May 4, 200910:35 AM
The Editor's Room
Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde
Errol Laborde: Cracklings Considered, or Chewing the Fat
We'll assume that the operator of a particular booth at the Jazz Fest did not consult one of those fancy Madison Avenue marketing firms to come up with the name for his business, "Fatty's Cracklings."
Properly made, cracklings (or cracklin's- without the "g" or graton as they are referred to in some French areas of the state) consist of slivers of the deep-fried skin with an under layer of fatty meat. Sounds gross, I know, but when served hot and fresh it has a texture that spans from crunchy to slightly chewy and a taste range from salty to mildly sweet. Once cooked, the cracklings are salted then usually spooned into paper bags to be eaten mostly as snacks. An ancient rural Louisiana breakfast consisted of crackling fragments which were mixed with cornbread adding crunchiness to the bread, which was broken into pieces and mixed into a bowl of milk.
Early on a chilly autumn morning I once watched, as a kid, a boucherie in the back yard of a farm in central Louisiana. The boucherie is a ritual among the state's rural French (not necessarily just Cajuns) at which a hog is butchered, and people gather to make products from the different parts. While the carcass roasted over a spit, women sat at a table making sausages and hogshead cheese. Some men lit a fire beneath a huge caldron. Using an oar as a stirrer, they plopped in strips of pigskin to make their graton.
From the morning of the boucherie into the winter, pork was a part of just about every meal.
Reliance on the whole hog, however, is not just a Louisiana thing. There was once a Hispanic radio station on the same floor as our offices. One day someone brought in a bag of cracklings from a Latino grocery station. They were hot. They were good. I doubled my annual quota to four.
Once, on a visit to old town San Jose, Puerto Rico I was less daring, opting to pass up a vendor who was selling, from a decorated wagon, sheets of fried pork skin.
As I am writing this, incidentally, I am wearing a T-shirt from the "Cracklin Cook Off" I attended two weekends ago in the St. Martin Parish town of Parks. Some of the finest crackling makers in the state were there stirring their batch in the cauldron. The taste dazzled with the flavors and textures that masters can produce. If only taste could be linked with healthiness, we could live forever.
But real crackling eaters don't worry about all that health stuff. Like driving fast cars, eating cracklings is something done for the experience of it, maybe even with a touch of rebellion. The ultimate statement was on bags of pigskins, made in Mississippi, I once saw on a vending rack at a fishing camp. The writing on the package proclaimed than the contents were hog cracklings and then added proudly - "Extra Fat."
At least they didn't have any sugar.
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