Will you just look at these pork skins for a second? Most people's inclination would be to call them "pork rinds," but pitmaster Rodney Scott - a man at the vanguard of the current puffed pork reclamation movement - goes out of his way to inform his customers that pigs are not, last he checked, a kind of fruit. So skin, not rind. At least not while Rodney's around.
Call them pork rinds, pork skins, cracklings, cracklins, chicharrones, gratons, scratchings or a panoply of other names, in the southern United States especially, they're a fixture at truck stops, convenience stores, bodegas, barbecue joints, taquerias, Thai and Cajun restaurants - not to mention a white tablecloth establishment or two. They run the gamut from homespun to haute and pop to the forefront of America's noshing consciousness every few years, depending on the dining or dieting zeitgeist.
A 2009 trends report from market research firm Packaged Facts noted, "Swanky pork rinds illustrate natural pork’s snack food form and connect to this year’s gastropub trend, the newly updated tavern with tasty food and craft beers to match. The love of pig unites them all."
Pork skins soared to their commercial apex around 2003 when followers of the Atkins diet sought a carb-free fix for their crunch craving. Since then, they've rooted out just over one percent of the salty snack foods market - small potatoes compared to chips, puffs, doodles, pretzels and crisps. That's an oinking shame, and here's why.
While a pig-based snack may seem like a whole truckload of terrible, it comes about its deliciousness honestly. There's no Chartreuse Dye #79, high-fructose corn syrup, trans-fats or much of anything artificial going on - just pig skin, lard or peanut oil and salt. Maybe some vinegar or paprika if one's gone all wacky with the flavor options, but for the most part, what you see is what you get. And it's oh so nose-to-tail to boot, which is very sustainalocaganivore, no doubt, and they're increasingly coming from heritage breed pigs.
Professor and researcher Jeff Volek went so far as to dub pork rinds "junk food that's good for you," citing that a one-ounce serving is carb-free, contains 17 grams of protein and nine grams of fat, which is nine times the protein and less fat than a serving of carb-packed potato chips. He also noted that 43 percent of the fat is unsaturated, and most of that is the same healthy fat found in olive oil. So while they're not as angelic as, say, a cup full of celery sticks and some apple slices, a little goes a long way and a satisfied snacker may feel less inclined to make a midnight foray to the chip and cookie cabinet.
But truth be told, the objection often seems to be based in a bit of cultural bias. They're trashy or tacky or somehow déclassé and...just get over it. To eschew a pork rind for reasons other than ethics or religion is to cheat one's self out of a world-class snack experience, and as we often say at Eatocracy, "If it tastes good, it is good." And if they're the fruit of Rodney Scott's labor, that's very, very good, indeed.
Today's photograph comes from the lens of Denny Culbert, documentary and food photographer who's chronicled the highways and byways of South Carolina and North Carolina barbecue and who is currently roaming about the country on the Barbecue Bus.
Delve into more barbecue goodness from the Southern Foodways Alliance blog
Previously - The secret history of BBQ sauce