Monday, February 9, 2009

A Pig’s Foot and a Bottle of Beer

I love pig. I love all of the pig that is remotely edible. Tail to snout, the pig is a most noble food-providing animal. It is slightly disconcerting to eat an animal that is as intelligent as a pig; it is kind of like eating a dolphin, or a dog- it discomfits me a little, but not enough to make me stop.

I had one of those life-jarring moments involving pig, the kind where your whole direction gets jolted over a degree or two and you are not the same afterwards. It was in Switzerland, where we were living in a little town called Buchs on the road into Lichtenstien and going out from there to play shows. At our hotel we kept ordering this little Pinot Noir from the nearby village of Flasch. Flascher was delicious, bright, fresh and fruity as only a Pinot can be. To find this in Switzerland at $6.00 a bottle, with a soft drink cap on it, was damn fine. So one day we got in our car and decided to drive down there and look around the town.

When we got to the center of the village we could see a balcony and people eating lunch and we wanted something to eat so we started to look for the entrance but of course by the time we sat down lunch was over, as it is in all civilized places after 2pm. It was a balmy, sunny day and we were overlooking a vineyard right smack in the center of town. We ordered a bottle of the little Pinot and a basket of bread and cheese and made do. One table over, a tiny old man watched as the waitress set down a huge roasted joint of some kind, steaming and fragrant. I asked her what it was and if I could get one, but no. It was a hog shank, but not the little wimpy ones you see here smoked and withered under plastic at the store. It was as big as a football and still had all the skin and fat and melted connective tissue. He grinned and stuck his napkin in his shirt and commenced to tackle that baby and I wanted one of my very own. I have been on a determined search for good pork shank ever since, to little avail. And, feet of course.

Pork Trotter at Pied de Cochon, Paris

Pork feet, or trotters as they are called in Britain and Ireland, can be had in the stores here, but always cut up if you are in a typical grocery store and whole if you are in a Mexican grocery, but even there they automatically cut them in half or into pieces if you don’t stop them fast. However, these trotters have had the shank portion removed, so there is very little meat on them and if you cook them you are doing it for the skin, which is delicious, and the bits of meat here and there and the fat and melted connective stuff. I love to eat at Pied de Cochon in Paris, where they gently simmer them, then roll them in bread crumbs and brown them all over and serve them with béarnaise sauce.

But this is about a different idea, one that I initially came across in Thomas Keller's Bouchon cookbook. This grabbed me and I tried making it his way with good result, but I have modified it and it has evolved as I had other versions, notably one at Chapter One in Dublin, our favorite spot there. At Le Bistro de Lyon they served it on a "pasta flan", a bed of fettucini mixed with egg yolk and heated in a ring mold. I think I finally have it under control now and here’s my version:

Saucisse de Pied de Porc

To make the saucisse mixture:

- Pork feet, about two pounds
- 1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 Celery stalk, coarsely chopped
- 1 carrot
- 1 t. good dried thyme, or handful fresh
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 handful flat leaf parsley
- 3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
- 1 T. peppercorns
- 1 t. whole cloves
- water to cover
- sheet of heavy foil, or doubled regular foil, about 15” square

To Serve:

- Flour
- Dijon mustard
- bread crumbs
- Bread rounds, crusts removed, toasted
- or, cooked fettucini mixed with egg yolk and heated in a small circular egg mold

Place the mixture ingredients into a heavy pot and simmer gently for at least 3 hours (or crockpot overnight) until meat and skin are falling off the bone. Remove all of the feet from the broth and reserve both. Strain the broth for a different use (demiglace!) Remove all bones carefully; there are very small ones that are easy to miss. Hand chop the meat and skin and fat together very fine. Place in a mixing bowl and mix in 1 teaspoon of the mustard, a pinch of sea salt, and some freshly ground pepper. Do not add any of the broth; it will make the “sausage” too loose and fall apart. Mix thoroughly and spread the mixture on the foil sheet on the end nearest you. Now roll the foil up over the mixture and roll it over several times. Twist the ends of the foil until they cause the mixture to be compacted. Put this in the refrigerator overnight.

To cook the saucisse, slice into 1/2” rounds. Roll in flour, dip into mustard to cover, and roll in breadcrumbs. Sauté relatively quickly in butter, turning gently to brown. (Gently, or they will fall apart on you.) Place on a bread round or a pasta flan, sprinkle with coarse fleur de sel and fresh pepper and serve it forth! (At this point you could also put mustard on the table, or sauce béarnaise, or sauce gribiche.)