*Updated on July 8, 2012. Original posts were published on October 8, 2004 and September 9, 2006.
Crispy pata is boiled pork (hock with the knuckle) and deep fried until the rind is puffed and crisp while the meat stays soft and moist. So, basically, it’s just deep-fried pork leg, how can that be so hard to cook? Nothing difficult about cooking crispy pata. But one can have good crispy pata or terrible crispy pata.
The first thing to remember is that the best pata for this dish is that of a young pig. The more mature the pig, the thicker and tougher the rind. The layer of fat will also be thicker. Second, frying is not the only step in cooking this dish — the pata has to be boiled to tenderness prior to deep-frying. Third, we have to separate the myth from the truth.
Myth number 1. According to the oldies, one has to drip-dry the pata after boiling and then allow it to air-dry for a day prior to deep-frying. That’s not true. For as long as you drain, cool and, preferably, chill the boiled pata, there’s no reason why you can’t boil and fry it on the same day.
Myth number 2. The pata has to be frozen after air-drying before it is fried so that the meat stays moist. Holy crap, frying frozen anything is the major cause of unnecessary oil spatter and kitchen accidents.
Myth number 3. Deep-frying is the only way to make the pork rind crisp and puffed. Nope. A good oven and a very high cooking temperature does the job equally well. No oil spatters. Although there is nothing like roasting pork in a full-sized fan-assisted oven to make the rind crisp and puffed, a turbo broiler will do the job too. See the lechon kawali post as an introduction.
Unlike pre-sliced pork belly that can go directly into the turbo broiler, a whole pata has to be completely cooked by the time it goes into the turbo broiler. And I mean completely cooked. Tender, falling off the bones cooked. The only reason it’s going into the turbo broiler is to brown the rind and make it crisp and puffed. So, if the pata is still not tender by the time it goes into the turbo broiler, it will still not be tender by the time it comes out.
Start by simmering the pata in plenty of salted water with a whole garlic, onion, peppercorns and a bay leaf for flavor. Alternatively, use a pressure cooker or a slow cooker. I used a pressure cooker today. After 40 minutes, I checked the pata, it wasn’t tender enough, so I cooked it for another 30 minutes. When the pata is tender, remove it from the broth and place on a rack to drip for a while.
Preheat the turbo broiler to 475F or as high as it can go. Ovens are better because the temperature can go higher.
When the desired temperature is reached, put the pata in. Roast until the rind is puffed and crispy. How long? That depends on the roasting temperature and the size of the pata. It can be anywhere from 30 minutes to 50 minutes.
Should the pata be scored (slashed) before simmering or after simmering and before roasting? Heck, no. Not even if you’re deep frying. Slashing the rind and meat may make the pata cook faster but that’s also the surest way to lose moisture. You want the moisture in the meat locked in. No slashing. That’s a trick employed by lazy cooks in so-so restaurants. You’re cooking at home for yourself and your family — they, and you, deserve better.
If the skin splits during simmering (like what happened to mine), leave that be — that’s okay so long as the meat has not been cut.
Serve with soy-vinegar sauce for dipping.