If you’re a fan of crispy, flavorful pork, then Colombian-style chicharrones are an absolute must-try. These savory, deep-fried pork belly bites are a beloved snack throughout Colombia, and with this step-by-step guide, you can learn how to make them yourself at home. The process is relatively simple but requires a bit of patience and attention to detail to get that perfect, golden-brown crunch. With the right ingredients and a little bit of practice, you can recreate the delicious taste of authentic Colombian chicharrones in your own kitchen. So, get ready to roll up your sleeves, fire up the stove, and get cooking!
The moment I stepped foot in Kenji’s flat for the first time, I knew we would become friends. He brought an alligator’s hand out of his freezer and asked me how I wanted to prepare it less than ten minutes after I entered the house. I was smitten, even though this definitely wouldn’t impress all the females.
There are many things about Kenji that I like, not the least of which is his propensity to disagree with me on the spur of the moment. Nowadays, it’s difficult to find a reliable jousting partner. The companion must be combative but not prejudiced and understand that an “argument” is a defense of a position rather than aimless shouting. We’ve discussed everything from distributive justice to whether or not to take the skin off confited hog tongues (I say, only if you want to lose the tongue’s unique form and the papillae’s attractive appearance). Of course, he has an opposing viewpoint. But despite our differences, we all congregate to burrow down around animal parts at the end of the day.
So when a regular reader requested if we could come up with a recipe for chicharrones that used pig belly, we were happy to oblige. That was the ideal opportunity for us to put to the test our common tolerance for obscene amounts of pig, and for me to offer my opinion on pork belly and how to make chicharrones with it. Of course, chicharron can refer to anything from fried pork skin with a little meat attached to fried pork rinds utilizing only the skin, depending on the country of origin. This recipe prepares chicharrones the way they are frequently made in Colombia—in serrated chains with plenty of meat, fat, and crispy skin. Kenji had learned how to make them in Colombia, and he taught me how to do it for this dish.
Chicharrones Deep-Fried in Their Own Fat
The Colombian approach looks like this: Segments of pork belly should be placed in a cooking pot with a little water, placed over the cooker, and allowed to slowly render out the fat. Turn up the heat towards the end, after the water has cooked off, and fry the belly with the remaining liquified fat in the wok.
“The fat that is produced from the belly gradually replaces the water in which the belly first stews under low and slow heat.”
The Colombian method is quite straightforward and does away with the need for additional oil to deep-fry the belly. It is strikingly similar to rendering lard for confit in that, through low and gradual heat, the rendered fat from the belly finally takes the place of the water that the belly initially stews in. As the process progresses, just the liquid fat is left, which is sufficient for deep-frying the belly nuggets.
- But, there are several disadvantages, including mess and the chance of getting burned by splashing hot oil on you. During testing, we discovered that it was almost impossible to solve this issue—and believe me, we tried. We tried a few other techniques before deciding that the traditional method was the best because we were looking for a cleaner, safer way to manufacture chicharrones in this style. Here are the things we tested and the outcomes:
- The traditional method involves cooking the pig belly in one pan, first boiling it to render its fat, then switching to frying it after the water has been cooked off. Among all our tests, it created the best chicharrones the quickest. But, due to the fat’s severe popping and spitting, you must exercise caution and must unquestionably employ splatter protection. Be ready for extensive cleanup thereafter. Given that the pork can adhere to more adhesion-prone pans like enameled Dutch ovens and stainless-steel skillets, we advise using a nonstick skillet or well-seasoned wok for this.
- The poach-then-fry method: We believed that boiling the pork belly first, draining it, and patting it dry before frying it in oil or lard would lessen the mess and splatter of oil. Unfortunately, it didn’t—just as much hot oil sprayed everywhere. We disregarded this approach because it is less effective (you must wash and dry the pan in between the steps of boiling and frying, or you must use two vessels) and because you must purchase oil or lard for frying because you won’t have rendered fat that is free of water to use in it.
- The Cornstarch Trick: Several online recipes for chicharrones use the poach-then-fry method, but to help the simmering pork belly dry out even more and minimize splatter, dust it with cornflour before frying. In our experiments, the chicharrones that came out near the end were the least tasty and crispy, though it helps reduce spatter somewhat.
The traditional approach is the best, but use caution and be ready—not it’s clean or risk-free.
Using Baking Soda for Perfect Chicharrones
Kenji told me to rub the belly skins with baking soda like he’d seen in Colombia before cooking the chicharrones as part of our experiments.
I questioned, “Why to use baking soda?”
According to Kenji, there are three causes for the browning and crisping of food:
protein matrix of the skin disintegrates into small, crisp pieces from a lengthy, leathery sheet
the Maillard reaction, a process that causes browning.
