Can you call up pork rinds to turn recipes into adventures?
For the majority of my professional career, I’ve found myself working in, working with with or owning high caliber restaurants. But recently, I’ve been drawn to something very different. Today, I spend most of my time consulting with individuals and restaurant groups, helping truly creative chefs turn up the dial on using new and uncommon ingredients that connect guests with a more cultural and familiar experience. And to me, ingredients such as pork rinds, fit squarely into that ideal.
But why pork rinds? This crispy, delicate yet hearty snack food is now doubling as an ingredient, reinventing recipes in menus from north to south and east to west. Pork rinds are finding their place on fine dining tables as well as in pubs and wine bars.
And I know why … Pork rinds have been around for centuries—once reserved for specific generations and cultures as a snack. Today, however, we find that simple foods, like pork rinds, which are often simply pork skins and salt, become seriously complex when you introduce them as an ingredient. My favorite pork rind is Southern Recipe Small Batch. They add a savory, bacon-y, gluten free flavor to a dish that somehow is hard to find with traditional seasonings. In a world of speed, an easy go-to is always a benefit.
As well, for bustling restaurants, cooked-to-order rinds are great, because they afford chefs the opportunity to go straight from the fryer to the bowl, serving up the experience of pork rinds as an appetizer or a snack that can be seasoned at the table by the guest, while they’re still crackling when they get to the table. And the experience is where it’s at when it comes to a successful restaurant.
One of the mounting challenges in a restaurant also revolves around meeting guests where they are with respect to dietary preferences and needs. I also turn to pork rinds, interestingly enough, as a way to address these challenges. If chefs are attempting to break away from the pack while also trying to corner gluten free or keto guests, pork rinds are an excellent alternative to bread crumbs, also adding pork flavor and crunch—not to mention an adventurous twist. To address balance, texture and nuance, mixing fresh vegetables with pork rinds, often brings balance which also presenting a unique side that’s light and fresh.
If this sounds outlandish, consider both the traditional pork rind consumer and today’s new pork rind consumer. They’re vastly different and unique, which speaks to the widespread intrigue and acceptance of pork rinds as an ingredient, an appetizer or even a garnish. As chefs, we’re all influencing each other, and being creative is a big part of that. For me, that has often meant striving to offer recipes that are both present and current. It’s no secret that lifestyle and food have come together. People are interested in what they’re eating, where their food is coming from, and the history of that food. Staying in the front of that is important.
One of my favorite ways to serve pork rinds is fresh fried and finished with a mustard oil and the chef’s own spice seasoning, then served with a chili dip or a salsa, a crème fraiche or sour cream. As an added bonus, from an operational standpoint, pork rind pellets on their own store really well, they’re affordable and easily trainable, which is always desirable.
But there are recipes that also really open eyes with innovation and creative appeal. Here’s one of my favorites. I can’t tell you how much I love to grill oysters, especially when they bubble in butter, sausage and crispy pork rinds. Not only super tasty, but great for parties! This is one of those recipes that everyone will be asking you for again and again. Their easy-to-grab shells stay hot on the buffet tray, and the kitchen work can be conveniently made ahead for an event. Every time I grill oysters, it brings me right back to the gulf coast beaches of Louisiana and Texas. I suggest a spoonful of chopped muffuletta pickles, fresh cherry tomatoes and herb salad to make the perfect fresh and vinegary garnish to top these smoky southern style oysters.
Grilled gulf oysters with smoked sausage & pork rind crumble
For the Oyster Butter:
- 1 oz. lime juice
- 2 Tbsp. Louisiana-style hot sauce
- 1⁄4 cup red onion, minced
- 2 garlic cloves
- 3 Tbsp. red bell pepper, diced
- 1 tsp. Kosher salt
- 1⁄4 lb. unsalted butter, softened
For the Shells:
- 1 dozen gulf oysters, medium sized
- 1⁄2 cup smoked sausage, small diced
- 1⁄4 cup Southern Recipe Small Batch Pork Rinds, crushed
For the Garnish:
- 1 bunch fresh herbs such as dill, basil, chives or tarragon
- 1 small jar Muffuletta Relish, store bought or homemade (chopped olives, celery, peppers, veggies, vinegar & oil)
- 1 small bunch cherry tomatoes
- To make the oyster butter: place the ingredients except the butter into a food processor and pulse to create a paste. Add the softened butter to the paste and pulse to incorporate. This can be made ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to one week.
- Scrub the oysters with a stiff bristle brush under cold running water. Shuck them, and detach them from the shell, but leave them sitting on the half shell for grilling.
- Prepare a grill for direct cooking over high heat. To each oyster on a half shell, add one Tbsp. oyster butter mix, 1 tsp. smoked sausage and topped with 1⁄2 tsp. Southern Recipe Small Batch Pork Rinds. Tip: if you have an open bag of rinds, fold it closed & crush them with your hand to a no carb breadcrumb texture.
- Next, place them on the grill over a hot fire. You want flames licking the shells. When the shells become charred around the edges and the butter is bubbly, remove them from the fire.
- Top each oyster with a small spoon of Muffuletta Pickle Relish, chopped cherry tomatoes, some fresh herbs and serve.
Tim Byres is a James Beard Foundation Award-winning chef as well as a consultant, entrepreneur, author, educator, gardener, and outdoorsman. The early years of Tim’s career were marked by major recognitions, from People’s Choice Best New Chef by Food & Wine Magazine to supporting the U.S. State Department’s diplomatic missions as part of the American Chefs Corps.