Mrs. MM was watching a program with Heston Blumenthal on his quest to make the PERFECT peking duck recipe, part of which entailed recreating superb duck skin, but in his version, the skin was cooked separately from the duck. It was a fascinating program, and I was glad to hear even Mr. Blumenthal and his crew tried some 40+ iterations of their skin recipe before they got to their final version. APM, a regular reader, once sent me a DVD of Mr. Blumenthal and I am a fan of the chef’s incredible penchant for detail and perfection. At any rate, the program and some of the trials were still fresh in my memory a few days later when I was shopping at S&R for our weekly requirements, and I decided to ask their butcher if they would sell me some pig skin…
…and BINGO!, the butcher emerged with some 2 square feet of pig skin removed from the section that ended up as “skinless” pork chops, and with about an inch layer of fat below the skin. I was somewhat giddy with excitement. Plus at PHP200 for the bag filled with porcine epidermis, this wasn’t going to be a costly experiment if it all ended in failure…
We removed all but about 1/4 inch of fat behind the skin, and cut the skin into roughly six inch squares or slightly bigger. The fat was reserved and I made something else with that (more in another post).
Next we secured the pieces of pig skin to a cookie rack with a needle and twine (not an easy process by any measure), and actually resorted to a sharp nail to puncture the skin before tying it securing to the rack which was then placed in a cooke pan and placed in a pre-heated 325F oven.
We slow-rendered the fat and it dripped to the pan below, this took some 90-100 minutes, then the heat was turned up to 375F and the two pieces of pig skin were browned a bit more. The result is pictured above. They LOOKED brilliant. Though they did remind me a bit too much of this little cufflink box I purchased many years ago made of pigskin/leather… the color was a dead ringer. :) I didn’t season this first “control” batch and just wanted to see how it would turn out. It was flat, it was crisp and it looked pretty darned good. But it was also nearly tasteless (no salt, pepper, sugar or spice), and after a few minutes, wickedly hard. Let’s just say if you had false teeth this would be a challenge to eat.
For another batched of skin, I laid another pan ON TOP of the skin, then weighed it down with some cast iron equipment to FLATTEN the skin, without sewing it to the rack.
After some 40-50 minutes of cooking in the open, I removed the weights on top and brushed the “flattened skin” with a mixture of soy, brown sugar, star anise, peppercorns, etc. on both sides and put them back into the oven to brown. I was trying to ensure I had a crisp base, and a flavorful sheen/finish.
The results, in the photo above, were promising, but not brilliant. They had portions that had puffed up nicely, resulting in a chicharon effect. But they also had crevices where the marinade pooled and made the skin a little soft and chewy. Overall, the skin was still a little tough, maybe I should have started with a younger pig… but then they wouldn’t be selling its skin so readily… At this point, I would have rated this batch say a 6/10…
We continued the experiments on another day. This time first boiling the skin for 30 minutes in water flavored with star anise, salt, pepper, etc. then cooling and drying the skin and refrigerating it overnight. I figured I would try the crispy pata approach of sorts. Then I brushed the chilled pieces of skin with marinade and stuck it into a hot oven and proceeded to set off the smoke/fire alarms in a bit way. The result, above, looks burned but it wasn’t as crisp as I would have wanted. The marinade burned, but the skin wasn’t finished releasing its moisture yet.
We tried another piece where we just applied the marinade to the underside of the skin and stuck that in the oven. Then we fried (instead of baked) a piece of skin in hot fat with marinade on both sides to bad results and a kitchen full of fat splattered everywhere. And finally, the last piece that we tried was boiled, cooled, brushed with marinade only underneath, and deep fried. This yielded a crisp, crunchy version, a bit weak on flavor, but quite edible. It is the piece on the lower right hand portion of the top photo with three pieces of pork crackling. It wasn’t the lechon skin of a slow roasted hand turned piggy, but it was certainly interesting enough to keep on experimenting… And you wonder why I lost my diet bet with the Teen? :)