Guatemala, meaning ‘place of many trees’, is a heavily forested and mountainous nation in Central America. The Maya civilization flourished in Guatemala and surrounding regions during the first millennium A.D. Today over half of Guatemalans are descendants of the indigenous Maya peoples with the majority living in the western highlands. After almost three centuries as a Spanish colony, Guatemala won its independence in 1821.
Guatemala’s highlands lie along the Motagua Fault, part of the boundary between the Caribbean and North American tectonic plates. This fault has been responsible for several major earthquakes in historic times, including a 7.5 magnitude tremor on February 4, 1976 which killed more than 25,000 people. Guatemala has 37 volcanoes, four of them active: Pacaya, Santiaguito, Fuego and Tacaná. Both Fuego and Pacaya erupted in 2010. In May 2010, an area of 65 ft (20 m) across and 300 ft (90 m) deep, collapsed in Guatemala City, swallowing a three story factory. The sinkhole occurred for a combination of reasons, including Tropical Storm Agatha, the Pacaya Volcano eruption, and leakage from sewer pipes.
Despite it having the largest economy in Central America, it is one of the poorest countries with over half the population living in poverty. Tourism has become one of the main drivers of the economy, worth $1.8 billion in 2008. There are many highlights for the visitor including the Mayan archaeological sites of Tikal, Quiriguá, Iximche and Guatemala City, Lake Atitlan (named by some as the most beautiful lake in the world) and the natural pools of Semuc Champey.
Guatemalan cuisine is based on Spanish and Mayan cuisine. Some popular dishes include Chicken Pepian (chicken in spicy pumpkin and sesame sauce), Chiles rellenos (stuffed chilli peppers), Caldos (stews), Tamales (filled corn dough) and Kaq ik (turkey stew). I decided to make Chicharrones (fried pork rinds), basically pork scratchings as we like to call them! It is a popular snack found across Latin America with different variations. In Guatemala they are usually eaten with tortilla, some salt, and maybe a pickled Jalapeño pepper. Although it was a lengthy process for what is just a snack, it was definitely worth the effort – the best pork scratchings you’ll ever taste!
Serves: 2 as a snack
Prep time: 10 mins + 8 hours cooling
Cook time: 1 hour boiling + overnight drying in the oven
350g pork skin, trimmed of excess fat
Plenty of cooking oil or lard (for frying)
Put your pork skin in a large pot and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil, cover the pot, and allow to cook for 1 hour
Boil until the skin is softened (but not falling apart) and the water is white
(To keep the skins submerged in the water, you may want to weigh them down by placing a heat-resistant plate on top of them as they boil)
Use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove your pork skin from the boiling water and lay it on a cooling rack set over a baking tray. Discard the cooking water
After 5 minutes, put the pork skin still on the cooling rack over the baking tray in the fridge for 8 hours
Use a spoon to remove any fat clinging to the bottom of the pork skin. The fat should separate from the skin easily. Be careful not to tear the skin, as it will be still be soft from cooking
Set the oven to its lowest setting. Aim for no higher than 93c. Place the skin on their cooling rack and baking sheet in the oven overnight
Remove from the oven and leave to cool
Cut the dried skin into long strips or small squares and sprinkle with a little black pepper and cayenne pepper (or you can just leave them plain if you prefer)
Heat a deep-sided pan over high heat. When it is hot, add lard or cooking oil. Fry the chicharrónes one or two at a time, prodding them until they puff up and start to float. When done, remove the chicharrónes to a paper-towel lined plate.
Sprinkle with a good amount of salt and serve (with a cold beer!)
Although it is a lengthy process, it’s not difficult so it may be wise to do double or quadruple this recipe as they will keep for a couple of weeks in a sealed container, if they last that long!