depending on that skin-eating thing).

I turned to the internet to see what I’d need. The main ingredient here is pork belly. And it is, apparently, all but impossible to find at any of the white-bread grocery stores I frequent. I figured I would have to go to a Mexican meat market, but I decided to try a couple of my usual grocery stores first. First I tried Central Market — the upscale Texas grocery store chain that is every bit as good as its P.R. claims it is. Mostly. This place has an incredible meat department — the sprawling display case of meat is bigger than the house I grew up in. When I asked the butcher behind the counter if they had any pork belly, he seemed surprised. I’m guessing it’s not a common question. He told me I could call and place a special order sometime, but it just wasn’t something they carried. This is the store that carries 8-foot stalks of sugar cane and 57 varieties of apples. If octopus-and-rhubarb sausage exists … they’ve got it. They’ve got EVERYTHING! But pork belly? No way. Don’t they do their own butchering? Isn’t that part of a pig? Along with cheeks and jowls and bacon and pork chops? Shouldn’t it be on the premises — maybe not wrapped up all pretty but available? When I asked about fresh lard, the guy’s eyes got really big, but he managed a polite, “No ma’am, we sure don’t.” I also asked at my neighborhood grocery store — part of a large local chain. The butcher was Hispanic, and when I asked about pork belly and fresh lard he started laughing. “I’m going to have to go to a Mexican meat market, right?” And he said, “Yes you are, miss — this is a white people’s market.” I laughed with him, and felt really … white.

So I went to La Michoacana on Greenville Avenue yesterday. I’d never been there before and had expected it to be much larger inside. I walked around a bit looking at the produce and bakery items. I eventually made my way to the back of the store to the meat department. I had practiced a few phrases in Spanish just in case the butcher didn’t speak English, and, in fact, I don’t think he did speak much English, but we managed to understand each other after a tortured few minutes where I was trying to convince him that I wanted to make my OWN chicharrones — “No, really!” — and not buy the ones under the heat lamp on the counter. As I waited for him to go fetch my pork belly, I suddenly noticed a guy four feet away from me hacking away at a giant piece of bloody meat. There didn’t appear to be any skill in what he was doing. He was a teenager — maybe he was in training. Or maybe he’d lost a bet. I averted my eyes from the bloody mess only to see a whole row of containers of manteca fresca — fresh lard. Yay! I was expecting it to be refrigerated, and I was expecting it to be white … but inside the hot store it was liquid and looked like chicken soup. I picked up a container thinking “This is sure gonna make a mess if it spills in my car on the way home.” The butcher came back with two strips of pork belly. It was more than I wanted, but he seemed insistent on selling me a pound’s worth. Why not? He kept looking at me very suspiciously as he wrapped it up for me. He handed it to me, and as I started to walk away, I heard him tell another customer in Spanish that “la rubia” was going to make her own chicharrones. I turned around to look at them and they were chuckling. Again, I felt VERY white but smiled weakly and headed to the register.

The manteca fresca.

So anyway, I made my chicharrones today, and it was really easy. And they were great! Although, after about three you start feeling a little queasy. I made only a half-pound’s worth, but I still have a LOT left over. I hate to waste food, but I don’t know anyone who would even want to contemplate sharing. And I’m not sure these are going to keep. (I’ve been told that fat freezes well, so I should have just popped the unused pork belly into the freezer.) I think you can chop them up with chiles and make a kind of stew or something.

A pleasant, if fat-filled, weekend.

The “recipe” (which I originally found here):

The pork belly, cut into large chunks.

Half a pound of pork belly, simmering in water infused with about a tablespoon of baking soda (this seems to be a necessary step in making the pork belly pliable enough to cut and to chew). Remove the chunks from the water after 10 or 15 minutes; rinse off, and pat dry. Cut into small pieces.

I put a little lard into a skillet, but you probably don’t really need any oil or fat in the pan, other than the pork belly. Start frying skin-side down for 10 minutes or so, then flip over and fry the other side until crisp.

And … tada! Chicharrones! Add a little salt, and enjoy!


UPDATE (Dec. 15, 2012): This page gets an incredible number of hits, and I thought I would update very quickly on the current availability of pork belly. I recently purchased a pound at Whole Foods in Dallas and was told that they now carry it regularly. This must be a fairly new addition, because when I asked a few months ago, I was told that they did not carry it. It comes in wrapped, coiled one-pound pieces. I forget what the price was, but it was inexpensive (I think it was under $5.00). Here is what it looks like in the butcher’s case wrapped and, below, unwrapped. Go find some!



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7 responses to “Mission: Chicharrones

  1. That was a great story. It would have been boring if it wasn’t for the fact that you are white…LOL. La Michoacana is a great store. Next time you make them and have leftovers, try mixing them with scramble egg in the morning for great taquitos. That, or send them to me. I’ll give you my address!


    It really irritates me that Fiesta (which is closer to me) rarely has pork belly. I’m not even sure what “pork belly” is in Spanish — it might help to know this next time I stop by La Michoacana.

    I wish I had some of these chicharrones now! I would definitely eat them for breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. Snacks.

  3. I have to drive around my town and around Telephone Road in Houston to find the ingredients to make traditional meals. I never knew that making them would be so easy. My husband and I are making pork tamales. I saw him remove the skin part of the hunk of meat he was preparing. When I saw this, I knew that I had to make chicharrones. I am making them at this very moment. Thanks for your story.

  4. Hi, Melissa. I’m in Dallas and, as you know, it’s so easy to find already-made things like tamales that it’s easy to forget that some of these dishes ARE easy to make yourself. I’ve never made tamales, but I was shocked by how easy it was to make chicharrones. In fact, I wish I had a batch now! I hope you and your family have a great Christmas!


  5. mimiburde
    Hi Paula, I am cuban 49 years in New Jersey and born to a mother that did make the best chicharrones in the world, God, sometimes in Cuba right before leaving that and arina was all we could gather to put on the table, and we were pretty well off. Here she made them often so she would have the lard from them for some special dishes that really taste better when lard is used, arroz blanco is a must…and arroz con huevo fritos,,, my oldest daughter calls it huitofrito, fried eggs and rice…delicious! My mom passed away before she could share all the important secrests of her kitchen and though I have an idea, I still went fot the web. Your story is great, and I will be making these today as per Paula la Rubia. I hope you get this and know that a Cuban born guajirita will be guided by you on her first attempt to chicharrones…. My dad makes them, I want to surprise him so I can’t ask. Mimi

  6. I just found this blog whilst searching for David Wade. I wish you would start posting again. I was born in Ft Worth (lived in Arlington) till I was 6 and we moved to a little town near Dallas. I love reading about Dallas.

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