“Baking soda assists in enhancing each of these effects. Secondly, alkaline surroundings are more conducive to Maillard browning reactions. The skin crisps and browns more quickly when dusted with baking powder than it would otherwise. The protein network in the skin can become dehydrated in alkaline surroundings. Skin that is drier cooks more rapidly and bubbles less aggressively. Finally, the proteins in the skin react with the baking soda, making it easier for them to degrade when the meat is cooked the next day.
“Thus, even a cursory rub with baking soda a half-hour before cooking will help break down the skin, but an overnight uncovered rest in the fridge is the best way to go about it—it’ll give the soda plenty of time to react with the skin, as well as allowing the belly to significantly dehydrate even before you begin cooking it.”
Isn’t having a local food scientist convenient?
In accordance with the directions, I sprinkled my slices of pork belly with salt and baking soda before putting them in the refrigerator to dry out.
We double-tasked, with Kenji roasting a pig over a spit on the designated day of the chicharrones. We were able to avoid fighting for the entire afternoon while we skewered a gorgeous pig that weighed just forty pounds over a roaring fire and took turns watching the work of chicharrones on the cooker as the pig spun over the flames.
What better way to pass the time of day than by watching an entire pig cook over a fire? The procedure is slow and calls for more patience than talent. We placed the wok over a low flame with enough water inside to cover the bottom. We turned up the heat and watched as the pork belly chunks were deep-fried in their own fat after a considerable amount of time had passed after all the water had gone and just lard was left in the wok.
The skin of the chicharrones had bubbled and blistered right after being dipped in oil. The beef layer had a crispy outside and a soft interior. The fact that protected the skin and the flesh was tasty and solid, and each bite only released a tiny amount of smoky juice.
Our reader complained that his pork belly nuggets were “tough and chewy,” which is a typical issue if the oil is overly hot. The belly doesn’t have enough time to break down the tough skin during a heated and brief cooking period before the entire cross-section begins to burn. Although a simpler approach can also employ initial frying at a lower temperature with final frying in very hot oil, the process not only needs additional quarts of oil but also frequently results in meat with a tougher texture. The Colombian method, which effectively combines stewing, confiting, and deep-frying while using lard, may not even produce the tender meat it promises. Although I detest generalizations like “everything tastes better when it’s cooked in fat,” you already know where my allegiances lay.
- 2 pounds (907g) skin-on pork belly, skin on
- 1 tablespoon (15g) baking soda
- Kosher salt
- Optional spices or seasonings of your choice, such as cayenne, sugar, paprika, or lime juice
It’s inevitable that chicharrones-making will be messy. While you cook the belly, hot fat spits and explodes, ruining the kitchen and posing a burn risk. Although it can be mitigated with the use of a splatter guard (we really don’t consider the splatter guard optional here; please use one), in our testing (see headnote above for additional details), we found that this issue could not be avoided without significantly impairing the outcome. Take caution while frying, and wear long sleeves, and other protective, kitchen-safe apparel.
Put the pork belly on a wire rack placed over a baking sheet with a rim. 2 teaspoons (6g) of salt and baking soda should be combined in a small bowl. Pork belly should be thoroughly covered in the baking soda mixture, which should be applied uniformly. Refrigerate uncovered, skin side up, for a minimum of two hours and a maximum of one day (for best results, let pork chill at least 8 hours).
Next day, wash your stomach in cold water and pat it dry. Cut into strips that are 4 to 5 inches long and 1 inch wide. On a cutting board, arrange the strips skin-side down. Carefully cut down at intervals of 1/2 inch, stopping when you reach the fat layer just beneath the skin (do not cut through the skin). Put all of the belly parts on a 12-inch nonstick skillet or well-seasoned wok in a single layer. Depending on the size of the vessel, add water in amounts of 2 to 3 cups (473-710 ml) until the pork is mostly submerged.
Put over a simmer and heat to a simmer. Cook, occasionally moving the meat pieces, for approximately an hour, or until the pork is cooked and most of the fat has rendered. Water will first resemble pork stock, but it will eventually evaporate, leaving only fat in the pan. If required, turn up the heat to medium to drive off the remainder of the water.
Cover the skillet with a splatter guard once the water has evaporated and all that is left in it is liquid lard. Lard will burst and splatter; take care not to burn yourself by backing away. Cook the chicharrones for another 20 to 25 minutes, regularly flipping the pieces as they fry, or until they are golden and crispy.
On a plate covered with paper towels, transfer the chicharrones so they may drain. Add salt to taste and any additional seasonings to the dish. Chicharrones will continue to be crisp for several hours.
Splatter shield, 12-inch nonstick skillet, or well-seasoned wok