Pig Trotters at the Harmony Restaurant in Ottawa
Pig ‘trotters’, being the foot of the animal, don’t have a widespread popularity in the west, although they are sometimes pickled in some regions, often being eaten as a snack with beer, like pickled eggs, or Pickled Herring, for example. The cut is widely appreciated in China, however, and the Soy-Braised variety served at the Harmony Restaurant in Ottawa were an excellent, and delicious, example.
The menu at the Harmony Restaurant described this item as ‘Harmony Special Braised Trotters’ in English, while the Chinese name appeared as 醬豬手.
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, and seasoned with any number of spices. Although I didn’t specifically ask, Harmony’s version of trotters was clearly an example of this technique. The soy flavor was definitely apparent, and it had obviously been sweetened, but no other 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 I have commonly eaten at home 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 like it myself. The Harmony version of Pig Trotters preserved the essential flavor and braised it perfectly.