Monday, October 22, 2018

Pig's feet and Cinderella

Simple, nourishing, and oh so comforting, these pig feet will convert you... that is if for some odd reason you haven’t yet been sucked in yet by the absolute deliciousness of trotters. I’ve showed them in various guises—these smoked ones are to die for—but it’s time to showcase a Taiwanese favorite: trotters with peanuts.

A prosaic name, yes. But Cinderella wasn’t much of a name, either, was it? And just like Cinderella, even the briefest brush with this will lead to love. I mean, I buy two whole trotters—we’re talking a foot-long each of foot—and it’s never enough for the two of us. 

This is everyday homestyle cooking in Taiwan. It’s also served to nursing mothers as part of their recovery and to help them produce milk. If that is what you are aiming for here, add a few slices of ginseng or angelica (當歸 dàngguī) from a good herbalist to the braise for extra warmth.

Speaking of Cinderella, did you know that the origin of this story lies in China? Yes indeedy. It comes from the Yŏuyáng zázŭ 酉陽雜俎 (Miscellany from Youyang), a literary sketchbook by Duàn Chéngshì 段成式 in the ninth century:
Ready to braise with garlic
After her mother and then her father dies, a beautiful young girl named Yèxiàn 葉限 is turned into a slave by her evil stepmother and lazy half-sister. She is befriended by a benefactor who, instead being a fairy godmother, is Yexian’s mother in the form of a golden fish.  

Charles Perrault’s classic, of course, varies in minor details, but in every other way it is almost a complete retelling of this Chinese fairytale. 

For example…
·     Yexian mysteriously appears at a party in a gorgeous gown provided by her benefactor.
·     She runs away from the party and loses her slipper.
·     Eventually that lost slipper—which, like Cinderella’s, is remarkably tiny—finds its way into the possession of a king.
·     The king then searches to find the shoe’s owner. 
·     He at last finds her, makes her his queen, and punishes the wicked stepmother and half-sister. (The full text in Chinese can be found at酉陽雜俎/續集/卷一.)

I’d love to see a remake of this, Chinese style!

Trotters and peanuts
Huāshēng zhūjiăo 花生豬腳
Serves 8 
Cut up by the butcher, of course
2 whole trotters (about 4 pounds | 2 kg); have your butcher split them lengthwise and crosscut them twice, for a total of 6 pieces per trotter
Tap water and boiling water, as needed
1 cup | 250 ml mild rice wine (Taiwan Mijiu)
4 inches | 60 g fresh ginger, sliced
6 whole garlic cloves, slightly smacked and peeled, optional but delightful
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns (place in a tea ball or paper sachet)
1 tablespoon rock sugar
3 cups | 1 pound | 500 g fresh raw peanuts, soaked overnight

1. Place the trotters in a large pan, cover with tap water, and place on high heat. Bring the pan to a boil, lower the heat, and blanch the trotters for about 10 minutes to remove most of the scum. Rinse the trotters and place in a clean pan or sandpot.

2. Add the rice wine, ginger, garlic, peppercorn, and rock sugar to the trotters, and then pour in enough boiling water to cover. Bring the liquid to a boil again and then lower it to a bare simmer. Cover the trotters and simmer for around an hour, or until they are just tender, but not falling apart, as they will still be cooked some more. Remove from the heat and set aside. Remove the peppercorns and discard.
Aromatics: ginger and peppercorns

3. Place the drained peanuts in a pan, cover with water, bring to a boil, and then lower the heat. Simmer the peanuts until just tender. Drain and add to the trotters. Bring the liquid back to a boil and add mushroom seasoning or salt to taste. Turn off the heat and let the trotters and peanuts sit overnight to absorb all those great flavors. This can also be refrigerated for up to a week.

4. Skim off the fat and use it for something else, if you like. Bring the trotters to a boil and then simmer for about 10 minutes to heat them through. Serve hot.


If you plan to make this ahead of time and serve portions over a couple of days, don’t cook either the trotters or the peanuts to a state of collapse. They will cook more as they are reheated, and of course at that point you can tip them over the edge into absolute tenderness. 

I adore using sweetened black vinegar as a dipping sauce for the trotters and to stir into the broth with the peanuts. It cuts the fattiness perfectly. Just stir agave syrup or honey into balsamic vinegar, and that’s it.

For absolute perfection, use the syrup left over from your sweet pickled garlic cloves. And nibble on those black cloves in-between bites. Truly ambrosial. 

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