Cooking with Pork Skin

Explore several delicious ways to use pork skin’s texture and flavor with these beloved Asian dishes.


Photo by Meredith Leigh

Long before I was a butcher, before my musings evolved from why people eat animals to how, I sat in an open-air restaurant in Hanoi, Vietnam, with a young friend named Min. I didn’t consider myself a picky eater at that point, but looking back, I’d say I had a narrow frame of reference for what constituted food. I thought my gastro-ignorance was acceptable — until Min ordered a collection of dishes, none of which I remember very vividly, except for a heaping plate of wobbling cubes of white and clear jelly, which magnetized my curiosity and commanded my full attention.

“What … is that?” I asked Min. She snagged one of the jellies with her chopsticks and gleefully ate it, smiling at me under the turning fans.

“Oh! It’s, uh … fat from a pig. And it has the skin too.” Indeed. The jelly cubes were only held together by the skin attached to them.

I don’t remember my reply. I only remember how that moment changed my outlook on food.

As I’ve journeyed through the world as a butcher and advocate for ethical meat, and as a charcuterie practitioner and educator, I’ve found a great need for the nonmuscle components of hogs: fat to make sausages and salamis and confits, and skin to protect cures from light or to hold moisture. Skin that’s removed gets processed into homemade pork rinds (see my own recipe for this at Mere Leigh Food), and the skins that stay on the cured or smoked meats are later pulled off and used to season vegetables or grains. If I need a huge amount of gelatin in a stock to make it set for a terrine, skins and knuckles are my go-to.

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