Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Eating a Pig's Foot

As I packed my freezer full of basil cubes, I found two pig's feet.  Being rather large, they took up a fair amount of space and I decided that it was time to pull them out of the deep freeze.  But what on earth was I to do with two piggy feet?  Looking at the leg end of the limb, they looked quite meaty, and somehow the blogosphere took me to an asian pork hock recipe.  Pork hock, pig foot, close enough.  Braising?  Always a good thing.  Asian flavours?  Ditto.

I was set.

My day started early with work in the morning.  Once I got home, around 10:30am, I set off to my local Asian market to gather a few ingredients not in my pantry.  I had everything but the coriander root, the black cardamom, the white peppercorns, the cane sugar and the young coconut.  That tells you how many spices this recipe calls for.  Unfortunately, I couldn't find any coriander root.

The black cardamom is very different from green cardamom, a spice I am familiar with.  At first, I thought to just use the green, but once I smelled the black, I realized it was necessary.  The two are not at all alike.  Black cardamom has a strong medicinal smell, with hints of eucalyptus and spice.  It's intense.  The white peppercorn is brighter than its black counterpart, with hints of citrus.  And the young coconut water is just beautiful, fresh and juicy smelling, far subtler than coconut milk.  It's also quite fun hacking into the coconut to release the water!


1) This is not a recipe to rush or skip steps.  Pork feet need time and moisture and heat to bring out their beauty.  If any food item is an ugly duckling, it is a pig's foot.  Start by boiling your feet in water and salt for three minutes.  This gets rid of impurities or another way of looking at it, washes your feet very well. As they boil, skim off any foamy material that might rise to the top of your pot.

2) After three minutes in the boiling foot bath, dump the contents into a colander and let your feet drain.  You are about to fry them in hot oil and want the skin as dry as possible to avoid splattering.  As the feet are drying, heat up the oil in a heavy bottomed pot or wok.  Take one of the feet and delicately dip a toe into the oil, if it doesn't make a loud frying noise then your oil isn't hot enough.  Let it heat up more.  Once your oil is nice and hot, fry all sides of your pig feet so that they are a crisp golden brown.  A side benefit to the deep frying is whatever remaining hair might be on the pig is fried to bits!  Please see exhibit b to your left.

3) Once your pig bits are fried, pull them out and drain all but a tablespoon of oil out of your pot.  Be careful, hot oil is hot!  Now add your ginger and garlic and fry until fragrant - this shouldn't take long.  Then add in all your spices with the exception of the white peppercorns and fry for another minute or so.  I would only use one black cardamom pod because they are quite intense.  The smell as you are add the spices is unbelievably delicious!  Star anise is one of my favorites and the black cardamom is darkly fascinating.  I'm not quite ready to say that I love it but perhaps with time.

Finally add the rest of the ingredients with the exception of the coriander leaves (cilantro), bring to a boil and add the pork feet back in.  Whoo!  You are almost done.

4) Turn the whole thing down to low, put the lid on and let it brew for as long as possible.  Pork feet are full of tendons and collagen so need low and slow heat to break this all down.  If you rush them you will have a rubbery gross mess.  The recipe calls for four hours of cooking.  I had a nice long bike ride that night ending at 8:30pm so my feet had about seven hours of cooking.

I arrived home starving and tired and a big pot of pork feet sounded quite delicious.  The meat was so soft that it actually fell off the bones (there are many) as I tried to pull the feet out of the pot.  Once I finished fishing all the bits and pieces out I let them cool a little and then took all the bones out.  I only have one thing to say - pig feet are jelly-like and fatty and full of collagen.  While I'm not quite at a point where I can slurp on a whole foot, once it is pulled apart and sitting like a luscious pile of fat on beautiful steamed rice I am pretty happy to eat it all down.

The verdict: I am excited to try pig feet again in the future.  This recipe didn't sell me 100% just because of the black cardamom.  It had such a strong menthol, medicinal flavour that it really overwhelmed the other spices.  If I was going to try this recipe again, I might try it with just one bulb of cardamom or with none.

As a side note - my thrifty Scot self also really likes this recipe because my butcher only charged two bucks a foot.  How can you argue with that?

As well, I fried the pig skin before eating it.  Flabby skin just doesn't sound or feel or taste appealing to me whereas fried pig skin is one of my favourite things.  It could be my favorite thing, besides sweet potato.  So yeah.  I recommend doing that.  I would love to hear about other pig feet experiences.  Do you have a favorite way of cooking with them?  Is braised the best choice?  Do they just seem totally disgusting to you?  Tell me all!


Shonagh explores the guts of food in An Offal Experiment.

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