A few weeks ago, I was sitting in Momofuku with friends eating a whole pork shoulder, slow roasted so the skin turns out crispy and the flesh very tender, and served with rice, kimchi, and scallion oil. At the restaurant, bowls of bibb lettuce were arranged as though they were flower petals, too beautiful to be eaten. (But then, you know, we did, using the leaves as wrappers for the pork.)
I was enjoying myself immensely except for one tiny problem: there wasn't enough skin to go around the table. We were eight diners in all, and there was only the skin that covered one section of the shoulder. It's the same problem you run into with a whole roast chicken, I guess. But at least with a whole roast chicken you get the pleasure of cartilage and tendon (the very end of the drumstick that not everyone eats), whereas the shoulder was just a whole lotta flesh.
Naturally, I began plotting what I would do if I wanted to reverse the meat to skin ratio, keeping the same Momofuku-inspired preparation. I thought of using only trotters, but that would be taking it too far because there is nary a section of flesh in there. Add the lower hock, though, and you're in business. Then you get the flesh from the hock, and all the tendons and skin from the trotters.
I went to Chinatown, where you can get your legs uncut from the lower hock down. The butcher asked me if I wanted the legs cut up and I said, no, and he looked at me in disbelief. I couldn't understand why. Surely I couldn't have been the only customer with such a request.
Anyway, I took the hock/trotters home, rubbed on the salt and sugar, went to bed, got up the next day, stuck the pork into the oven, read for a few hours, took a nap. When I woke up, the kitchen smelled of sweet, sweet pork. (Yes, it was a very fine day.)
The preparation was as simple as it is delicious, and there was more than enough crispy skin for everyone. Not only that, but the tendons had become soft and gelatinous, a real textural treat.
One thing I didn't take into consideration, however, is just how many bones there are in the trotter. It didn't bother me, but I can see how not everyone might want to deal with all those little bones. But you can't get everything all the time. You have to choose what's right for you, and I'll take bony parts over lots of meat, any day of the week.
About the author: Born in Shanghai and raised in New Mexico, Chichi Wang currently resides in Manhattan, where she divides her time between writing, cooking, and tracking down the best noodles in the city. Visit her blog, Mostly Tripe.