The Path to Avian Enlightenment:
1. Mince up all the pure yellow chicken fat you can find—there’s usually a nice big chunk on the tail.
2. Throw it with a little bit of water into a heavy-bottomed pot over high heat to get it going. When it comes up to a boil, turn it down and keep it low to let everything render slowly.
3. Cut the skin into something like half-inch strips and dump them into the pot, seasoning lightly with salt. Not much will happen for a bit. The skin will turn gray. Gross.
4. Go about your business. Give a stir every 5 or 10 minutes. Eventually you will see a little color around the edges of the pot, and around the edges of the cracklins. Be sure to scrape the bottom when you stir.
5. When the strips of skin get sticky, it’s time to get nosy. They’ll want to clump up. Keep stirring every minute or two so they don’t permanently stick together. Be merciless in breaking them apart—if all that skin was meant to be in one piece, the chicken would’ve found a way to stay alive.
6. Around this time, you’ll start to see foam coming to the surface and some real color developing as the skin gives up its water and begins to crisp.
7. Eventually, you’ll notice that the skin doesn’t mind coming back apart when you give it a stir. It’ll start making a beautiful, delicate, sandpapery sound. That’s the sound of cracklins. Keep it going for a while yet; there’s still a lot of water inside the skin that needs to come out. Taste one every once in a while until they’re crisp, not chewy. (At this point, you can turn the heat up if you’re impatient, but be careful to not burn them.)
8. When they’re done, drain them on paper towels. Try not to eat them all right then. Or go ahead.
9. Strain the fat through a very fine strainer or cheesecloth and save it in the fridge. Cook things in it without telling anyone and wait for people to ask you why your food tastes so good. It’s up to you to tell them the truth.
Republished from Gourmet.
Harold McGee, the author of Keys to Good Cooking, is an expert on the chemistry behind food and cooking. McGee recently made his first trip to China, where he learned more about rice wine.