Adventures in Offal: The Anatomy of Pigs' Feet

You might not be on Porky Pig's xmas card list afterwards, but if you've got the stomach for it, why not cook up some delicious pigs' feet, you swine.
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You might not be on Porky Pig's xmas card list afterwards, but if you've got the stomach for it, why not cook up some delicious pigs' feet, you swine.

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According to my current bible 'Beyond Nose to Tail: A Kind of British Cooking Part II' by Fergus Henderson of St Johns, "No fridge should be without its jar of Trotter Gear". Well, in that case…I acquired four pigs trotters from my butchers, Meads Village Butchers, in Meads, Eastbourne. They very kindly gave me the trotters for free – partly because as I was also buying a whole salted ox tongue, smokey streaky bacon and a pheasant for tonight, about £15 for what I reckon is at least five meals.

So the paraphrased recipe for Trotter Gear (sic: always caped up for some reason) – with pictures...

Place trotters in a large casserole, cover with water and bring to boil for five minutes to release the initial scum given off by trotters.

Bit weird looking at the trotters – I ate one in a bistro in Paris a couple of months ago, seared and covered in flour and probably cayenne pepper, delicious and fatty, but full of bones. However, it was bigger than these ones. This pig must have had a limp. The trotters boiled up with a lot of, well, crap, on the top. Skim, skim, skim is the mantra.

2. Place blanched trotters into the pot with vegetables (Onions, carrots, celery, leeks (split in half), head of garlic, thyme, pepper corns and madeira - but I am using red wine, which may be a mistake, I don't think it will be sweet enough). Cover with stock and place in a gentle oven for three hours.

We had some stock already – something I am learning is essential. Anyway, easy so far. No chopping of veggies – in the oven for three hours.

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Pigs' feet and swine, sorry - wine

Well the trotter gear is now in a jar at the back of the fridge. Five fatty jars of the stuff. Fergus Henderson describes it as having "Unctuous potential". Unctuous, now my new favourite word, is well chosen. The 'Unct' part suggest the fatty, sticky quality of the Trotter Gear, perhaps the 'Tous' part comes from 'Tortuous'. It isn't, as I have learned, for the squeamish. I am now familiar with the intimate anatomy of pied du cochon. As you can see from the pictures, the trotters, now giving to the point of destruction (did I leave it in too long – I went out for a curry last night, left it relaxing overnight and then gave it a blast again this fine Sunday morning). It was then the painful job of separating anything that wasn't solid from the fat, skin and flesh.

It seemed predominantly fat and skin. The pied du cochon I had in Paris recently was a longer piece, going further up the leg, perhaps the more meaty part. What the butcher gave me was the very lower part of the trotter – imagine from your wrist down, and it appears that the pig foot has almost as many little bones as, say, my foot. Stripping fatty tendons and pulling apart second toe bones wasn't particularly pleasant, yet strangely the squelchy fat on my fingers felt nice, and I wasn't a mud pie sort of child.

I drained the veg (to be kept for the tongue), and chopped up the fat and skin further and popped it in the bowl and then decanted it into jars I had just sterilised.

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Cold feet

With the Trotter Gear, and this was the real incentive, I can make pot roast bacon with trotter and prunes on foie gras toast (foie gras smuggled in from Paris). But also in Beyond Nose and Tail, guinea fowl, red cabbage, trotter and prune (I'm noticing a prune theme), beef and pickled walnut stew (pickled walnuts a big treat in this house) and, erm, braised squirrel, which, I think, I my pass on for now, as with the snails (regular garden snails that is), trotter sausage and chickpeas. The finest moment, apparently, for Trotter Gear is game pie that I shall most certainly try, but not with the pheasant currently bleeding all over my fridge.

The first dish I tried it with was pot roast bacon, trotter and prune. An incredibly rich combination. Full of delicious fat. And, yes, unlocked of its unctuous potential. To drink: some damn fine Burgundy.

Fancy making a meal of it like Daniel? Many of the recipes he uses are straight from the pages of 'Nose to Tail Eating' by Fergus Henderson.


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