One of the major advantages of buying meat from a local farmer is that you usually get to choose the cuts and packaging you want: so many chops, cut so thick, so many to a package. Another advantage (?!?) is that you get cuts you would perhaps never buy in the grocery store. Take pig trotters (feet), for example. I know they’re a staple of southern cooking in America, but I’ve only ever eaten them in China. In many conventional stores in America, you won’t even see such “unmentionables” – but if you ask, they might have some in the back!
After looking at a number of recipes, I decided to take a crack at the trotters in my freezer and discovered that they can be very easy to prepare and extremely tasty. In traditional Chinese food lore, pig trotters are served to women who have just given birth, and the dish also contains hard boiled eggs – the food is meant to help the woman recover from childbirth and increase her strength. I’ve left the eggs out, but you can simply shell some hard-boiled eggs and add them to the liquid when you reheat the dish. I’ve also eliminated browning the trotters before simmering – a messy step that ultimately doesn’t seem to make a huge difference in the end result.
The meat is fatty, but no more so that pork ribs would be, so the long, slow simmer is great for eliminating a lot of the fat – if you make this dish ahead and refrigerate it, you can simply lift the fat off the top on the second day. Not the world’s healthiest dish, but if your approach is to eat everything in moderation, it’s fine – serve with brown rice and a lot of healthy vegetable dishes!
- 2 lbs pig trotters, cut in 1/2 lengthwise (having them further cut into crosswise chunks is also an option)
- 1 T cooking oil
- 2 oz fresh ginger root, cut into thick slices
- 1 c Chinese black vinegar
- 1/4 c rice wine vinegar
- 1 c brown sugar
- 1 T dark soy sauce
- Place the meat in a pot large enough to hold them in one layer, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cook 1 m, then drain off the water. At this point you may need to use a paring knife and/or tweezers to remove any remaining bristles. (This is the point at which my daughter said, “Ugh!” and left the room.
- Heat the oil in the same pot over medium high heat, just until it shimmers, then quickly explode the ginger until fragrant.
- Add the remaining ingredients, and bring to a boil, allowing the sugar to dissolve completely.
- Add the trotters back to the pot and add enough water to cover them.
- Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the meat is falling off the bone, approximately 1.5 – 2 h, less if the trotters have been cross-cut as well as sliced lengthwise.
- Bring to room temperature in an ice bath in the sink, then refrigerate overnight – this step is optional, but it enhances the flavor and allows you to easily skim the fat off the top.
This dish is best made ahead – a minimum of 12 h, or up to 3 days ahead is fine. Reheat the meat gently in the liquid, then serve.
- If you prefer a more syrupy sauce, remove the meat from the liquid after reheating, then boil the liquid over medium high heat until it becomes syrupy. Pour over the meat and serve.
- This same preparation could be used for pork ribs, cut into sections containing 3-4 ribs.