At most restaurants, chicken skin either stays on the chicken or ends up in the trash along with potato peels, cilantro stems and carrot tops. But leave it to enterprising and creative kitchens to figure out a way to make a few extra bucks from a food product that has been shunned since the low-fat diet craze of the 1980s as unhealthy or unappetizing. Chicken skin, when fried or roasted along with the rest of the bird, is often the best part: It's where all the seasoning lands and where the brunt of the heat hits, creating a crispy, crackly and golden surface that, when removed from the breast, drumstick or thigh, leaves little other than a bland and boring chunk of protein.
But if chicken wings — which are mostly skin, after all — can become a staple of bar menus from Buffalo to Bonnie Brae, why stop there? When properly prepared, chicken skin makes for some pretty decent drinking food. And here in Denver, Pinche Taqueria, Will Call and the Fainting Goat have all figured out how to turn trash into tasty treasure.
Chicken Skin Chicharrones at Pinche Taqueria
3300 West 32nd Avenue
At the second outpost of the taqueria known in polite society as Tacos Tequila Whiskey, the chicken chicharrones come in a mini molcajete with a side of salsa casera, or house salsa, which is a simple concoction of lime juice, onion slivers and sunny orange ringlets of habanero chile. Simply seasoned and cut into cute curls before being rendered golden brown in the fryer, the addictive chicken-skin bites are mostly crunchy, with just a little bit of chew where remnants of meat still cling. The acidic and fiery salsa cuts through the fat and salt without overpowering the chicken flavor. This is a dish best shared — and best accompanied with a shot or two of tequila. You're in the right place, since Pinche's list of agave spirits is long and thorough. But since you're really just eating chicken skin, don't bother with the fancy stuff — stick with Pinche's $2 brown bag special.
Chicken Thigh Chicharrones at Will Call
3043 Brighton Boulevard
Wiil Call opened at the end of 2014 in the new Industry bulding, where it serves Venezuelan-style arepas and other Latin American-inspired dishes. Like the menu at Pinche Taqueria, Will Call's roster lists its chicken-skin dish as chicharrones — but the presentation is as different as noche and dia. Will Call's chicharrones feature thigh skin, with a fair amount of meat along for the ride. They're served like Buffalo wings, doused in a sauce of your choice and sided with either ranch or bleu cheese dressing. With five sauces to choose from in shades of red, orange and green, the malagueta (spelled meleguta on the menu) packs the heat of its namesake Brazilian chile. It's an "I dare you" heat, a "Yes, I'm going to eat those celery sticks" heat. The bath of sauce means these chicharrones aren't as crunchy as they could be, but the additional thigh meat and power-packed coating make up for that. Skip the tequila this time and go straight for a beer, if not two or three — something cold and pale. Will Call's bar has plenty from which to choose.
Fried Chicken Skins at the Fainting Goat
This Broadway standby rolled out a new menu earlier this month, and while it 86'd the popular loaded tater tots, one of the replacements on the Snacks and Shares menu is the appropriately named crispy chicken skins. Unlike the versions at Pinche and Will Call, these have no Latin American flair, but are instead reminiscent of Southern fried chicken, with a little Thanksgiving comfort thrown in. Breaded and fried and served in substantial slabs, these are chicken skins for those who also love pork rinds. A sprinkling of herbs and a drizzle of honey add country-kitchen charm and the menu also promises hot sauce (although none was detectable — but you can always grab some from the condiment caddy on each table). This is a hefty serving of chicken skins, so be prepared to share. And you'll definitely need something to wash down this delicacy. Since the Goat isn't fancy, skip the crafted cocktails in favor of a cold Coors Light or simple Scotch and soda.