PORK TRIMMINGS—EARS, snouts, tongues, lips, jowls and even tails, along with other, lesser known cuts—have made their way onto more plates as diners increasingly embrace the "use the whole animal" philosophy. In the popular culinary lexicon, when it comes to pigs, the approach translates as "eat everything but the squeal." Bacon has its own cult following (Peter Kaminsky, a former food critic for New York Magazine, calls them "hamthropologists"), but lard, fatback, shoulder hocks and other pig parts have made it onto the menus at more than a few top restaurants, Bear Mountain's Restaurant 1915 and the Blue Roof Tapas Bar included.
There, Chef Michael Matarazzo put pork rinds on the tapas menu and transformed what used to be gas-station grub into a sophisticated—and delicious—bar snack.
"People don't realize how good and light they can be," says Matarazzo, who admits he's fighting the snack's truckstop image. A great alternative to potato chips or bar nuts, pork rinds offer a crisp, salty bite alongside a beer, or even a glass of sparkling wine. Also known as "cracklings," the texture of freshly made pork rinds is almost effervescent, as it cracks, pops and dissolves on the tongue.
With a long history in almost every pig-eating country, pork rinds, or chicharron, are made by slow-cooking pork belly skins for an extended time (often overnight), then cooling them and stripping off all the fat from the skin. "Lots of people assume that pork rinds are pork fat, but that's not correct," Matarazzo says. The fat-less skin is cut into thin strips and dehydrated until it becomes brittle. Properly dried, when the strips are fried at 400F, they'll puff into beautiful, golden chips.
Matarazzo serves his rinds with a sauce made from a reduction of vinegar, wine, herbs and shallots, finished with egg yolks and butter—a classic French bearnaise sauce that "makes up for cutting the fat off the skin," Matarazzo laughs. The dish mirrors the rest of the menu at the restaurant and the bar, which includes red curry, chilaquiles and soba noodles. "Our goal here is to have global cuisine, both in the dining room and at the bar," Matarazzo says.
They've joined the pork parade over at Newburgh Brewing Company, too, where their hot, crackling bucket of pork rinds is a crowd favorite. Or maybe you'd like to skip the bar and go straight to an art gallery for your pork rinds. At Hudson Chocolates, chocolatier and chef Francisco Migoya has taken larger pieces of pork rind and covered them with world-class chocolate—the combination of crunchy pork with silky sweet chocolate does gymnastics on your tongue that are almost impossible to resist.