All puffed up: Beef tendon “chicharrones”

One of the cuts of beef used in the pho broth I made was new to me: beef tendon. I’ve eaten it before, and I know it’s used pretty widely in several East and Southeast Asian cuisines, but I had never cooked it at home.

Tendon, being a type of connective tissue, contains lots of gelatin, which lends body and richness to the broth. It can also be sliced and added to the finished pho as a meat component. But I decided to do something even better with it.

I puffed it.

Cooking Issues has probably the best single post on puffed snacks, so I won’t rehash the details here. In short, to puff something, you overcook it, dry it out, then fry it. While my pho broth was simmering away, I took another tendon, sliced it, and pressure-cooked it for half an hour at high pressure, figuring this was the fastest route to overcooked beef tendon. In fact, after 30 minutes, it was cooked pretty much perfectly (not overcooked), but I was impatient for my puffed tendon, so I forged ahead.

I still haven’t replaced my deceased dehydrator, so I set my oven as low as it would go (170°F) and dried the tendon on a rack over a sheet tray, testing every now and then and removing pieces once they felt completely dry. Then I heated up some oil to 375°F and fried the pieces in small batches until they puffed.

As you can see from the photo, they didn’t all puff perfectly. Unlike the more traditional pork rinds, which are perfectly flat, pieces of beef tendon are irregular in shape, which makes it difficult to cook and dry them evenly. The bits that were either insufficiently cooked or insufficiently dried were dark and chewy, but they were mostly perfectly puffed, producing a great crunchy snack with a mild beef flavour. I could see using these as a unique garnish for pho or other dishes that could use a bit of crunch.

I’m not expecting beef tendon to overtake pork rinds as the world’s puffed snack of choice, but it makes for an interesting change, and a good way to play with a cut I’ve never used before.

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