Seriously, it’s not just for making footballs. Actually, it never was; instead, early footballs were made from bladders, but pig skin is useful for practicing tattooing, researching burn treatments, and fixing hernias.
But, um, on a more appetizing note, pig skin is honestly good eatin’. Whether you call them pork rinds, chicharrones, scratchings, or crackling, crunchy fried bits are probably the form of pig skin most widely consumed and appreciated, but there’s a surprising breadth of recipes out there that highlight or utilize the oft-overlooked ingredient. It is an organ meat, but much more accessible than many other types of offal, in that there’s no odd or acquired taste, and the texture, at least on one side of the spectrum, is almost universally appealing.
It crisps up beautifully, of course, whether it’s been separated out on its own as in pork rinds or left attached to fat and meat like you see with pork belly, but it can also provide wonderful unctuousness. Even if you’re unsure about eating a big piece of tender braised pig skin or chewy pickled pork rinds, you can add some collagen-rich raw skin to a soup pot to add body and silkiness to the broth or sauce.
Or, if you’re avoiding carbs, you may have heard of the trick of making pork rind flour, which you can use to make pizza crust, or pork rind crumbs to bread things you want to fry (or bake, since the pork rinds are already crunchy enough as is—who would’ve thought fried pork skin could be a healthy option?).
Intrigued? Depending on where you usually shop, you may need to ask your butcher to reserve some pig skin for you, but for the recipes that call for pork rinds, you can purchase ready-made if you must. In that case, get freshly fried chicharrones from a Mexican grocery if you can. The bags of pork rinds in the grocery store snack aisle can be kind of funky, and not in a good way. If you’re starting with an unadulterated sheet of skin, check that there is no hair left (if there is, you’ll have to scrape or singe it off), then rinse it well and pat it dry before proceeding with your recipe.
Whether you try some of these pigskin preparations as a cheeky addition to your next game day spread, or simply as a tasty foray into the world of offal, you’re in for a real treat.
Pork rinds: they’re not just for gas stations and convenience stores! They’re not difficult to make, either (once you find your pig skin anyway), and preparing them yourself lets you control the level of salt, not to mention avoid preservatives, making them a surprisingly healthy option. Just be sure to remove as much fat as you can so the skin really crisps up (but save that fat for other uses!). They’re a great crunchy, low-carb snack on their own, but they’re also superb for dippin’—in some queso or cheesy bean dip, for instance. Get the recipe.
On the fancier end of the pig skin spectrum, we have the justly famous Italian porchetta, a swoon-inducing rolled pork belly roast flavored with garlic, rosemary, fennel, and lemon zest. The skin becomes exquisitely crisp (rubbing baking soda into it beforehand helps), a crunchy, dark golden halo around the incredibly juicy and tender meat. It does take some time to get there, but it’s well worth it. Any leftovers can be turned into a killer porchetta sandwich. Do try not to score the skin too deeply, lest you lose that precious shattering-crisp texture in spots. Get our Porchetta recipe.
When you’re ready to explore the softer side of pig skin, skip the frying and roasting and braise it instead. Stuffed with breadcrumbs, garlic, cheese, and herbs (and whatever else you like, such as raisins or hard boiled eggs), then rolled up, tied, and cooked low and slow in tomato sauce, the skin turns super soft and fork-tender. It’s an intensely succulent texture that’s admittedly not for everyone. But if you can’t bring yourself to chow down once it’s done, at least you’ll have an especially silky, rich tomato sauce to pour over pasta. Get the recipe.
This recipe also features softer pieces of pork skin, though in this case they were fried first. (If you’d prefer a crunchier taco, just assemble one with freshly made chicharrones instead. And if your idea of hog heaven is even more pig, make pork rind tortillas to cradle your choice of filling.) Here, the chicharrones are stewed in a slow cooker with smoky chiles, tomatoes, and onions so they plump up and absorb all those delicious flavors, sort of like a meaty version of fried tofu. Serve with guacamole-tomatillo salsa and refried beans. Get the recipe.
Cotechino sausage, a specialty of Modena, Italy, contains chunks of pork skin as well as pork fat and is quite rich and hearty. It also crisps up nicely when sliced. If you want to go whole hog, you can make your own cotechino sausage, then put it in a stupendous sandwich, or serve it like the Italians do around New Year’s Eve: with lentils, a great earthy foil to the juicy meat. Sage, thyme, and chile pepper imbue the lentils with flavors perfect for fall and winter. Get the recipe.
Crushed pork rinds replace more traditional flour or breadcrumbs for super crunchy yet almost carb-free “fried” chicken wings. The same principle applies to pork chops, fried green tomatoes, onion rings, chicken nuggets, and breaded shrimp! Basically, if you can fry it, you can bread it in crushed pork rinds and bake it instead. You can also add whatever seasonings you like (maybe some hot sauce for zing), but this version is nice and simple, letting the pork rind and chicken flavors shine. Set the wings out with a variety of sauces—ranch, blue cheese, buffalo—and watch them fly off the platter. Get the recipe.
Pork belly is perfection. Luscious, juicy, savory, tender, it’s delicious in any guise (to wit: buffalo pork wings from chef Kevin Gillespie, or an elegant pork belly confit), but perhaps it’s best of all when it includes a layer of crackly golden skin to contrast with the melting texture of the meat. (Then again, it’s also a knockout when the whole thing is fried.) This roasted Chinese preparation is judiciously seasoned with a little rice wine, five spice powder, salt, and white pepper, and boasts a puffy golden pillow of crunchy skin atop textbook succulent meat. Serve with mandarin pancakes, hoisin sauce, and shredded vegetables to make wraps. Get the recipe.
Go beyond crockpot beans and wieners and try this Mexican one-pot feast of pinto beans cooked with jalapeño, tomato, onion, garlic, and cumin, plus a plethora of meats, including chicharrones, which you could also sprinkle on top for a crunchy counterpoint. Warm tortillas and sliced avocado are all you need to complete the meal. Get the recipe.
You’ve heard of cauliflower pizza crust? Well, this is kind of the polar opposite. Pork rinds (which are starting to seem like a miracle ingredient here, though we’ll skip the pork rind French toast for now, thanks) are whizzed up in a food processor with cream cheese, egg, and cheddar. This keto-approved crust can be topped with whatever you like, though it sounds pretty flavorful all on its own. Get the recipe.