Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Give It a Chance

You're going to have to trust me on this post, I'll hold your hand all the way through it, I promise. Many of you are going to immediately label this recipe as "gross".  However, much like people felt about sushi in the early 80's, the concept seems gross at first glance, but really, it's DELICIOUS.

I'm talking about fried chicken skin.  Poultry pork rinds, chicken chicharron, call it what you will, but this stuff is uber tasty y'all AND it yields the. best. by-product evah!  I'm referring, of course, to schmaltz.  Also referred to has "liquid gold", schmaltz has a variety of cooking applications.  I keep a container in my freezer at all times.  Originally, I only used it in my chopped chicken liver recipe (another awesome thing that sounds gross that we will discuss another day).  Now I regularly substitute it into savory recipes instead of oil or butter.  My favorite uses are for browning rice before adding the cooking liquid or instead of butter in boxed stuffing mix.  But, as usual, I digress.

I always liked the crispy chicken skin on baked chicken, however Hubby is not a fan, so I started skinning my chicken before cooking it, so that he wouldn't lose out on the flavor of the sauce or marinade I used when he removed the skin.  This also gave me a container of chicken skin to fry up so I could use the rendered fat later.  Some people throw out the fried skins after they get the schmaltz out (shameful!) or give the fried skins to dogs or cats as treats.  I always knew those fried skins were a tasty treat, and I used to nibble them in secret, almost like folks who tuck into a roll of pre-made cookie dough like it's a giant lollypop.  Then I read this article  where some fancy, schmancy chef took chicken skin mainstream.  Now I am an unabashed lover of fried chicken skin, in all of its applications.

Also, because I live in Texas now, EVERYTHING is game for eating on a tortilla, taco style.  If you have not had Texas brisket tacos or barbacoa tacos, my goodness you are missing out! I highly recommend The Democrat over at Torchy's Tacos.  Anyway, so I got to thinking about these chicken skins and tortillas and Chicken Chicharron Tacos were born!

First things first, you need to fry your chicken skins and render out all that schmaltz.  I like to start with a medium hot pan which I sprinkle with a little kosher salt.  Try to get the skins as open and flat as you can before they hit the hot pan, you want as much surface area touching the hot pan as possible.  Also, once they start to cook, much like bacon, you are stuck with whatever shape they are in. Sprinkle a little more salt on top once you have them in the pan; this helps to render out the fat, and adds to the flavor of the finished product.

You're going to need to flip them at least once to get them nice and brown and crispy.  Tongs are your best bet for that.  This pan is going to be "spitting" fat up anyway, so the last thing you want is to be dilly dallying over it with a spatula, flinging half cooked chicken skin, and making even more of a mess.  In fact, get yourself a frying screen.  It allows steam to escape so whatever you are frying gets browned and crisp, but prevents the top of your stove from becoming an oil slick.
Liquid Gold i.e. Schmaltz

You'll need to leave plenty of room between each skin so they don't get soggy, and drain the rendered fat between batches.  That gorgeous amber liquid is what you'll be saving in your freezer for future cooking projects.  I let mine cool, in a heat safe container, on the counter or in the fridge, then add it to Tupperware in the freezer.

You want the skins to be golden brown and crispy, so don't worry, they will likely need to cook longer than you think.  I primarily use my sense of smell to know when they are done.  You want to get them out of the pan and onto paper towels or brown paper to drain just before they start to burn.  They will continue to crisp up as they drain and cool, and literally end up like the chicken version of pork rinds.

You can use these cooked skins for a variety of other things.  You can mince them and sprinkle them on top of mac n cheese, baked potatoes or stuffing, add them to soups, stews or chili for additional chicken flavor, or sprinkle them with dried herbs or grated Parmesan and eat them as a snack.  You can even crush them and use them as a coating for carb free mozzarella sticks!  Folks who subscribe to "Paleo" or "Atkins" meal plans will especially like this.

While your "chicken rinds" drain, mix up your buffalo sauce.  Melt 1-2 tablespoons of butter and add in your favorite hot sauce in a 2-1 ratio, so 4 tablespoons of hot sauce to your 2 tablespoons of butter.  I prefer Frank's Red Hot Original Cayenne Sauce, and they also make a specific buffalo wings sauce that you can just use straight from the bottle.  But feel free to use Tabasco or whatever brand is the favorite in your neck of the woods.  I do this in the microwave, but if you want to dirty another pan, go ahead and knock yourself out.  Use a Teflon brush to add a light coating of sauce onto each skin.  Let is dry for a couple minutes, then flip it over and do the other side.

All that is left to do now is assemble your tacos. I prefer flour tortillas, but corn works too.  I like mine simple, with some fresh cilantro, a few dabs of blue cheese dressing and a squeeze of lime juice.  Crumbled bleu cheese would work well too.  If you want something fancier, diced tomatoes, pico de gallo or shredded cabbage all make nice additions.  If you're not into blue cheese, then ranch dressing or a bit of sour cream will temper the heat while adding flavor.  The sky is the limit when crafting a taco, so get creative!  If you're new to eating fried chicken skin, you might want to ease into it and mix the skins in with some pieces of chicken breast meat.  Now all that's left to do is crack open a cold drink and enjoy!

So I hope you give fried chicken skins a chance!  Let me know what creations you come up with!!