Saturday, October 29, 2011

Un chicharrón

If you've ever heard of chicharrones before, you probably knew them as fried pork skin, or perhaps fried something else (I remember seeing chicharrones de camaron (deep-fried shrimp) in Peru, but I've never been too clear on what exactly defines a chicharrón). In Colombia, chicharrón can mean one of three things:
1. fried pork skin, one of the essential components of the bandeja paisa
2. a difficult, annoying, or laborious situation: Tengo que pasar todo los papeles al inglés para la beca, ¡qué chicharrón! I have to translate all my papers into English for the scholarship, what a chicharrón!
3. a flaky pastry filled with guava paste

If you know me at all (or, uh, looked at the photo at the beginning of the post), you've already guessed what's coming next (hint: it's not fried pork skin). I´m not generally a huge fan of Colombian sweet pastry because I find it too sweet, but as long as they are freshly baked, I will happily wolf down a chicharrón with my cafe con leche. The flaky pastry is unsweetened, the guava paste is fruity and sweet but not overwhelmingly so, and they're shaped to look like pork skin, always a big plus in my book.

Now, as far as I understand it, the typical recipe used in Colombia calls for shortening, which is understandable given how easily butter just puddles on your average día caleño (day in Cali). Making any recipe that calls for maintaining the butter cold can be extremely frustrating. Rio's not any better, really, but I'm stubborn and can't really abide by shortening instead of butter unless there is some really good reason for it, so butter it is. To no one's surprise, the butter tastes way better, and did I mention this was my first time making puff pastry? I was so proud, and I feel like such a wuss for not doing it until now. If you're like me (a wuss), know that it's really not as hard as you think it is, just, you know be good friends with your freezer, especially if you're in 90 degree weather. Once the puff pastry is done, all that's left to do is fold it over some guava paste, cut some notches so it looks like a pork rind, and sprinkle sugar on top. Really, you could make these with good-quality store-bought puff pastry and still have some lovely porky looking pastries for your coffee. She's a continent away, but I can tell you with total certainty that as she reads this, my mother is making faces. What, you don't want something that looks like traif for breakfast? What a chicharrón.

Chicharrón de Dulce (Guava Pastry)

This really is quite a simple recipe. It has two components: puff pastry and guava paste, both which can be made at home or bought. I made the puff pastry using this recipe, which I highly recommend, and ended up with enough dough for 20 pastries. Whatever route you choose to go (homemade, premade), you will need around one pound of puff pastry dough to make a batch of 8 pastries.

Guava paste can be found in Latin markets or the "ethnic foods" section of many supermarkets; Goya is a common brand. You can make guava paste, too, but unless you have access to fresh guavas and want a project, I'd just go with the store-bought paste, which is generally good quality. For each pastry, you will need a thin slice of guava paste, about 1/4 oz. 

You will also need a bit of water to seal the pastries and sugar for sprinkling.

Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Take out the cold puff pastry from the fridge (if it was in the freezer let it defrost in the fridge so that it's workable). Cut your pastry into strips about 3 in. wide and 12 in. long. Cut thin strips of guava paste and arrange them so they make a long line down the center of the pastry strip. You'll need about 1 oz. per 3 in. x 12 in. strip of puff pastry, but don't worry so much about the quantity, you just want a thin strip.

Lightly paint one of the long edges of the strip with water, then fold the pastry over the guava, forming a long roll. Press lightly to seal the edges. Cut the roll into pastries 3 in. long, then cut notches into the side that was sealed about a third of the way in. Use your fingers to open up the notches a bit, fanning them out. 

Place them on a baking sheet, then sprinkle the top of each pastry generously with sugar. Bake until well risen and golden at the edges. If the bottoms begin to color too much but the pastry still looks raws (translucent and wet with butter instead of flaky), turn down the heat to 350ºF and continue to bake until the pastry is done. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack.

These are really best fresh, but the formed pastries can be kept, unbaked and well-covered, in the fridge for a couple of days, or they can be stored in the freezer for longer periods of time. When you're ready to bake them, defrost them first in the fridge, and you will probably need the extra baking time at a lower temperature for them to bake all the way through.


  1. WOW! These looks delicious! Good work

  2. Slightly off-topic, but this seemed like the best place to ask.

    What's with the cold cuts in Colombia? They SUCK.

    My in-laws bought a package of "pavo" for lunch one day when we were going out. It didn't look like any turkey I've ever had, it looked like someone threw up spam and refashioned it into a mold. And it didn't taste much better.

    I guess I can't expect Hebrew National in Popayan, but at least let turkey be just sliced turkey, not "parts is parts."

    Maybe I need to go into the business if we move there, they need a Jewish foodoholic to teach them a thing or two about deli.

  3. I'm no expert at cold cuts, not by a long shot, but my limited experience with them in Colombia is the same as yours. They suck. So do the milk products in general (it's almost impossible to get non-ultra pasteurized milk, the cheese is super basic, etc...)I don't know at what point those things became so industrialized, I asked my boyfriend about it and he just said there isn't a big tradition of it there. He also LOVES Jewish deli meat, so if that's anything to go on I think you could make a killing opening up a Jewish deli in Colombia haha. Hell, if you open one up in Popayan we'll make the drive from Cali!