[Correct Dining by Wilfrid: December 21, 2007]
Wallowing in pig's feet of all kinds at Hakata Tonton last week reminded me that it's been a good while since I prepared them at home.
It's wise to have a short (or indeed long) list of brasserie standards up your sleeve to trot out at short notice, especially when the nights are long and dark.
Rabbit in mustard sauce (better, mustard and cream); escalopes of turkey in a white wine sauce; any red meat in a red wine sauce - chicken too; choucroute (store-bought sauerkraut is fine, properly treated); tripes in several styles; braised oxtail. Some of these take time to cook, but all are relatively easy to prepare. Master them, and you have a small French restaurant in your home.
Pig's feet may look daunting, but if anything they're easier to cook than eat. Patience is more requisite than skill. And it's worth mentioning that, unlike oxtail for example, they're still a bargain.
First, they must be made tender. This means a long, warm bath - and estimate at least three hours. Wipe them, and place them in a liquid with as much flavor as you like. Wine, or even stock, seems extravagant for these humble extremities. Use water, but enrich it with hunks of onion, old carrots, salt (of course), peppercorns, any handy herbs. Boil, then down to a very slow simmer.
You will need to skim muck from the surface occasionally. Best device I've found for this is a simple tea-strainer.
Many recipes suggest you get your butcher to split the feet for you. No need. Once they're tender (test with a sharp knife), and cool enough to handle, just cut right between the toes, length-wise, with a sharp knife. You may find some resistance, but it's cartilege rather than bone. If necessary, just use your hands and pull them apart after you've made the initial cut. You want to use the feet in halves for the rest of the preparation - more manageable.
Of course, you can just serve them as stewed pig's feet, in which case you'll probably have introduced some more interesting vegetables into the pot while they were cooking. Two other ways to go: Chinese and Paris brasserie-style (or à la Ste-Menehould, to be fancy; I haven't checked, but I can't resist the idea that the original Saint Menehould was martyred by being breadcrumbed and grilled).
My Chinese pig's feet require a night in refrigeration after cooking, steeped in a mix of soy sauce and oyster sauce (latter optional) with fresh or powdered ginger and lots of crushed garlic - think four to six cloves per foot. Seal this air-tight because the marinade stinks.
They come out looking like carved mahogany. The brasserie approach wastes no time. Smother the feet with mustard and roll in seasoned breadcrumbs. You could use an egg dip instead of the mustard to make the crumbs adhere. Then grill until tanned and crispy (hot oven, 350F or so).
I swear, I used to serve them with McDonalds fries - the one thing McDonalds is good for - and convince myself I was dining at the Brasserie Gare du Nord again.
Napkins will be needed.