Skin for the Win



A golden brown chicken is pulled out of the oven for Sunday Supper, its skin the gleaming piece de resistance of your supper. The salty, crunchy skin on the roasted bird is worth fighting for and arguably the best treat of the meal. The sweet exterior of the frequently basted bird has been alleviated of its fat, rendering the skin crisp and delicious, taking on the flavor of the garlic, herbs, and lemon zest of the roasting process. Everyone has a notable and marked memory of this as both a visual stimulant as well as its flavor. The skin is the best part, and skin is no longer just for the birds.

Perhaps the most recognizable skin crisp also has the most names; the spanish chiccaron, the snack food cracklin’ or pork rinds, and chef friends have named them pork-otine for their addictive siren song of flavor. Chiccaron are easy to make and a low cost treat that can be featured as a dish, a garnish, or a bar snack. A simple method for making skin puffs is to cut the skin (from your local trusted butcher) into six inch squares and place into a thick bottomed pot. Cover the skin with water weigh it gently to keep in covered in water. Bring the skin to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook the skin for about two hours until very tender and easily cut with a spoon. Drain the water and clean the skin while warm. With the skin side on the cutting board, with the fat facing up, gently use a small pallet knife or similar and meticulously scrape the fat away from the skin. Be gentle and use care to not rip or tear the skin. Once you have removed as much fat from the skin as possible, cut them to a suitable size for your use. A half inch by one inch piece will grow in the fryer to about five fold its size. A puffed skin crisp can always be broken to a smaller size later before or after frying as well. Once the pieces are cut, place them onto a parchment paper lined tray and place into an oven on its drying setting or simply with the pilot light lit, at around one hundred fifty degrees Fahrenheit . Allow the skin to fully dry, roughly over night. Allow the skin to cool at room temperature. At this stage they are shelf stable and can be stored in a cool dry pantry for a few weeks. To fry the chips prepare oil for frying at three hundred seventy five degrees with a spider, or strainer, and a tray lined with paper towels to drain. Submerge the skins until completely puffed, or about forty five seconds. Remove the skin puff from the oil and drain, then season with kosher salt. At Thin Man, Chef Bruce Wiezala offers the skin cracklins seasoned with Cheddar Cheese Powder or Cool Ranch. Chef James Roberts’ version at Toutant features Blue Cheese Powder and Cayenne. Chef Steve Gedra loves skin and plays with them as whimsical snack foods in the style of nachos, or he folds the braised skin into a batter and fries them for a delicious and decadent skin fritter. The chef also loves skin chips as a vehicle for french onion dip and pretty much any dip, cause they’re damn delicious. Try them around town and impress your friends by making your own version at home.

The humble swine is not the only skin crisp that is to be adored. Chicken skin is showing up on menus abound. A different technique is used for this style of skin crisp. Preheat an oven to 375. Lay chicken skin onto a flat parchment lined sheet tray or baking tray. Top the skin with another piece of parchment paper and another flat tray to weigh the skin down. Take notice to use the flattest trays to ensure even cooking and flat crispy skin. Bake the skin for about fifty minutes, rotating roughly three times throughout the cooking process for even cooking. When done, remove from the pan and drain of excess fat. As with any crunchy snack or garnish, season to fit your desired outcome. A dehydrated caper powder and lemon zest, Japanese togarashi, or salt and a dehydrated vinegar powder (salt and vinegar chicken skin chips anyone?) are just a few suggestions. Chicken skin is also adored by Chef 2-2 at his Kaydara noodle bar in lieu of dumpling skin as a wrapper. The chef stuffs dumpling mix into chicken skin and gently pan sears them on all sides for a crispy delicious exterior with a surprising filling.

Moving to the ocean, our finned friends make excellent skin chiccaron as well. Salmon, Fluke, Bass, and Halibut are just a few of the fish that can be successfully puffed. Clean the skin of flesh and scales with a sharp knife. In a vacuum seal bag or heavy duty zip lock, place skin flat into the bag, being careful not to overlap. Seal the skin and cook at 190 degrees or gently simmer in a pot. After an hour remove the skin and allow to cool in an ice bath. Remove the skin from the bag carefully and transfer to a dehydrator tray or a sheet tray in an oven on pilot. Allow the skin to dry until fully dehydrated, about four hours. Once cool, fry the skin at 375 until puffed. This garnish brings great texture to crudos and raw fish dishes, as well as poached fish. It is a remarkable way as well to utilize the whole sea creature, paying respect to the fish and using every bit available.

Skin is also a remarkable ingredient from our gardens. Dehydrate tomato skins and grind them into a sweet umami ridden powder for seasoning. Take your carrot skin peelings and fry them into crispy carrot chips. Chefs world wide are looking at products considered to be waste and finding creative and tasty ways to reduce what goes into the garbage can. With a bit of creativity and desire, it is easy to do at home as well. Now keep the skin out of the bin!