Frying up Cajun delight in Orange County
Terry Harvey hasn’t been making cracklins very long, only four months or so in fact. This is a totally new adventure for Harvey. Now he is making a reputation for himself among local connoisseurs of the Cajun delicacy.
Born in Kinder, La.; Harvey moved to Bridge City with his parents when he was one year old. Though he came from the land of Cajuns, he didn’t know how to make cracklins.
“We didn’t know what to do. We got information from my cousin from Louisiana and information from people that fry cracklins. Burl (LaSalle) and I experimented for several weeks. We went through pounds of pork belly before we got it right,” said Harvey.
“I was already making beef jerky,” Harvey said. He decided to start making cracklins for his business called “Paw-Paws Market.”
“The only place that you can get cracklins here, that I know of, is Ancelot’s in Groves or go over to Louisiana.” Robert’s Meat Market also makes them on occasion said Harvey. “Roy (Dunn) tried it and he said it was the best cracklins he’s had since he was a kid.”
Harvey uses about 30 pounds of pork belly for each batch of cracklins. They cut it into cubes, and place it into a large black kettle that is heated with a propane burner to 200 degrees to do what is called ‘rendering.’ The process boils out most of the fat and takes about two hours to complete, according to Henry. The pork belly is then removed from the, now liquid, lard or fat and allowed to cool. When the pork belly is room temperature the rendered lard is heated to 350 degrees. The high heat is what makes the cracklins “pop” or expand quickly. “Then we bring it back down to 300 (degrees) and let it fry out. When there’s no more bubbles, we know they’re done.”
Harvey said the final step takes 30-45 minutes to finish frying a batch of cracklins. “They’ll be real crisp after they cool off,” said Harvey. Once the cracklins come out the kettle, they are seasoned with a special mixture of spices. Harvey said they tried several different mixtures until they found the one that was just right.
Fresh cracklins fried at Paw-Paws Market Monday through Saturday are usually available in the afternoon. Harvey said it takes about four hours for the entire process. It takes time cutting the pork belly into cubes, rendering; then frying. “We’re cooking it in their own fat, basically,” said Harvey. “It took Burl and I a good two, maybe three months to get the process out and there’s no short cuts; we’ve tried everything.” It was still a learning process even though he had access to knowledge on how to make cracklins.
Harvey said the French call cracklins g´ratton.
“There’s a cracklin cook-off over in I think a little town called Florence, La., close to Breaux Bridge; in April,” said Harvey. He plans to check into the competition and maybe enter it just for fun. “It’s a two man team and it will be Burl and I, if we get to go.
Paw-Paws Market opened in July of 2010. He started out with just produce. Over time he added yard ornaments he gets from Mexico; then came jerky; next came cracklins. Now he is also frying peanuts. “I may be making boudain in the next month or two.” He said he hopes adding all these products are the right decision.
Harvey had previously made jerky with a dehydrator for himself, but built an actual smoke house for the market. Jerky takes three to four hours to make, “Depending on the temperature,” said Harvey. “We try to keep it around 170, 180 (degrees).”
Paw-Paws Market is open 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday. It is located on Farm Road 1442 next to Burger Town, just south of Farm Road 105. He usually sells out of cracklins every day, so get there early if you want them. “Normally it’s around 2-3 o’clock in the evening before I have cracklins available,” said Harvey.