"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.
- For the terrine
- 5 pounds (2 large or 3 medium) fresh trotters, including the hocks
- 1 large leek, de-stemmed and washed for dirt
- 1 large onion, peeled and washed for dirt
- 2 large or 3 medium carrots, peeled and washed
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- A small bunch of thyme tied together, or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 head garlic, split horizontally in half
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup minced shallots
- 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon chopped Italian parsley
- A few tablespoons of all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup panko crumbs
- For the Sauce Gribiche
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons each chopped hard-cooked egg white and egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon minced non pareil capers, preferably Spanish
- 2 tablespoons minced tarragon
- 2 teaspoons minced chives
- 2 teaspoons minced chervil
- 1 tablespoon minced cornichons
- 2 teaspoons minced Italian parsley
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon coarse black ground pepper
Place the hocks in a large stockpot and add water to cover. Place the pot over high heat and bring to a boil, skimming away the foam that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes to remove all the impurities.
Remove the hocks from the pot, discard the liquid, and rinse out the pot. Return the hocks to the pot and cover with cold water. Place the pot over high heat and bring to a simmer.
Add the leek, onion, carrots, 1 tablespoon of salt, bay leaves, peppercorns, thyme, and garlic and return the water to a simmer. Simmer for 2 to 3 hours, until the fat on the hocks is completely softened and the meat is tender and pulling away from the bone. Turn off the heat and leave the hocks in the liquid.
Meanwhile, sweat the shallots: Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook for about 2 minutes to soften them. Stir in 1 teaspoon of salt and remove from the heat.
Lift the hocks from the liquid and set in a bowl or baking sheet. While they are still hot but not scalding, use your fingers or a fork to separate the meat from the skin and fat, reserving the skin. Pull the meat apart, and set aside the bones for additional simmering in the stock.
Place the meat in a large bowl and keep in a warm spot. Scrape the fat from the skin and discard the fat. Finely chop the skin and stir it into the meat.
To shape the log: Cut two sheets of heavy duty foil, or layer several sheets of regular foil. Spoon half of the mixture onto one sheet, shaping it so that it is approximately 10 inches long and 2 inches in diameter. Roll the log up into the foil. Squeeze and twist the ends to compress the meat so that it is 8 to 10 inches long and 2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter. This mixture will make 2 logs. Alternately, use cookie cutters or other circular rings to make individual terrines of trotters. I used a cut-up coffee cup, which worked extremely well for shaping singular terrines that were perfectly round. Refrigerate overnight, or for as long as 5 days. Either way, you will have approximately 10 to 12 servings.
For the Sauce Gribiche: Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, adding them in the order given. Let the sauce sit for at least 30 minutes, or refrigerate for up to a day. You will have about one cup.
To finish: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Depending on how many servings you need, cut each serving into a 1 1/2 inch slice if you are working from a log. Season both sides with salt and pepper and dip in flour; the flour should come up the sides of each slice. Spread a thin layer of Dijon mustard over the flour, and then dip into the panko crumbs to coat. At this point, the slices may be refrigerated for up to 30 minutes, or cooked immediately.
Heat a few tablespoons of oil or butter in a non-stick, oven proof skillet such as cast iron. When the pan is hot, carefully add the slices and let brown for about 30 seconds on the bottom side. Since they spatter as they cook, they will be finished in the oven.
Place the skillet in the oven for about 4 minutes to brown the top side. Be careful not to cook it for too long, or the trotters will break up. Remove the skillet from the oven and drain the trotters on paper towels, if needed.
To serve, place 2 tablespoons of the Sauce Gribiche on each serving plate to accompany the trotters.