Pork Cracklins - My Drug of Choice

by - 4:50 PM

I very distinctly remember the first time I tried a cracklin' - I was working at Spyglass Entertainment (back in my film days), and simultaneously starting my food-life-crisis. I was torn between two worlds - being a film student with an immense love of books, movies, and storytelling, I was in the right job with a great company making beautiful movies like The Vow - but my obsession with food, cooking, baking, and recipe creation was quickly taking over my free time. My hobby went from an interest to a burning passion and I was totally unsure about what my next step would be. 

Insert my boss - who I will forever be thankful to. He seemed to know where I needed to go before I even got there myself. Succinctly his advice? "Follow your Passion." You belong in food. 

And while I know that this is something that's told to people over and over again as a route to happiness, but a path that frankly 90% of the world can't take because of financial, situational, educational reasons, at that moment in my life with a helpful introduction or two from him into the reality food competition TV world, it was a risk I was able to take. 

I digress... back to cracklins. Every year at the holidays, or for big events - we'd go out as a production team not to a fancy restaurant. Not to the trendiest hippest new kid on the block. We'd go to his longterm standby - Dr. Hogly Wogly, a BBQ joint in Van Nuys that's been around since 1969 and crowd into a dingy table piled high with napkins, brisket, ribs, pulled pork, baked beans, loaves of bread, lots of BBQ sauce and be thankful for all the things that had gone right in the past year. And on one of these occasions, when we rolled up to the window to order, they had a small handwritten sign advertising "fresh cracklins." We obviously had to try them, right? 

They showed up in a paper cone, a whole heaping pile of them sprinkled in the doctor's secret rub, and we all tentatively took a bite. Crispy, light, airy, meaty, juicy, and full of so much flavor that my heart skipped a beat as I swallowed hard. What WERE these tiny morsels of heaven? I was head over heels in love - yet knew these nuggets had so much potential to be deadly. Handfuls of deep fried fatty pork belly cubes? What a tortured seductive mistress. 

It was in that moment that I also knew it for myself - my boss was right. I cared way more about these tender cracklins than I did about the mountains of scripts waiting at my desk. While I love movies and will always love entertainment, food was the manna of my soul, and after a few years I feel like I've found my calling - being able to share my love, my passion, and my drug of choice with the world. 

So what are Cracklins exactly? Just to clear up a few things - they are not the same as pork rinds or pork skins which you normally can find in giant bags at gas stations. Chicharrones on the other hand are the Mexican equivalent and at their base are more similar to pork rinds, but there are some that keep the meat and layer of fat beneath the skin, and if you can find a store that makes those then ENJOY. (and let me know where it is so I can go get some too!). 

But a cracklins are made from the belly of a pig, the super fatty layer streaked with muscle where bacon comes from. They are 1"x 1" cubes of pork belly, normally with the skin, fat, and meat that are rendered down into crispy bite-sized snacks that can be coated with a myriad of seasonings. 

Being a bit of a food nerd - I always want to know the how and why of what makes things so delicious... so if you just want to know how to do it, you can skip this part. 

When it comes to fatty animal undersides, most people think that the crispy skins are a result of them being made up of fat and being fried to a crisp while the rest of the meat cooks. And while RIGHT UNDER the skin is certainly a hearty layer of fat, there's actually a lot of water and connective tissues in skin that must be broken down to get that truly crunchy crisp. 

So first - you want to dry out your cracklins on a low and slow heat... the water will evaporate and those connective tissues will soften. But what about the crisp? That then comes from the remaining proteins in the fat and skin that need to be heated up until they coagulate and stiffen. So the second process of your cook should be a quick heat process to give it that crunch we all know and love. 

Plus in the process as you're rendering out that extra water and fat, you'll end up with a pool of sweet, fragrant lard. Otherwise known as bacon butter and perhaps one of the best fats to cook things in! Not only does lard contain no trans-fats, it's actually mostly monounsaturated fats (the good ones) that are a great addition to your diet, it makes everything taste like... well... bacon! 

The Easiest Pork Cracklin' & Lardo Recipe You'll Ever Find
A lot of recipes have you do a two step process... dry out the cracklins, and then flash roast or fry them up crisp. Arguably it makes for SLIGHTLY crispier cracklings and the roasting method lets you heavily season your meat, but who's got time for that? Also a lot of recipes have you fry your pork in peanut oil, diluting your beautiful beautiful lard. NOPE. Don't fall for it!

  • 2 pounds fatty, boneless pork belly (with skin) 
  • 4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided 
  • Cast iron skillet
  • Slotted spoon
  • Mesh strainer with cheesecloth 
  • Heat safe bowl
  • Hand mixer 

Cut pork belly in to even 1" x 1" cubes and sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of salt. Place pork belly in your cast iron skillet, turn the heat on low and let simmer stirring every 4 to 5 minutes to prevent it from sticking. Cook for 40 to 50 minutes or until cracklins are lightly browned and floating in a pool of liquid.

Turn up the heat to medium and let cracklins fry until browned. Use a slotted spoon to remove cracklins from pan and place on a paper towel lined plate. Sprinkle generously with remaining salt.

Place your strainer with cheesecloth into a heat safe bowl and very carefully pour the remaining fat in the skillet through the strainer into the bowl. Let cool to room temperature and then place covered in the refrigerator overnight.

Enjoy your cracklins immediately, or store in a sealed container for up to 3 days.

Once your fat has hardened, remove from the refrigerator and using a hand mixer or whisk, whip the lard until it's a smooth and spreadable consistency. Use in place of butter on bread, or when cooking!

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You've found me! But let's be real - there isn't much need to look at my blogger "about me" page - so for more info please head to either my portfolio & resume site at (www.nicolemiizuka.com) or read my delicious musings on my blog at (www.itsborderlinegenius.com). Thanks and have a lovely day!