Fried Chicken Skin as an Appetizer: Too Much of a Good Thing?
The best part of fried chicken is the skin. It's so obvious it's not even worth arguing about. I'm sure there are people out there who swear by the juicy dark meat, and even weirdos who lust after the white meat, but everyone knows that the crispy, fatty, succulent skin is by far the most appealing part.
Hog & Rocks Crispy chicken skin with carrot, celery and blue cheese dust at Hog & Rocks.
So of course it was only a matter of time before Americans took the meat part out of the equation and started serving the fried skin on its own.
Eating fried fat is nothing new -- chicharrones exist, after all -- and fried chicken cracklings (gribenes) have long been part of the Jewish dining tradition. The New York Times ran a big trend piece about the growing interest in chicken skin a few years back (you might remember the provocatively posed naked chicken photo, and its resulting controversy). But lately I've seen it cropping up more and more on local menus as a standalone appetizer instead of as a garnish for a sandwich or salad. And in that form it's really, really hard to resist.
Like the other night when I stopped into Hog & Rocks for a drink and some $1 oysters before dinner, and couldn't not order the crispy chicken skin ($6) on the happy hour menu. It arrived in a bowl with some celery and carrot shavings and a sprinkle of something called "blue cheese dust," but that was all just noise -- the main attraction was buried beneath them.
Imagine moist fried chicken, fresh out of the fryer, and the way its skin sort of shatters and yields at the same time as you bite into it; how it releases its grease into your mouth and down your chin in warm, salty pockets; how the pepper and salt and other seasonings only enhance your pleasure. The fried chicken skin at Hog & Rocks was like that. It felt a little indecent to be eating it in public.
The indigestion set in soon after I finished the bowl. It wasn't the restaurant's fault, it was mine -- there's a reason we fill up on the protein in fried chicken, the same reason we only eat a thin layer of frosting on top of a cake. Eating a bowl of fried chicken skin felt as childishly indulgent as eating frosting out of the container with a spoon; I should have known there would be consequences.
Of course, I'm historically bad at learning from my mistakes. It won't be long before I return for a second round.