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Crispy pata is a Filipino dish that is essentially deep-fried pig knuckles, though it involves cooking more than just the knuckles. The entire rear leg of a pig is boiled in water with some spices until it is tender. The meat is then cooled completely and deep fried until the skin becomes very crispy. The seemingly simple cooking process, however, is laden with some techniques that ultimately might prove very dangerous. Traditionally, the leg, or pata, is served with a dipping sauce made from soy sauce and vinegar with some hot chili peppers thrown in for heat.
The first step in the preparation of crispy pata is to boil the whole pig’s leg in water. The water is usually spiced with salt, peppercorns, an onion and bay leaves. Other additions to the boiling liquid are fish sauce for taste, garlic and, sometimes, star anise.
Two other ingredients can be added to the water to help tenderize the meat. The first is baking soda. The second, less traditional tenderizer is soda. Adding soda tenderizes the meat because of the high acidity of the liquid while also providing flavor in the form of the sugars in the drink. Still, there is no real reason to add any tenderizing agent to the water except to decrease the amount of time the meat has to boil.
Once the crispy pata has been boiled, it is allowed to cool completely. This can be done by draining and then refrigerating the leg, or the leg can be left to sit overnight. A third method involves freezing the leg, encouraging the formation of water crystals inside the meat and skin. These methods allow the gelatin inside the leg to cool and set, preventing it from spilling into the frying oil and making the meat tough. The cooling time also gives the skin time to lose any water absorbed during boiling, helping the crispy pata to develop dry, crunchy skin.
The cooled, dried leg is finally deep fried. This is a dangerous procedure that can be further complicated by the cooling method used. The cartilage and other structures inside the pig’s leg are going to release liquid into the oil that will cause it to splatter; this is unavoidable. If the leg is frozen, as some recipes call for, then the splatter from the hot oil will be completely uncontrollable and potentially hazardous. It is best to use a pot with a lid to deep fry the crispy pata, or to perform the cooking outdoors.
Once the skin has become crunchy, the crispy pata can be taken out of the oil, drained and is ready to serve. It is traditional to make a dipping sauce from soy sauce, vinegar, onions, chili peppers and garlic, although nearly any vinegar-based sauce can be used. The leg can be carved before being served, or can be presented whole for guests to carve themselves.
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