Sitsaron (chicharon or tsitsaron) is the Filipino name for the Spanish chicharrón, a dish of fried pork rinds otherwise known in the English-speaking world as pork cracklings. There are many variations and the cracklings are not always made with pork rinds. Sometimes, it’s pork fat, pork meat, pork rind and fat, pork offal, or even chicken skin. The common denominator is that they are all deep fried. And when you’re talking about fat fried in fat, well, you can imagine how bad or delicious that can be depending on how you look at it.
Personally, I don’t go for the “bad” perspective. Chicharon is an indulgence, no doubt, but my real complaint is the difficulty in finding really good chicharon. The best I had was in Cebu. I was attending a conference, another attendee knocked on the door and handed me a huge bag of local chicharon — the kind with rind AND fat. And I was in pork heaven.
Considering that it’s just pork rind with some fat attached, why not make chicharon at home? Because the preparation is not as simple as it seems. The pork rinds have to be boiled in salted water, cut, dehydrated then deep-fried. The best, they say, are dried under the sun and deep-fried in pork lard. We have cats and drying anything in the garden under the sun is like an invitation to our feline pets to feast on whatever is being dried. So…
Then, there’s the frying part. I hate frying — especially anything that can result in oil spatters.
Considering all of the above, when we found bags of Chicharritos: microwavable chicharron pellets in the grocery a couple of days ago, you can imagine the attraction. Not cheap at almost a hundred pesos per bag but I was really curious so we bought a bag “on trial.”
So, there’s the bag of Chicharritos. And you can read the tagline clearly — less fat and cholesterol than deep-fried chicharron. I’ll discuss that more later.
Inside the bag are three packets of pellets and three brown bags in which the pellets are meant to be cooked in.
On the back of the bag is the list of ingredients. Pork rind, vegetable oil…
Vegetable oil? Okay, looking at the pellets, it looked like they had been pre-fried then dehydrated. So, while the pellets are microwavable, they had also been fried before they went into the bags. So, I really don’t know what the “less fat and cholesterol than deep-fried chicharron” is all about.
Following the instructions, I emptied the contents of one packet into a brown bag. I folded the top of the brown bag three times, placed the bag on a plate and put everything in the microwave. Two and half minutes on MEDIUM as the instructions said.
Result: some of the pellets did not puff. I put the uncooked pellets back into the bag, cooked them for another 30 seconds (as the instructions said) but they remained the same.
I thought I might have omitted something. I forgot to shake the bag as the instructions said so that the pellets were probably not scattered evenly inside the bag.
Okay, a day later, take two. I emptied the contents of another packet into another brown bag, shook the bag gently, then cooked the pellets for three minutes on HIGH.
Result: some of the pellets still did not cook. In fact, some pellets were partially cooked and partially uncooked.
Speedy said we should just fry the darn things. I refused. Told you, I hate frying. But Speedy does not mind frying so he fried the contents of the third and last packet of pellets.
Result: perfectly cooked chicharon. Note that that’s the total content of one packet. So, that would be worth about PHP33.00 which is really pricey for so little chicharon.
Lesson learned: some things are meant to be fried and fried only. Don’t mess with chicharon — they’re not meant for the microwave.