Tuesday, April 15, 2008
As we've learned from some of our favorite Food television personalities - Anthony Bourdain, Mario Batali, Andrew Zimmern - and the worldwide Michelin Star chefs that they visit with on their shows, some of the best and most-flavorful cuts of meat are often the ones generally left unused. The offal, the cheeks, the tails, the gizzards, the marrow, the entrails, the feet - these life-long, 80-hour-a-week chefs swear by them and seek them out. Despite the "Boston Chef" name, we are not chefs. But we do like to learn from chefs and experiment with that knowledge.
So, pigs feet. $.99/lb at the grocery store, split in half and pointing at us - beckoning us to give them a shot.
This occasion is one of many in which we buy something at the store with no idea of how to cook it, then we furiously scan the internet for ideas and recipes when we get home. We decided we'd do an amalgamation of a few recipes we ended up finding, chiefly from these wonderful new blogs we've discovered: Slurp & Burp and In Praise of Sardines.
So we first blanched our trotters for 5 minutes in boiling water as a preliminary cleaning, then added them back to the rinsed pot along with an onion and a few stalks of celery cut into 1" chunks, a few peeled cloves of garlic, a big bay leaf, a handful of peppercorns and a few whole dried cloves - and covered all of that with cold water.
We brought that back to a boil, covered tightly, and let them go for 3.5 hours. Although the recipes we referenced noted we'd have to skim the fat during that simmer time, we never had much fat boil up to the top - so we just let those trotters go! After that time, we removed the now falling-apart pig's feet and let them cool until they could be handled.
Then we picked them apart. The skin was peeled off and set aside, and everything else - the meat, the tendons, the cartilage, the gelatine - was removed from the bones and placed in a bowl. Everything that wasn't bone was going back in to be eaten.
After the bones had been cleaned of meat, we cut up part of the skin and added that back to the meat mixture - maybe 1/8 of the final product consisted of the skin. Then we chopped all of that mixture together into a sort of ground meat consistency and put it in a bowl. To that, we added the chopped green ends of a baby vidalia onion (the "onion" part of which was being used elsewhere), kosher salt and ground black pepper, and about a tablespoon of dijon mustard.
After mixed together, we packed our concoction into two oven-safe ramekins...
...topped them with a thin layer of breadcrumbs, and placed the ramekins in a larger pan for handling's sake.
And we put them into a 450-degree oven. After about 10 minutes, the pork mixture was bubbling up and the bread crumbs were beginning to cook. We wanted that topping toasted and crunchy, so we fired up the broiler and moved the ramekins right up under the blue-hot flame and watched closely. Another couple of minutes and they were done.
To counteract the meaty dish, we prepared a briny "salsa" of capers, a diced pickle (it's LIKE a cornichon!), some leftover onion greens, a dab of anchovy paste and a dab of dijon, some olive oil and some red wine vinegar. Then, we topped a bed of baby arugula with the salsa and - after the trotter dish had cooled just a little - ate it.
The pigs feet were very good - much as noted over at In Praise of Sardines, the resulting meat is unctuous. It has a gelatine consistency that alone would not stand up but - when combined with a little crunchy breadcrumb crust, a crisp arugula leaf and the briny salsa - has a deep mellow pork flavor that was wonderful. Getting that balanced fork-full of pork, crust, arugula, and salsa resulted in a perfect bite - and there were those few bits of very dark meat/marrow that were the real prizes in the hot little ramekins.
Would we do it again? Maybe, maybe not - it was alot of work. But what we WILL do is look for Pig's Trotters - and cheeks, and offal, and marrow, and tails - when we're out at our favorite restaurants!