Notable Nosh: Pig Trotters
I enjoyed this dish at the Harmony Restaurant in Ottawa just a short time ago. Pig trotters, or feet, don’t have a widespread popularity in the west, although they are sometimes pickled, but the Chinese certainly appreciate them a good deal more. I should note here that what I was actually served at Harmony only contained a few pieces of foot, while the rest were clearly taken from the lower portion of the shank, or, more particularly, the ankle.
The menu described this item as ‘Harmony Special Braised Trotters’ in English, while the Chinese name appeared as:
Interestingly, the last two characters (zhūshǒu) are literally translated as ‘pig hand’, rather than pig foot, but if you run Google translate on Chinese web-pages containing the characters, it typically comes back as ‘trotter’. The first character (jiàng) can refer to any culinary paste (or jam, sometimes) but more specifically means soy paste and derivatives. In Chinese, soy sauce often appears as 醬油 (or ‘soy paste oil’) and this gives a clue to how the above dish is prepared.
There is a very common Chinese cookery technique called 紅燒, which means ‘red-cooked’ or ‘red-braised’, in which the main ingredients are long-simmered in a soy-sauce based braising liquid that is generally sweetened with sugar (rock sugar especially), seasoned with various spices. Although I didn’t ask, Harmony’s version of trotters seemed to me to be an example of this technique. The soy flavor was definitely apparent, and it had obviously been sweetened, although no additional flavorings were particularly in evidence. However, since star anise is very often employed in these types of dishes, I didn’t mind this at all as I am not keen on the taste in savory dishes.
In short, this dish was (absent the deep soy flavor) very like a preparation my wife makes using pork hocks. The skin was soft enough to easily chew and very nicely gelatinous, while the meat was moistly tender with enough texture left to still adhere to the bone. The flavor of these ‘trotters’, as with pork hock, is a bit stronger than cuts from ‘higher on the hog’, and not everyone might appreciate it, but I liked it very much. I am thinking that, the next time I buy pork hocks for my wife, I may select a few additional small ones and try a dish along these lines myself, possibly with a few seasonings taken from the cuisines of western China. Naturally, I will post the results of any such experiment…