Chicharrón Preparado: Where to Find It in Queens
Chicharrón preparado is a unique street snack from Mexico that is often hard to find, but pops up every so often during the summertime here in Queens. One of the stands I wrote about last week, which sells homemade nieves, also offers chicharrón preparado as a summer special.
Generally, chicharrón means fried pork skin. In some Spanish-speaking countries it isn't just pork skin, but pork belly; in other countries it refers to any sort of meat, fried and crisp. In Mexico, there is real chicharrón, deep fried pork rinds, and then there is chicharrón de harina—deep fried snacks that are made from flour, not pork skin. They have a similar crunchy, bubbly texture, and are found in many shapes and sizes; pinwheels, small squiggly lines, small rectangles, and large rectangles.
Chicharrón preparado, or prepared chicharrónes, are made with the large rectangular fried chicharrón de harina, which is then topped with chopped cabbage, diced tomatoes, sour cream, cotija cheese, sliced avocados, cueritos (pickled pork rind slices), and hot sauce, usually Salsa Valentina.
Okay, so it sounds weird, especially if you've never heard of half of the ingredients—but trust me, it's delicious. So many amazing textures: the light crisp of the chicharrón, the fresh, crunchy cabbage. Then there's the softness and acidity from the tomatoes, smooth chunks of avocado, salt from the powdered cheese, chewy bits of pickled pork, vinegar and heat from the hot sauce, and then the cooling and tangy sour cream finish. It gives you much more than your average snack. This week I found four places that prepare chicharrón con todo, and they won't be around for long—so I tried them all.
Fruta Picada Cart
Underneath the 7 train at Junction Boulevard, there is a woman with an unamed cart who sells fresh chopped fruit (fruit picada) that she tops with chile, lime and salt. There is also a small sign on the side advertising chicharrón preparado. The first time I saw the sign, on a weekday afternoon, I orderd one, but she didn't have the ingredients yet. A few days later I went back, and she did, so I happily ate my chicharrón while waiting for the train.
It had its good and bad points. The chicharrón was freshly fried and crisp; the tomato slices were perfect—a really ripe, red, fresh summer tomato. The cueritos were soft and gelatinous, but there weren't many of them. The avocado was soft and smooth. But instead of cabbage was iceberg lettuce, which is crisp and fresh-tasting, but lacks that bite and crunch. The cheese sprinkled on top was Kraft parmesan from the green can. It had all the right textures, but everything was just slightly off.
Metal cart directly in front of 96-07 Roosevelt Avenue, Corona (map)
La Choza Dominican and Mexican Restaurant
As I was driving down 104th Street I thought I spied the words chicharrón preparado in front of the restaurant—and so my very helpful husband ran out and ordered one, brought it back to the car, and snapped a phone picture of it all in the space of five minutes. A few moments later I got to taste it. Unfortunately, it was the least well-prepared of them all, mostly due to lack of toppings.
The chicharrón was fresh and crisp, I'll give them that. But again, they used lettuce instead of cabbage, barely any avocado, and not many cueritos at all. If I hadn't had any great ones, I might not know any better, and it would be a good snack—but I was spoiled for lackluster topping techniques by the next two places.
38-12 104th Street, Corona (map)
Viva Puebla's summer outdoor cart has much to offer, and the woman behind it is incredibly friendly. It took some time for my chicharrón to be prepared, since she threw old ones out and fried a new one just for my order. Soggy, chewy, stale chicharrónes are not appetizing, so I appreciated that—it was worth the long wait.
The chicharrón was piled high with freshly chopped ingredients, and I know because I watched her chop it all. Lots of cabbage, tomatoes, a half of an avocado; cheese, cream, a good amount of chewy cueritos, and hot sauce. My only complaint is that the tomato was white and mealy, which, in the middle of August, is a shame. Otherwise, close to perfectly prepared.
89-16 Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights (map)
In front of this small restaurant, where I found the best gordita, is a stand that sells snacks, including chicharrón preparado. When I did the gordita search back in March, I noticed people eating chicharrónes, so they may be one of the few places that sells them year-round.
So much care put into the preparation of the chicharrón—and they really went crazy with the toppings. The crisp bottom layer was piled high with handfuls of cabbage, three heaping spoonfuls of pickled cueritos; some of the jalapeños and carrots from the pickling mixture got tossed in there as well, an added plus. Lots of cheese, lots of cream, beautifully ripe tomatoes, creamy avocados, and a liberal amount of hot sauce on top of the already full plate: I had more of a meal than a snack on my hands. There was so much stuff on the crispy chicharron that if I hadn't shared it, it would've gotten too soggy halfway through. Luckily I had help, so that wasn't a problem. It was great.
111-03 Roosevelt Avenue, Corona (map)
There are more places that sell chicharrón preparado here and there, popping up one day, and gone the next—but if you do come across a small sign in front of a deli or restaurant that advertises them, just try it.