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Curious delicacies: pig's trotters

Curious delicacies: pig's trotters

Discover how one of the cheapest parts of the pig can be a true delicacy for more discerning foodies: do you know the best way to cook and taste them?

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There is a saying in Italian that goes “there’s no waste on a pig”, which testifies to the versatility of the various parts of this animal.

Indeed, there are numerous popular recipes ready to confirm this belief, which use parts that are more affordable than tasty pork loin or succulent pork shank. One such ingredient is the pig trotters, which is none other than the animal’s foot. Generally considered only fit for binning, it can actually be an authentic delicacy.

The origins

It is difficult to trace the exact origin of recipes for pig trotters because, in actual fact, they have been widely adopted since time immemorial in all of the poorest regions of the Italian peninsula. They were often part of the cuts used to pay the peasants who farmed the lands of rich aristocrats, or those who helped slaughter the pigs. The best cuts went to the nobles, the poor cuts went to the poor. Practically worthless cuts required inventiveness in the form of a variety of recipes to give them flavour.

In truth, pig trotters have plenty of flavour themselves: owing to their structure, when correctly cooked, they regale a sweetish taste and a velvety consistency that is delectable. Also for this reason, they have become a favourite ingredient among acclaimed chefs, keen to discover and reinterpret the ingredients of simple peasant fare.

As mentioned above, pig’s trotters are the feet and therefore part of the lower limbs of a heavy animal on the move. Consequently, these body parts are basically made up of tendons and fatty skin (the pork rind we are all so fond of). This leads to an initial consideration: they need to be cooked at length because they are rich in collagen, which is a protein. If you love bone stock, you will know that it owes its rich consistency and flavour to collagen. It is also thanks to collagen that the broth left over from cooking pig’s trotters makes an excellent jelly for use in savoury dishes with aspic.

What remains in the saucepan, at this stage, is a very well balanced food, in which the now tender tendons are combined with the tasty “melt in the mouth” pork rind. These are the basic principles but now let’s learn how to cook pig’s trotters correctly.

How to cook pig trotters

The preparatory steps are of fundamental importance. The trotters need to be accurately washed a first time, then dried and passed quickly over the gas flame to burn the inevitable hairs.

Now rinse them again and place in a saucepan covered with water, together with cooking salt, carrots, celery and onion. When they come to the boil, lower the heat to minimum and cook at length. There is no set time because they can vary a good deal according to size and collagen content but, in any case, no less than three hours. Some prefer to use a pressure cooker for about one hour but this method makes it difficult to judge whether or not the trotters are well cooked, which is normally done by pricking them with a fork.

When ready, they should be strained and served immediately accompanied with horseradish and boiled vegetables, or oven baked radicchio. Some go further than this and put the strained and deboned trotters into an oven dish, sprinkled with breadcrumbs, a trickle of oil and parmesan, ready to be popped into an oven preheated to 200°C for about half an hour.

This is a most appealing and somewhat more elaborate dish, ideal for serving to those who are a little less keen to try the cheaper cuts. For all others, follow the golden rule: “humble food, simple cooking”. Your palate will thank you for it.

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