Red-Cooked Pig Trotters – 紅燒豬手
Red-Cooking, as I have explained elsewhere, is the Chinese cookery method (紅燒), in which the primary ingredients are simmered in a braising medium containing Soy Sauce and various aromatics. Pig Trotters, as the feet are sometimes known, are not widely consumed in North America, but thy are wonderful for making stock, and provide a hearty richness in braised dishes like 紅燒豬手.
The Ingredients for Red-Cooked Pig Trotters
Here are the pig’s trotters I purchased for this recipe. 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 into serving sections a little easier later on.
As for the aromatics, my recipe here is fairly run-of-the-mill, except that I have included Black Cardamom, which is not that common (although you may encounter it in some Sichuanese recipes).
I have made Star Anise an optional ingredient even though it is very common in red-cooked dishes, especially in Cantonese cuisine. I haven’t used it myself as I am not all that keen on the flavor.
Naturally, you can play with the flavoring ingredients as much as you like. If you wish to go for a more Sichuan-type result, for example, you could increase the number of chilies used, or add a tablespoon or two of Sichuan Peppercorns, or their oil.
The Basic Method for Cooking 紅燒豬手
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 in order to remove the raw, bloody taste in meat that 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 from your 紅燒豬手, 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.
Your Recipe Card:
Red-Cooked Pig Trotters
- 1 1/2 lbs. Pig’s Trotters;
- 6 cups water more or less;
- 1 cup Dark 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.
- First, blanch the trotters in boiling salted water for a few minutes and rinse well.
- Add the trotters to a stock pot along with the other ingredients and cover with the 6 cups of cold water.
- Bring the pot to a gentle simmer over moderate heat, skimming as necessary, and cook for about two hours until the trotters are fork tender.
- Remove the trotters to a plate for the time being and strain the simmering liquid.
- Measure out 1 or 2 cups of the liquid for immediate use and, if desired, chill, or freeze the remainder for other recipes.
- When ready to cook, cut the trotters into suitable serving sized chunks and heat a little oil in a pan over moderate heat.
- Add the pork pieces to the pan and stir fry for a minute or two, then add the reserved cooking liquid. Add two cups for a main course dish to be served with rice, or just one cup for an appetizer type serving.
- Turn up the heat to high and reduce the liquid to a moderately thick sauce, or a thick glaze, as desired.
- Serve while hot.