“Heap high the groaning platter with pink filets, suckling pig and thick gammon, celestial chef. Be generous with the crackling. Let your hand slip with the gravy trough, dispensing plenty.”
-George Macbeth, An Ode to English Food
For my birthday this year a friend living in Gascony gave me a hamper of local goodies. Everything was excellent, I even found a use for the beautiful box it all came in… except the fritons.
In this post you will find:
- what are fritons?
- their origins and history
- a table of international terms for fritons
- all about pork scratchings
- how to use fritons or scratchings
- recipe for making fritons
Gascon fritons – different to other French fritons
We opened the tin of fritons with a glow of anticipation but their appearance was underwhelming, and we soon found their taste was too. It was incredibly fatty and without much taste. The only thing to do was to serve on toast, without butter, and add copious salt and pepper.
What exactly are fritons then? Back onto the web I scoured carefully but couldn’t find anything that resembled what had come out of the tin…. a sort of bubbly looking pâté. There was one definition describing it as duck fat and skin whose fat has been rendered in the process of making confit, then the skin and fat solids are ground into a terrine. I suspect this must have been what was in my tin. Apparently it’s also possible to fry slices of it and serve with fried (in duck fat) Savoy cabbage.
Other fritons – crispy duck, goose, or other animal Gallic crackling
Otherwise I found that mostly it’s considered a sort of Gallic equivalent of pork scratchings, often with complex instructions. The Dictionnaire du Gastronome (Vitaux and France) provides the most helpful and definitive description. It says that grattons, chichons, and frittons are the little bits of skin and pieces of meat which you can save when you melt goose or pork fat and skin over a low heat and for a long time. These bits are drained, reheated in hot fat, seasoned and cooled. There are lots of regional name variations – grattons auvergnats, grattons bordelais, and grattons Lyonais and frittons de ‘Albigeois. Fritons béarnais are made following the process of making a confit of chicken, to say nothing of the international variations. Go here for my post on how to confit chicken.
“Some serious eating occurs in Lyon, I noticed right away. In this town dining out requires a special vocabulary, even for French people. It’s a place where nuggets of fried pork rind, grattons, replace cocktail-hour peanuts, and a scoop of silk worker’s brains, cervelle de canut, refers to herb-flecked farmer’s cheese.”
-Ann Mah, Mastering the Art of French Eating
What are the origins and history of fritons?
But it may be that the origins of this delicacy are Spanish and not French, in the dehesas where the pigs (destined to provide another delicacy, the Jamón Ibérico) wander free, snuffling on the acorns. Apparently they rub themselves against the trees to rid themselves of dry skins. The hanging pig skin dried and sizzled in the hot sun and was tested and tasted by an enterprising (and hungry) swineherd.
Table of international terms for fritons
|Grattons, gratins, gratterons, frittons and fritons… also chichons, griaudes, grillons, rillons||France||Pork grattons can be quite large and flat, whereas goose grattons form themselves into a ball.
Rillons are made from pork breast.
Rillauds are a speciality from Anjou, similar to rillons, but smaller and incorporating the rind.
In Lyon they specify that the term fritons can only be used to describe fritons made with duck.
|Grieben or Griebenschmalz, Greben, Grebens, Griven||Germany|
|trzaski||Poland||See what the Polish restaurant Ognisko does with theirs, below|
|cortezas de cerdo||Spain||They are called ‘cueritos’ when they are without the fat. With fat they can be ‘chicharrones’ or ‘torreznos’. They are often eaten with a green or red sauce|
|Knabbelspek||The Netherlands and in Flanders|
|pork scratchings||UK||Only made from pork. See fuller note on pork scratchings below|
|pork rinds||US||Only made from pork. Especially popular in the south|
|chicharón, or, cuerito||Mexico|
Pork scratchings are a bit of a British icon. Broadcaster, Chris Evans, gave pork scratchings as his star prize on Radio 2. An American author has even been inspired to write a book entitled:
“Lessons from the land of pork scratchings: a miserable yank discovers the secret of happiness in Britain”
Secret of happiness eh? Well, at least not healthiness. Scratchings are, quite literally, the scratchings from the slaughterhouse floor, becoming popular in the cradle of Britain’s industrial revolution, the black country (the west Midlands). They are pig-derived and almost completely fat, carbon and salt – all four currently fashionable dietary sins and not a bit of green in sight.
Unbelieveably (and it is unbelievable being reported in both dailies, Mail and Mirror) scientists are now able to produce ‘healthy’ which are low-fat, low-salt, 70% protein, and (the unbelievable part), produced by Muscle Food, ‘tastes just as good as the original’.
A sounder alternative might be the very superior pork scratchings being produced by Tom Parker Bowles’ – Mr Trotter’s Great British Pork Crackling, available at Selfridges, Harvey Nichols
How are grattons/pork scratchings et al used?
They can be used for different things in different countries but here I have amalgamated all the uses together:
- As a bar snack, or to have with drinks – this is the most universal used
- Scattered, like croûtons, into a salad
- Incorporated into pies
- Stuff chicken with yoghurt and grattons
- Sprinkle onto an omelette
- At London’s Kitchen Table restaurant in the West End they serve crispy chicken skin with rosemary mascarpone and bacon jam (bacon jam? – what is that?)
- Again in London, the Polish restaurant, Ognisko, serves crispy pork crackling with pear and horseradish sauce – see the featured photo at the top of this post
- In the States they eat their pork rinds with dips such as jalapeño and cheddar, or sour cheese and chives, dill flavoured mayonnaise, or tartare sauce
Quick recipe for fritons
Unfortunately I don’t have hours to render I needed to find a quicker way to make my own fritons. I experimented with making my own. Because you need a duck or a goose to make fritons, you still have the rest of the duck to cook and do something with. So I simplified the slow cooking approach and used the fritons to give a crispy, salty flavour to a shredded salad – perhaps with an orange flavoured dressing – that would accompany duck breasts.
This is all you have to do:
- Take the skin and fat off a couple of duck breasts and slice thinly into (¼”/½ cm) strips
- Fry in some very hot rapeseed oil with a little salt until golden and crisp
- drain on kitchen paper