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Brazilian Pork Cracklins (Torresmo)

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Pork belly strip is first trimmed, then soaked, smoked and finally fried, says chef Rodrigo Oliveira.

Applying time and expertise to that inexpensive cut of pork called pork belly gives the cook a reward that is not just crisped fat (cracklins) but meaty as well. This recipe was presented recently by Brazilian chef/restaurateur Rodrigo Oliveira at the 2010 Latin Flavors, American Kitchens symposium at the Culinary Institute of America, San Antonio.

Brazilian Pork Cracklins (Torresmo)

11 pounds pork belly, with meat
5 quarts and 2 cups water
1 1/4 cups coarse salt
5 tablespoons baking soda
Lard, for frying, as needed

Wedges of fresh lime

Cut the pork belly into 1-inch thick (or wide) strips. Combine the water, salt and baking soda and stir until dissolved.  Soak the pork belly in the water mixture for 12 hours or overnight.

Set a smoker to 149 degrees and smoke the pork belly for 6 hours. The pork belly should be firm to the touch and lightly browned when it is finished.

Cut the smoked pork belly into 2-inch long pieces; discard the ends and remove any excess fat.  To ensure even cooking, take care to portion carefully to avoid separating the sides of the pork belly.

Heat lard to 302 degrees and fry pork belly pieces for 8 minutes; drain on a wire rack. Increase the temperature of the lard to 374 degrees and fry the pork belly a second time for 3 minutes, until crispy. You can make a slit between the skin and the first layer of meat, too, to ensure the skin gets extra crisp.

Serve warm with lime wedges.

Makes about 40 portions. (Recipe can easily be reduced by half.)

From Rodrigo Oliveira, Mocotó, Rio de Janiero/Culinary Institute of America

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