Quite a long time ago, I featured a dish of pig’s ‘trotters’ that was served to me as 醬豬手 at a restaurant in Ottawa. As the trotter is not a cut that had ever appeared locally, I decided to try a similar recipe with the hock, rather than the feet, employing the same Chinese ‘Red-cooking’ technique I have illustrated in many posts. Eventually, back in March of 2013, I did so in a dish I presented to you as Red-Cooked Pork Hocks, as part 2 of my series on Master-Sauce cookery. Recently, however, I came across a package of pig’s trotters at our local supermarket and I snapped them up to use in the following preparation…
- 1 1/2lbs. Pig’s Trotters;
- 6 cups water (more or less);
- 1 cup Light Soy;
- ½ cup Sugar;
- 2 Scallions;
- 2 cloves Garlic;
- 6 thick slices of fresh Ginger;
- 2 dry Red Chilies;
- 1 stick Cinnamon;
- 1 Star Anise (optional);
- 1 pod Black Cardamom.
You can play with the flavoring ingredients as much as you like. You may wish, for example, to increase the number of chilies, or add a tablespoon or two of Sichuan Peppercorns, or their oil, as I do in my Red-Cooked Beef recipe. Here, I have made the Black Cardamom and the Star Anise optional ingredients. The former is not a common addition but I like it and did use a pod. The latter, on the other hand, is very commonly used in Red-Cooking (and thus listed here) but I don’t care for it much and have omitted it in the actual cookery.
Here are the pig’s trotters I purchased. I was a little dismayed that the butcher chose to halve the trotters lengthwise rather than leave them whole but one advantage is that it allows you to see the underlying placement of bones etc. It also made my further cutting of the pieces a little easier.
It is very important to blanch the trotters in boiling salted water for a few minutes and then rinse them well in cold water afterwards. The Chinese do this especially to remove the raw, bloody taste they find unappealing. This is not an issue for me, particularly, but the process helps keep the sauce from getting ‘muddy’ with flecks of detritus.
To cook, add the trotters to a pot along with the water and flavorings and then bring everything to a gentle simmer over a low flame. Avoid letting it boil and let cook slowly for about two hours, or until you can poke a chopstick through the skin without too much difficulty.
It is a good idea to skim the surface periodically and remove the frothy scum that accumulates. This is less critical than when producing a soup-quality stock, for example, but it will help keep the resultant sauce nice and clear.
Afterwards, remove the trotters and allow them to cool before cutting into smaller sections for the table. Don’t make them too small as they will be more likely to fall apart during the final cooking step.
When you are ready, heat a splash of oil in a suitable pan over very high heat and add the pork pieces. When they are sizzling nicely, begin adding some of the braising sauce a ladleful at a time and reducing it over high heat until it thickens. How much you add, and how much you reduce, is up to you. For a main course dish to be served with rice, you may add quite a bit and not reduce too thickly, while for an appetizer sort of preparation, as pictured at the start of this post, you can use as little as a cup or so and let it bubble down to a syrupy glaze. Either way, plate and serve while still piping hot.
As for the rest of the sauce, you can re-use it for further red-cooked dishes (with each use improving the flavor) or use some for stir-fry sauces, and some, perhaps with other additions, for dipping sauces. I actually plan to use some of mine as a dip for some dumplings later in the week….