Three Generations, One Cookbook, and Memories of Puerto Rico

My grandmother, known fondly as “Tata,” inspired me to start cooking. It was because of her that I started the Cocina Criolla project—where I’m cooking my way through the classic Puerto Rican cookbook by the same name. When I began the project, I was immediately transported back to Puerto Rico, standing in my grandmother’s kitchen while she and my mom cooked dinner for our family, smelling sofrito frying in olive oil, and listening to them laugh and sing along to salsa music.

Last summer I traveled to Provo, Utah with my mom to visit Tata. She’s in an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s, and in addition to not being able to live alone she also isn’t able to cook anymore. But she still loves to eat, especially Puerto Rican food. On that trip, the three of us to cooked one of her favorite dishes— chicharrónes de pollo, or crispy fried chicken nuggets. The chicken is marinated overnight, then lightly battered and deep fried so that it comes out crunchy like real chicharrón (fried pork skins).

We documented the experience on video, which is likely one of the last times the three of us will ever get to cook together.

Chicharron de Pollo from Von Diaz on Vimeo.

Chicharrón de Pollo – Crispy Chicken Nuggets

Chicharrones de pollo, one of the dishes featured in Von Diaz’s Cocina Criolla project; photo: Marin Watts

Adobo (per pound of chicken)
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • ½ tsp fresh lime juice
  • ¼ tsp dried oregano, or 1 tsp fresh oregano
  • ¼ tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 1 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 1 whole chicken (3-5 lbs)
  • ¾ cup flour
  • 2 cups lard*
  • 2 cups vegetable oil*
  1. Grind adobo ingredients into a thick paste using a pilón, large mortar and pestle, or food processor, starting with the garlic and salt then incorporating remaining ingredients. Set aside.
  2. Wash and dry chicken, leaving the skin intact. Using a sharp knife, chop whole chicken into 2-inch chunks, leaving the meat on the bones; or ask your butcher to chop the chicken for you.
  3. Put chicken pieces in a large bowl and pour on adobo. Mix thoroughly with your hands to evenly coat each piece, being sure to get under the skin. Cover and let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, or overnight.
  4. Once marinated, put chicken in a plastic bag and add flour. Mix well to evenly cover chicken pieces. In a large, deep sauté or fry pan, combine lard and vegetable oil. Over medium-high heat, bring oil to 400°. You can test the oil by adding a speck of flour in the pan to see if it immediately sizzles.
  5. Meanwhile, line a large dish with paper towels.
  6. Working in batches, add chicken pieces to the skillet a few pieces at a time, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Fry chicken for 7-10 minutes, turning once halfway through, until golden brown on the outside. Test one piece to make sure it’s done and the juices run yellow and not pink.
  7. Once browned, remove chicken from pan and place on lined dish to drain excess oil. Let cool for a few minutes.
  8. Sprinkle with lemon juice and serve with hot sauce on the side.
* You can use all lard or all vegetable oil if you prefer, but combining the oils gives the chicken a distinctly delicious porky flavor without being too heavy.
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AboutVon Diaz
Von Diaz is a writer and radio producer based in New York City. She is a self-taught cook who explores Puerto Rican food, culture, and identity through memoir and multimedia. Her work has been featured on NPR, American Public Media, StoryCorps, WNYC, PRI’s The World, BuzzFeed, Colorlines, and Feet in 2 Worlds. Von has an M.A. in journalism and Latin American and Caribbean studies from New York University. A graduate of Agnes Scott College, she earned a B.A. in Women’s Studies and focused her research on women in Latin America. She is a currently a producer at StoryCorps, and previously worked in community advocacy and communications for nonprofits focused on women, children, art, and Latino culture.