The world’s most underappreciated snack
Pork rinds are like snowflakes,” I told the wife the other night. “No two of them are alike. Have you ever noticed that?”
“No,” she said.
“Each one has its own shape, size and feel,” I said. “They’re amazing.”
“They’re disgusting,” she said. “I don’t understand how you can eat those things.”
I shook my head. She is a vibrant woman whose intelligence and charm knows no limits. She has impeccable taste in all matters and I love her dearly. But she doesn’t know her pork rinds.
She is not alone in her disdain of the deep-fried pig flesh treats. They are perhaps the lowliest and least prestigious item of the world of snacks, usually found in an obscure place in the grocery aisle, segregated from the rest of the offerings.
While there is no shame in admitting an addiction to, say, Cheetos, or even Pringles, a pork rind habit is but one step higher on the social-acceptance ladder than a meth addiction.
Just like you and I, chicharrones have their place in the world. Whether consumed as a side dish with lots of cheap beer, or as the basis for a ghastly and heart-clogging main dish, pork rinds are versatile and delicious, if not exactly nutritious.
Let me get one thing straight: I don’t generally consume pork. I don’t like pork chops much, I’m not a fan of bacon and I can’t remember the last time I ate ham. There’s a video of me on YouTube attempting to eat a pickled pig’s foot. I couldn’t even get it halfway down.
But set me loose with a giant bag of Baken-Ets pork rinds and a bottle of Siriacha sauce and I’m the happiest man in the world. Not even Bill Gates can enjoy a tastier snack than that.
While I’ve only enjoyed the hot-n-spicy and original flavors of pork rinds, the Internet teases me with stories of cinnamon-and-sugar and chocolate-coated pork rinds, wondrous concoctions out of a fantasy world.
They’re good as sandwiches, as scoops for salsa and as the ultimate breakfast treat, along with an ice-cold 24-ounce Pepsi. That particular combination is known as the Kentucky Eye-Opener. If you ever need to jolt yourself awake for work, try it. It is a culinary experience you’ll never forget.
Wikipedia tells me that the history of fried pig skin goes back to the 1800s, when peasants in the Black country of England started making them. That may be true, but to me they will always be an all-American snack.
My grandfather would consume them by the bagful as he sat at his kitchen table, drinking Wiedemann beer and watching the Cincinnati Reds on TV. When he’d drive the family to Wisconsin on vacation every summer, pork rinds were always packed along for highway snacking.
Stop at any gas station or convenience store in America and you’ll find them. Truckers are said to be among their biggest fans, perhaps because they’re the perfect car food.
While some may find them disgusting — and even I get a little queasy when I find a tuft of hair in my pork rind — certainly they’re theoretically no more bizarre than eating raw fish.
Occasionally, one will find a rind that has the USDA ink stamp that was placed on the pig during the inspection process. This is the pork rind equivalent of the four-leaf clover and such rinds are considered lucky.
The microwavable pork rind is a recent innovation. They cook in the bag like pig popcorn and sizzle for minutes after cooking. Warm and comforting, they are the superpremium pork rind experience, although locating them in stores is a difficult task.
In the final analysis, it’s a matter of “to each his own,” right? Lobsters are just giant ocean bugs that scream when you throw them into boiling water. Foie gras is made of even more disgusting stuff than pig fat.
There are even those who will dare to eat the testicles, kidneys and brains of pigs. I draw the line at deep-fried skin.
Enjoy your lunch!