Serious Eats: Recipes
The Nasty Bits: Whole Hock
"I sought a dish that used not only the feet but also the hocks, which are some of the most succulent and tender bits on the animal."
How often are you alone in your kitchen with a pair of pigs' feet? If you did happen to have trotters on your chopping block, would you rinse and send them straightaway to the stockpot? Or, would you observe a moment of silence for the noble animal that produced such fine feet? Maybe you'd just oink several times, as I did, if you happened to be in the privacy of your own home.
Perhaps it's because I've been buoyed by the hopes of an entire community of nasty bits lovers, but just looking at the pigs' feet before me, I felt a childish, positively ebullient excitement. Though the hooves had been removed, the outlines of the feet were patently porcine and the appendages, so tan and bony, ended in that signature piggy cleft. It was, in short, quite thrilling.
It's fairly easy to feel detached from a loin or a shoulder because the cuts appear anatomically vague. Looking down at a Styrofoam-packed, plastic-wrapped chunk of meat, it's hard to tell exactly where it belongs on the pig's body. A pork chop is merely one portion of a large animal and judging from the chop, there's very little sense of the pig itself. A whole foot, on the other hand, is a different matter.
There's something deeply satisfying about knowing that the item you're eating serves a unique function in the animal. Whether it's the stomach that directs digestion, the ears that register sound, or the tongue that aids in mastication, each part is singular and pronounced. In this way, being able to handle just one particular organ or an appendage affords an intimate glance at the beast.
In looking for a recipe this week that would be deserving of my trotters, I sought a dish that used not only the feet but also the hocks, which are some of the most succulent and tender bits on the animal. I turned to Thomas Keller's Bouchon, a tome that I look to every few months for inspiration. His recipe for trotters makes an elegant yet hearty terrine, combining the tender meat of the hocks with the gelatinous texture of the skin. Sliced, coated, and pan-fried in panko crumbs, the terrine is set on top of Sauce Gribiche, a pleasantly tart mixture that counters the richness of the pork.
Though all the recipes in Bouchon are involved, I want to make the case that this particular recipe, while time-consuming, is manageable once it is broken down into steps. The cooking time for the trotters is long, yet the preparation required to get the feet into the stockpot is surprisingly streamlined. A whole leek, a few whole carrots, and one entire onion are tossed in their complete forms into the pot along with a few aromatics. Following a simmer of two to three hours, the trotters are ready to be molded into terrine form, and that's as far as you can choose to go. Sliced and served with a crusty baguette, this terrine of trotters would make an outstanding meal in itself.
If you execute the recipe that Keller has laid out, you'll find that the slices of terrine are unctuously rich and porky when fried carefully in a coat of panko crumbs. The sauce, which requires some chopping but very little skill, is a splendid accompaniment to the intensity of the terrine. One bite of the dish will unequivocally convince you that the time you spent separating the meat and skin from the bones was well worth the effort.
Finally, once you have pulled out the meat, return the loose bones to the stockpot and simmer for a few more hours to extract every last bit of the gelatinous material. Doing so will provide as rich of a stock a cook could ever hope for—much more so, for instance, than if you use only neck bones or pork shoulder. Keep the stock in your freezer for a rainy day.
Pork Trotters with Sauce Gribiche
Adapted from Bouchon by Thomas Keller.
About the author: Chichi Wang took her degree in philosophy, but decided that writing about food would be much more fun than writing about Plato. She firmly believes in all things offal, the importance of reading great books, and the necessity of three-hour meals. If she were ever to get a tattoo, it would say "Fat is flavor." Visit her blog, My Chalkboard Fridge.