Fall is just about here, and that means it's pigskin season. With all due respect to the NFL, we're more excited about pigskins of the edible variety: pork chicharrònes.
Traditional to many pig-loving parts of Central America, Mexico and Spain, these deep-fried, seasoned shards of pieces of swine rind are typically served as snacks and sometimes garnishes to dishes like arepas or tostones. Making them is easy, but it does take some time: Pork skin is sliced into finger-friendly strips, fully dehydrated, then fried in lard or a vegetable oil until golden-brown. Depending on how much fat and meat are left intact, chicharrònes can either take the form of chewy, meaty pork nuggets, or a crunchy puffed-up chip. Either way, the taste is somewhere between bacon and a warm, cheeseless Cheeto. They melt in your mouth, leaving nothing but an intense porky flavor behind.
Chefs are getting in on the porcine action, making fancy chicharrònes at some of our favorite restaurants across the country. Here's where to find them.
4505 Meats, San Francisco
Before founder and chef Ryan Farr opened his butcher shop and barbecue, he made a living selling chicharrònes to local businesses. They're the real deal: huge, perfectly porky crisps doused with salt and chili powder. He recently released a new, ultra-airy kettle-cooked style fried in lard (as opposed to the rice bran oil in his original recipe), which are available online ($32 for a box of eight bags).
The Block Restaurant and Butcher, St. Louis, MO
The pork is butchered in-house, and the rinds consist of mostly loin and belly skin, which co-owner Amy Del Pietro says are the perfect thickness. They're dried for two days, boiled for six hours, then dehydrated for up to a week before being flash-fried to order—they're so fresh you can actually hear them crackling en route to the table. Choose from four flavors (bacon, barbeque, spicy or garlic-herb), but barbecue is by far the bestseller.
The Publican, Chicago
Cut into postage-stamp-sized pieces then puffed up in hot lard, this locally sourced, cheddar-coated version comes to the table in a paper cone, topped with the Publican's kicky spice mixture: three parts white cheddar powder (the fancy kind), two parts malt vinegar powder and one part spicy espelette pepper. Go ahead: Lick your fingers.
Knox Mason, Knoxville, TN
Bacon-salted pig skin? They went there. This Southern-focused restaurant and bar deep-fries pork rinds in peanut oil, then douses them in a combination of bourbon-smoked paprika, Tennessee Sunshine hot sauce and hickory-smoked bacon salt. Though the menu changes frequently, chef Matt Gallher says the chicharrònes have been a staple since day one.