Tacos Cachanilla Serves Up Chicharron Preparado
Chicharron preparado, a popular Mexican snack, has many guises. All start with a crispy chip of chicharron (fried pork skin), which serves as a blank canvas for various toppings and ingredients, an edible platform that highlights the cook's artistic strokes and sprinklings. Some chicharrones preparados are restrained, with just a dab of crema, a metered squirt of salsa, and a couple thin slices of cucumber. Others are heavy with jalapeño rings, shredded raw cabbage, and curlicues of the pickled pork skin called curtido.
The original chicharron preparado was less a dish than it was an extension of a common culinary practice of dousing everything from mangos to candy with chile powder and a spritz of lime--that's the Mexican way. But the dish has evolved since inception. You can still get fried pork rind chicharrones prepared that way, but more often than not, chicharron preparado refers to chicharron de harina, a slab of puffy chip made from flour that is meant to mimic the crunch of fried pork skin. The chips come in rectangles, pinwheels, and rings, and they're often processed with or fried in lard to pump up the porky flavor. It's this golden, crackling sheet that is the vehicle for a multitude of toppings.
Vendors that dot Roosevelt Avenue underneath the 7 train in Queens sell chicharron preparado as a summertime special, but at Sunset Park restaurant Tacos Cachanilla, a taqueria run by a family from Baja California, the dish is available year-round. It is a particularly ostentatious version ($9.95), a street snack reconfigured to be an entire meal. A freshly fried chicharron the size of a composition notebook is given a Jackson Pollock treatment: Splashes of crumbled chorizo leave trails of neon orange drippings across the base, which is then layered with cross-hatches of lettuce and the occasional pink mealy tomato. The dish is finished with the cool richness of what seems to be an entire avocado, lines of bold white crema, and a flurry of salty cotija cheese. Three salsas await your own application at the table. How you actually dismantle the dish is up to you.
Scarlett Lindeman is a Brooklyn-based writer, covering the city's best taquerias, fondas, and cantinas. She writes the ¡Oye! Comida column for Fork in the Road.