The People's Food
Pluperfect Pork: Chicharronerías
CHICHARRONERÍAS ARE SO POPULAR IN MÉRIDA AND THROUGHOUT YUCATÁN that no neighborhood is complete without a freestanding store specializing in the delicacy. There are even some neighborhoods that have so many chicharronerías – one on every corner – that citizens congregate on the streets starting at 8:00am to go from shop to shop, hand-picking their favorite selections. The most famous neighborhood in Mérida for chicharronerías is in a colonia called Xcalachén in the southwest of the city on Calle 62 at Calle 108.
A chicharronería is a small shop or restaurant known for its production of chicharrón (crispy inflated pig skin) and chicharra surtida (see below). The purpose of the chicharronerías evolved in order not to waste any part of the pig, and also as a natural by-product of the process of rendering lard.
A tour of a chicharronería is a fascinating if somewhat intense experience in the wonderful world of pig parts. Work begins at around 6:30am, when the leftovers of freshly slaughtered pigs are delivered. Up to 200 kilos of pork fat, organs, skin and ears (and even faces, called rostros) are processed at a time. Everything is tossed into enormous vats heated with wood or gas fires beneath. Workmen stand near the vats with long poles of a special heat-resistant wood, stirring the brew to keep all the pieces submerged in the slowly rendering liquid lard. The fat melts while at the same time the pork pieces fry until golden and crispy.
Following is a chicharronería lexicon:
• Buche is the pig’s stomach. Sometimes it is fried by itself, but it can also be stuffed with ground pork, brains, egg and any other variety of offal, and turned into a kind of sausage not unlike the Scottish haggis.
• Cachete is the cheeks. The skin is very thin; it has a lot of fat and some meat.
• Castacán is a thin slab of pork from the belly that still has some fat and skin – the same cut that is used to make smoked bacon. Once cooked, the skin becomes very crunchy while the meat is tender and succulent.
• Chicharra surtida is the generic term for the offal from the pig – heart, liver, all organs, ears, even the face and skin – that are cooked at the same time, in the same vat, where lard is being rendered.
• Chicharrón is the thin meatless pigskin. It is fried first with the other parts until it is brittle and almost translucent. It is then cooked again in lard at a much higher temperature, at which point it inflates and becomes the famous pork cracklings.
• Costillas are short ribs also cooked in the lard, sometimes with the bones and sometimes without.
• Entresijo is the mesentery, the undulating folds of the peritoneum that connect the intestines to the dorsal abdominal wall.
• Morcilla is a Spanish-style sausage with ground meat and brains, or more typically with blood and brains.
• Puyul is the remnants of the original slabs of fat used for rendering the lard; after being rendered, crunchy fist-sized chunks of the fried fat are left over and become part of the chicharra surtida.
• Xix ("sheesh") is the Mayan word for the Spanish asiento – the tiny bits of crispy meat and skin that sink to the bottom of the pot during the boiling process. Many people love the xix and ask for it; vendors sometimes sell it, sometimes they give away small bags of it as a “free gift with purchase.”
WAYS TO EAT CHICHARRA
Chicharra can certainly be consumed as a delight in its own right – but usually it is an important part of a recipe that includes other ingredients.
• Taquitos de chicharra – When you order from a chicharronería, you can order your favorite pig parts, but more typical is to order chicharra surtida (an assortment that includes all of the above) or especial (which includes only the succulent chicharrón and castacán). People break off pieces of these meats, place them in a tortilla with salt and chile and perhaps some salpicón, and devour.
• Chicharra en salpicón– Also sometimes known to locals as X’nipek, this hearty chopped salad should not be confused with the tomato table sauce of the same name. Either the chicharra surtida or the especial are used as the basis of the dish. The meats and/or organs are broken, chopped and shredded into small pieces, then mixed with chopped cabbage, tomato, cucumber, radish and cilantro. Salt, chopped habanero and sour orange juice are added to the mix and tossed.
• Chicharra en salsa roja
• Chicharra en salsa verde
• Gorditas de chicharra
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