Crispy pata looks deceivingly simple; it’s just deep-fried pork hock. Technically, that’s true. But there’s a lot of work that gets you to a perfect crispy pata—one that has tender, flavorful meat and crispy, airy skin. This recipe promises those two key characteristics, achieved through a method that even amateur cooks can do at home without any fancy ingredients or tools.
The driving thought behind this recipe is that the crispy pata should be able to stand on its own. It had to be flavorful without being flavored, so the goal was to make it salty enough to be picked at as pulutan, while at the same time being a good partner to the usual sauces. Texture-wise, the meat had to be very tender, whereas the skin had to live up to the dish’s name: crispy. And not just that, it had to actually stay crispy.
The Crispy Pata Ingredients
There are no fancy ingredients needed to make this recipe. Apart from the two-kilogram pata, everything you need (which is only six other ingredients) is most likely already in your pantry. You’ll need a large amount of salt to brine the pata; plus, some aromatics—onions, garlic, bay leaves, and whole black peppercorns—to further get some flavor into the meat. Later on, you’ll need some good old Filipino-brand soy sauce for color and to add a little bit more saltiness. (And of course, lots of oil for frying.)
The Crispy Pata Process
What made all the difference in this testing is the process. This crispy pata recipe doesn’t take a lot of effort, but it does eat up a lot of time—from the overnight brining to the boiling of the pata to the overnight drying to the final 30-minute frying. It takes around two days until you get the final product, but all these steps are essential to getting our definition of the best crispy pata.
Since we wanted to keep the integrity of the pork in our crispy pata, marinating the meat wasn’t an option from the get-go. So the question was whether to start with a plain pata or a brined one and in the case of the latter, whether to do a wet brine or a dry brine. Brining is the process of submerging meat in a solution of water and salt (wet brine) or covering meat with salt (dry brine).
Over-all, brining the pata won (over just using a plain pata) because the step helped keep the meat tender even after multiple stints in the fridge and through a long frying time, and it was an effective way of getting flavor through to the meat. That said, dry brining worked better than wet brining because the latter waterlogged the skin. Because the salt was introduced to the meat through water, it slightly diluted the flavor. Plus, the water entered the skin, which later on hindered it from becoming its crispiest.
On the other hand, dry brining gets you all the saltiness while retaining the porkiness of the meat. It also helps pull moisture out from the skin, making it even crispier and easier to handle while frying. Just covering the pata in salt also saves more space in the fridge for when you leave it overnight versus having to put it in a giant container filled with a salt solution. We leave the patas overnight in the brine to make sure it takes all the salt it can get.
Boiling the pata is an essential step because it’s here that your meat is tenderized. After your pata dries out in the fridge overnight, brush off the excess salt (trust us, it’s gotten enough by this point), then throw it into a pot with boiling water, red onions, garlic, bay leaves, and whole black peppercorns. Technically, you can boil the pata in plain water. However, we found the addition of aromatics in the liquid introduced even more flavor to the pork. Plus, it removed any impurities in the meat.
Boiling the pata for an hour to an hour and a half gets it to fork-tender. So while the meat becomes soft, it still has a little bit of a bite. That said, if you’d like to get it fall-off-the-bone tender, you can boil it for even longer. It will fall apart as you take it out of the liquid so make sure you have something wide to scoop it out with (aside from your tongs).
Pricking & Rubbing
Some people prick the skin of the pata prior to frying; others don’t. Either way, you’re going to get crispy skin. But by poking into the skin of the pata, you’re creating little divots on the surface that allow the oil to go in and out while frying, making tiny craggy bits. This results in an over-all crispier and airier exterior.
Most recipes add soy sauce to the boiling liquid. But ours adds it to the pata itself after boiling and poking the skin. This step makes for a browner (ergo, better-looking) and more flavorful pata.
The best thing to do when frying is to make sure whatever you’re frying is dry. Since the two previous steps introduced moisture into the pata, it was important to take an extra measure to dry it out again before frying. During our tests, we fried two patas on the same day after patting them dry and leaving them out in front of a fan after a couple of hours.
These were harder to get crispy since they were still a little bit water-logged. We even left them to fry longer to achieve the level of crispiness we wanted. But that essentially left us with dry meat in both patas. These patas were also so much harder to fry since the leftover moisture caused the hot oil to splatter like crazy.
We found that leaving the patas in the fridge overnight once more was the most effective way to dry out the patas. The time and cold air drew out the most moisture, making it easier to handle in the hot oil and resulting in an over-all crispier pata (that took faster to fry).
In the hopes of finding an alternative to deep-frying (since it can get dangerous), we tried baking the pata.
It did become crispy, but not in the way one wants their pata to be crispy. It wasn’t snappy, and it was a tad hard. That’s not necessarily bad, but it was a noticeably different experience.
On the other hand, frying the pata yielded a much more enjoyable product. The skin was light, airy, and snappy, kind of like a well-roasted lechon.
Pepper’s Best Crispy Pata
Time is really what makes this our best crispy pata recipe; it’s what gives the pata its flavor and texture. Start by rubbing salt all over the hock, then leave it in the fridge overnight to absorb all that saltiness. The following day, brush off the excess salt, then boil it to fork-tender in a liquid with red onions, garlic, bay leaves, and whole black peppercorns. Once the meat is soft, remove it, prick it all over, then rub it with soy sauce. Leave it in the fridge once again to dry out before deep-frying it the following day.
The result is a crispy pata with tender, flavorful meat on the inside and airy, slightly craggy, crispy skin on the outside. Again, it’s flavorful, not flavored; so it retains its porkiness but is salty enough to be eaten on its own. We recommend pairing it with your choice of crispy pata sauce. Lechon sauce, spicy vinegar, or soy sauce mixed with vinegar, onions, and chili—all of them work with this one.