Welcome to the sixth guest post! I’m letting anyone who wants to show off an offal dish submit a post with pictures. Want to show the world that liver can deliver? Are you ballistic over brains? Let me know and we’ll post your hard work here! This guest post comes from Jacqueline Venner Senske, and the post originally showed up on her website The Pasture Gate.
A while back, I bought some pig’s feet that came from La Quercia. They lived in my freezer for several months, and last week, I made up my mind to finally use them. Since pig’s feet are not a part of our regular diet, I am somewhat unfamiliar with their preparation. The project required some planning.
A quick internet search showed that many pig’s feet recipes involve pickling. I talked to my grandmother, and it turns out that she prepared pig’s feet on the farm by pickling them as well. (Of course, she not only pickled pig’s feet but in fact butchered whole hogs and used every part in some way, but that is a project a beyond my current capabilities. I’ll start with just the feet and see how it goes.) Grandma mailed me a small cookbook called Schmeckt Gut: Traditional German Cookery, which is full of collected recipes from farm wives and traditional German families. Among the recipes is indeed one from Pickled Pig’s Feet.
Pickled Pig’s Feet
4 pigs feet
2 cups vinegar
2 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. whole cloves
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 small stick cinnamon
1 cup chopped dill pickles
Scrape and clean pig’s feet well. Put in a kettle to boil with enough salt water to cover. Simmer for four hours or until meat will separate easily from the bones. Remove feet and add vinegar, salt, pepper and spices to stock in which meat was cooked. Boil for 30 minutes. Strain liquid and remove spices. Pick meat off the bones. Place pieces of meat and chopped pickles in a class loaf pan and pour stock over it. Chill until cold. Slice and serve. May be made ahead of time. Keeps well in refrigerator.
I carefully reviewed the recipe from the cookbook and also talked with my grandmother about her process, asking questions along the way. So how much salt should I add? Do I need to shave the feet first? How much pickling spice? How did you eat the pig’s feet?
Notes on Cooking Feet
I followed the recipe for the most part, with a few adjustments according to advice, capabilities, and taste. For example, I added sugar, at my grandma’s suggestion, but I left out pickles. Along the way, I took notes and photos. Here are a few excerpts of my adventures in pig cookery.
I opened the packaging and cautiously poke at the feet. After a minute, the smell hit me from the feet, and it wasn’t altogether pleasant…
So the feet went into the pot with water to cover and I dumped in some kosher salt…around 1-2 tablespoons (and added another tablespoon or two later). Then onto the stove with the burner on medium-high to bring the water to a boil. Then I turned the water down to a simmer and let it cook with the timer set for 4 hours. The scent of the cooking feet grew stronger and stronger…to be expected when processing meat at home, but also motivation to consider cooking things like this outside or in a sort of summer kitchen.
Meat really starting to separate from the bones. The joints are relaxing and popping.
Bones popping out and skin loose. Broth very fatty and rich looking. Smells porky and a little rank.
The feet seem ready – meat is falling off the bone. Grandma said she threw out the water in which the feet cooked and used fresh water for the pickling brine, but the recipe says to use it. Plus, my gut says its good stuff, with all that fat and bits in there, so I’m using it.
Feet are picked clean now, so I have a pile of bones and cartilage and another of soft, meaty tissue. I wasn’t sure about the skin, so I called Grandma. She said they not only ate the skin, but they put the whole foot – intact – into the brine, rather than picking off the tissue. Also, at her suggestion, I added sugar to the brine.
So in the end, I picked off the meat and tossed it in with the brine after I fished out the spices. Then I ladled the brine and meat into a bread pan lined with plastic wrap. There was a bit more than fit into my big loaf pan, so I also made a baby loaf.
I placed both loaf pans full of the pickled meat on a small cookie sheet and placed them on the top shelf of my refrigerator.
I got home from work and was greeted by two nicely gelled-up loaves of pickled pig’s feet. I inverted the pans and jiggled and tugged the plastic until the meat slid out.
And then the moment of truth
Hmm…firm texture…highly spiced…holy brine! I recognized the flavor of German pickling. Not unpleasant, but pretty strong. And too much vinegar. The real pork flavor came in the third bite, when I got a more significant piece of flesh. A taste reminiscent of the scent of the cooking feet – rich, funky, porky. Closer to the true porky flavor I was hoping to achieve.
In the end, this recipe – or at least my virgin execution of it – resulted in a concoction too strongly spiced to draw out the full, meaty flavor of the feet, as I imagine it is supposed to. Placing the intact feet in the brine, according to my grandmother’s method, rather than picking them clean, would probably yield a greater amount of porkier pork, rather than a mass of congealed brine that also contained meat. That’s how I will do it next time.
Or maybe I’ll look for other things to do with pig’s feet.
A Lesson in Learning
At any rate, this project also got me thinking about traditions and passing them on. Specifically, about learning skills. I really think this project – and the product – would have been better had I learned about it in a different way. I think the process required apprenticeship, someone to teach me in person from their experience – or at least pictures of what I was really trying to accomplish.
I sort of worked toward creating something like the traditional processed meats we saw in the markets of Paris (At top, processed meat in Paris’ Rue Cler market; below, my pickled pig’s feet), but I think I was really going for something a little different (though I did follow the recipe).
More research – and practice – and apprenticeship – required.
Thank you Jacqueline!