Chicharrón Preparado, Reinvented Vegan-Style at El Rey
Scarlett Lindeman for the Village Voice
Ever wondered what those plastic-like orange pellets in little plastic bags hanging in your local Mexican bodega are? Chips? Candies? Some inedible substance? Here's your answer: Their name is chicharrones de harina, and they are processed and pressed flour dough that fries into puffy, crackling pastel orange chips that mimic fried pork skin chicharrones.
Bent into many shapes, they recall the Play-Doh device that pushed out rods of stars, trapezoids, and wagon wheels. They are popular street snacks, served doused in hot sauce and lime all throughout urban Mexico and in the diasporic arteries of Sunset Park and Corona. Even more elaborate is chicharrón preparado, a dish constructed around the flat, full-size chicharrones de harina, mantled with sliced avocado, crema, shredded cabbage, hot sauce, and curtido, curlicues of pickled pig skin.
Gerardo Gonzalez, the chef at El Rey Coffee Bar & Luncheonette (100 Stanton Street, 212-260-3950), is riffing on this preparation to most creative effect on the new nightly menu (El Rey is a daytime spot that now serves dinner). "I wanted to play around with the chicharrón template," Gonzalez says — he recently realized that chicharrón preparado, minus the crema and curtido, is actually a vegan dish. "Maybe it's gimmicky, but since we're often tagged as the 'healthy' restaurant, it is fun to play around with."
The chicharrón de harina is snapped into shingles and piled into a bowl, nacho-style rather than the usual flat plank. It's doused in a house-made Chamoy, the tart, chile-laced sauce of pickled fruit, made here with salted plums; there's also a cashew crema, a pickled pineapple hot sauce, and julienned radish, jicama, cilantro, and sorrel. It's a frisky toss that harnesses the key flavors of Mexican street food: salt, and sour, and spice.
"Maybe we could do pickled young coconut as the stand-in for the curtido," Gonzalez suggests, laughing. "And totally ruin our food costs."
Scarlett Lindeman is a Brooklyn-based writer covering the city's best taquerias, fondas, and cantinas. She writes the ¡Oye! Comida column for Fork in the Road.
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