Why It Works
- Store-bought fried pork rinds (chicharrones) become soft and tender after simmering in a tomatillo and tomato-based sauce.
Pork cracklings are one of those foods I can't keep in the house, along with potato chips and cereal. All three of course belong in the crispy-crunchy family, for which I have a deep fondness. (Will it break into little shards in my mouth? Then yes, please!)
I simply lose control over and cannot be trusted when snacking on cracklings. But what if you used cracklings as an ingredient in a dish? That way you eat only a portioned amount (that is, in principle.) I got the idea in San Antonio, while dining at La Gloria, a restaurant devoted to Mexican street food and run by chef Johnny Hernandez.
Midway into the meal, the chef sent out small plates on which even smaller plates seemed to nest. The smaller "plates" were actually rounds of fried masa (corn dough) called sopes. What a genius idea, to make an edible plate on top of which more items can be piled.
The sopes contained chicharrones simmered until very tender and sopping with the juices of tomatoes and tomatillos and chilies. You get the crunch of the corn patty, the softness of the chicharrones, the sauce that pools and spreads to the rims of the sopes. Also, queso fresco. And crema. So many delicious things piled into one little corn vehicle.
Naturally when I got home I set out to replicate the feel of the dish. The kind of rinds at La Gloria are an involved affair, and I couldn't wait that long to eat more cracklings. It was the perfect excuse to buy my beloved deep-fried pork rinds, the sort you can get at Mexican grocery stores (or, yes, I have even succumbed to their siren call at Walmart and gas stations all over the country).
I recreated chef Hernandez's sauce, smoky and spicy with these canned chili in adobo (one of my favorite last-minute additions to a stew). Then I added the cracklings. Over multiple batches, I've found that my preferred cooking time is about three minutes, from when the chicharrones hit the sauce until you serve them. Cooked for such a short period, the cracklings retain a bit of their crispy deep-fried goodness.
Now, if you live somewhere where these cracklings are not available, you can also use fresh pork belly, using this method I wrote about a few years ago, courtesy of Kenji. (It will not be the same, but you will still get the general feel of crispy pork softened by delicious sauce).
Sopes, by the way, are really fun to make. Using the same masa mixture you'd use to fashion homemade tortillas, you can instead make these disc-like things by molding the rims once they are halfway cooked. To do so, grab the browning rounds of dough off the griddle, form the rim with your fingertips, and put them back on the griddle to finish cooking. Ouch. But worth it.
Of course, if you're not inclined to burn your digits, you can serve stewed rinds any which way: in tortillas, atop rice and beans, or scrambled with eggs. Possibilities abound.
Finally, a note on sopes: The street snack can be found in innumerable incarnations in Mexico but always begin with a pan-fried corn base of some kind, which holds beans, cheese, red or green salsa, and often meat or some other featured filling. They go by various other names (pelliscada, memela) and appear in various other forms and shapes.
Adapted from a recipe by Chef Johnny Hernandez.
2 tablespoons neutral cooking oil such as vegetable or canola
1 medium onion, chopped medium (about 1 cup)
4 medium cloves of garlic, minced (about 4 teaspoons)
2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 pounds tomatillos (8 to 10 small), husks removed, quartered
3 medium canned or fresh plum tomatoes (such as Roma or San Marzano), cut into quarters
1 serrano pepper, roughly chopped
2 canned chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
1 cup of chopped fresh cilantro leaves and fine stems, plus more to garnish
1 quart (4 cups) homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock (or water)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Queso fresco to garnish
Mexican-style crema to garnish (optional)
5 ounces store-bought fried pork rinds (chicharrones)
Heat oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are starting to brown, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add oregano and cumin and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomatillos, tomatoes, serrano pepper, and chipotle pepper. Scrape up any browned bits from bottom of pan and reduce heat to medium. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatillos and tomatoes are softened and their juices have reduced to a thick sauce-like consistency. Add 2 cups chicken stock (or water), bring to a simmer, and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
Transfer mixture to a food processor. Add cilantro and process until mostly smooth, with an oatmeal-like consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Return the puréed sauce back to the pot. Add chicharrones and bring sauce to a simmer. Simmer until the chicharrones are tender, 10 to 15 minutes, adding additional stock or water as necessary to adjust the consistency of the liquid. Serve with choice of garnishes.
3-quart sauté pan
The chicharrones guisados can be served with tortillas, sopes, rice, or beans.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 4 to 6|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 16g||20%|
|Saturated Fat 4g||21%|
|Total Carbohydrate 15g||5%|
|Dietary Fiber 4g||14%|
|Total Sugars 8g|
|Vitamin C 27mg||135%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|