Wandering further down the cornbread road, we come to cracklin bread – that’s cornbread with cracklins therein. Cracklins are nothing more than fatty pig skin put to a far better use than football. Of course, the subject isn’t quite that simple – if it were, it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun, or as tasty. If we’re going to make cracklin bread, we’ve gotta know our cracklins.
Here in the states, pork rinds have always been a thing, at least in the south. Worldwide, they’re everywhere. In Mexic0, South and Central America, and Spain, they’re chicharones. Up in Canada, they might be scrunchions or orielles de Christ. In China, they’re Zhīzhā, in Thailand, it’s khaep mu. In the Slavic countries, they’re škvarky, tepertő in Hungary, and jumări in Romania. They’re integral to the traditional Czech dish, bramborové knedlíky se škvarkama a kyselým zelím – potato dumplings with cracklings and sauerkraut. In merry old England, they’re scratchings.
You needn’t be a Fergus Henderson fan to know that it’s still very much waste not want not when it comes to hoof to snout consumption of our piggy pals. The names and dishes detailed above aren’t oddities, they’re mainstream eats, all made possible by pork skin. If you think that’s icky, think again the next time you’re swooning over crisp turkey or chicken skin, or bacon for that matter.
Pork rinds come to us through lard production, as well as general slaughter and processing. In the south, the venerable cast iron wash pot was and is used to render down lard. Leftover scraps and skin went in there as well, and crunchy bits of that would rise to the surface, to be skimmed off, lightly salted, and served as a snack – and they’re friggin’ seriously good, by the way.
There are, of course, less than inspired versions of this age old treat out there, and if you’ve ever had them, I’m sorry – a lot of what gets called cracklins and sold in stores is closer in consistency and taste to packing material than pork.
Fortunately, there are plenty of places to get good stuff, and probably one or more near you – go to your local carniceria or Latin market and you should be good to go. If you’re blessed with a local butcher, ask if they do cracklins – if they make leaf lard, they well might.
There are variations on the theme – The basic version of a rind is just skin – no fat at all. Into hot fat they go, and you get the Cheeto-like puffy thing. A genuine cracklin has some fat and maybe little flecks of meat still attached – something with some flavor and very satisfying bacony crunch.
I get mine from 4505 Meats – they have a luscious fat layer, a nice crunch, a little sea salt, and nothing else. The donor pigs are humanely raised, with no added hormones or antibiotics. You can find them online.
Making cracklin bread is no more involved than adding them to your favorite cornbread recipe. If you favor a dense, super moist version of this wonderful stuff, just add a packed cup of good quality cracklins to my latest and greatest, and you’re good to go. If, in reading that piece, the purist hot water version appeals, here’s the drill for that – You can bake or fry, as you prefer.
Urban’s Hot Water Cracklin Bread
4 Cups coarse ground Cornmeal
2 Cups Cracklins
2 teaspoons Sea Salt
Bring 3 cups of fresh water to a full boil.
In a large mixing bowl, combine cornmeal and salt.
Carefully pour boiling water over the dry mixture, whisking steadily until you have a heavy batter consistency.
Let the batter sit, allowing the meal to fully absorb the water, and the mixture to cool enough to handle.
You want a consistency that will allow you to hand form cakes about 3” to 4” round and about 3/4” thick.
To Bake –
Preheat oven to 400° F, and set a rack in the middle slot.
Generously butter a heavy baking sheet, and place cakes evenly on the sheet, with an inch between each.
Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown, and a toothpick stuck in the middle of a cake comes away clean.
Serve hot with lots and lots of butter.
To Fry –
In a cast iron skillet over medium high heat, heat oil, using an instant read thermometer to monitor temperature – you want right about 375° F.
Once your fat is up to temp, add generous soup spoons of batter – You can get 3 or 4 in a 12” skillet without crowding.
If you like things thin and crispy, use the back of the spoon to tamp down each dollop a bit, otherwise, let it ride for a softer middle.
These will cook quite quickly – about 1 to 2 minutes per side – when you’ve got a nice golden brown, it’s time to flip.
Transfer cooked cornbread to a paper towel lined wire rack to cool a bit.
As soon as you can grab them without burning yourself, devour with abandon.