Skin and Fat

July 24, 2006

Have you ever seen the Discovery Channel show, Dirty Jobs? The jist of it is a guy who goes and does really nasty jobs that real people have.

There was a close-to-home episode that premiered last week. The episode is titled "Skull Cleaner," but before we got to the stripping of skin, tendons, and brains from animal skulls, the host (Mike) went to a couple of those coon-ass meat shops to learn how to cook Louisiana-style. Mike explained that they were going to make boudin and cracklins. "Boudin is a kind of... sausage? Cracklin is...I don't know...."

Some old guy called Rocky explained that cracklins were fried ham skin/fat, and that boudin was boiled liver stuffed into an intestine. That made the boudin sound a lot grosser than it rally is.

Naturally, they highlight the nasty part of a job, but even so, it wasn't really as gross as I had expected. First, he made boudin. (For out-of-staters, I would describe it as dirty-rice dressing stuffed into a sausage casing. Yes ladies, when you eat a good piece of sausage, you are eating intestine. Don't sweat it.)

Mike starts out by handling cured, clean intestine with a woman named Phyllis. Intestines start out looking like rather large, wide shoestrings. Phyllis knows that it's a large intestine rather than a small. Well into it, they mention that white rice and green onions are "essential ingredients in boudin," giving the viewer his first insight into the fact that it's not a mess of liver stuffed into intestines.

They actually grind liver and pork together. The product of this grinding comes out of a machine looking nasty as hell. They add boiling broth and mix it into a slurry. From there, it gets sloshed into a "water cylinder," which is basically like a big funnel. The pressure there shoots meat into the casing.

Rocky flies through the making of these things. He estimates that he's made a million links.

The discovery channel guy gives it a whirl, and does pretty well. And nothing was really gross or dirty at all.

After a commercial break, they came back to do cracklins. The jist of cracklins is this: when a pig gets butchered, there's this whole layer of skin and fat that a sane butcher would throw out. In Louisiana, we fry this trash, and treat it as if it were food.

Mike comes back on another day. I think it's a different place, but I'm not sure. Phyllis and Rocky aren't there for sure. He stars with a question. "What are we going to do? We're going to mess up a pig, aren't we?"

The guys in the shop pull out a big frozen brick of pigs' skins, about the size of a desktop computer console. ("Is this a pig or a series of pigs?") While it's frozen, they use a band saw to cut into strips, and then cut the strips into chunks.

The recipe is pretty simple: drop the chunks of frozen skin and fat into boiling grease, and bullshit while they fry.

"Don't want to miss any crumbs. Why?"

"Fat is money."

They fry for 90 minutes. Then they get pulled out and dropped into a new super-hot grease to "make the eyes pop."


"Smells up the neighborhood."

"It's nice how the frozen pig starts to melt on me. Goes through the shirt and into the skin. Cools you off."

The final step is to spread them out on newspaper and blot up the pools of grease with a towel.

I recently heard of a place that is supposed to have very good cracklins. I was over at a friend's house for dinner, and our host had gotten our food at the same shop. I can't remember the name for the food we were eating, but it was basically pork sausage stuffed into a pig's stomach for cooking.

He prepared it in a red sauce with onions, mushrooms, bell peppers, and probably other vegetables. It was really, really good. So good, in fact, that I worked up the nerve to try the stomach part of the meal.

Stomach slow cooked in a sauce tastes a lot better then you might expect. The stomach itself didn't really add much in the way of flavor. It just tasted like the sauce. The texture was kind of slippery, but not nearly as slick as a piece of sushi. Also, it wasn't too tough or chewy. Just a sort of neutral bite of okay food.