Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"Head to Toe" -- Part One (Pig's Feet)

I don't think it's a big secret that I've been dreading this dish. When I first started this project, I had no idea I'd even make it this far, and now that I've survived deveining foie gras and cutting the faces off soft-shell crabs, and eaten an oyster without passing out in a pool of my own vomit, this dish was inevitable. I've been putting it off long enough. Time to face one of my biggest culinary fears head on ("apply directly to the forehead") and just do it. What's the worst that could happen?

Ooops, did I speak to soon?

Oh, just you wait and see.

"Head to Toe" is broken into two parts in The French Laundry Cookbook -- Braised Stuffed Pig's Head with Sauce Gribiche, and Pig's Feet with French Green Lentils. We're gonna start with the feet, and get to the head in a later post. Wow. I can't wait to see what freak-ass Google search lands someone on this page based on that last sentence. Yipes.

I've actually eaten pig's feet before -- the meat is really delicious, and I like a traditional French country preparation, as this one was intended to be. Notice how I used the word "intended" there? Yeah. Hoo-boy, here we go:

I picked up some trotters at Eastern Market, brought them home and cleaned them. I had the option of buying just the feet, or what I bought below, which is the feet with the shank attached. I decided to do this because you have to split and braise them, then use the skin to wrap the meat in during part of the cooking process, so I wanted to make sure I had some nice, long pieces of skin to work with:

I can hear some of you shuddering. It's okay. I understand. Completely. While I like the meat that a pig's foot produces, I have a bit of trouble with my gag reflex when I see a whole pig's foot. Why? It all stems from a hot, crowded concert hall in New Orleans a few years ago. It was a Sunday afternoon, and I was a little hungover (okay, a LOT hungover), and we were all packed into this hall like sardines (come to think of it, quite a few people actually smelled like sardines, but I digress). As the different bands and music groups took their turn on the stage, people moved around to get a better view. I ended up standing next to a couple who were probably in their late 50s/early 60s. The woman had a giant purse, out of which she took two ziploc bags -- one for her, one for him. Each one had something in it that I couldn't really make out until they each opened their bags and I smelled a pickled substance. Then, they inched out the food product little by little and began gnawing on it.

Lucky me, they each had brought a pickled pig's foot to chew on during the show in the 90-degree-heat-with-no-ventilation room. To top it off, they also dunked potato chips in the pickled pig's foot juice and ate them with reckless abandon. Had I not been hungover, it might not have been so gross. No wait, I take that back. It would have. I had to leave the room to get some water and some fresh air. To this day, I still remember what that smelled like. Oooof. (on a side note, when Katrina hit two weeks later that man and woman were the first people I thought of when I watched the footage of the flooding; I still think about them from time to time and hope they're okay.)

Back to the dish.....

As directed, I split the trotters lengthwise. That's where the fun began. Of course, I am lying. It was not fun. Not at all. It took forever and a day to do, I used every curse word I've ever learned in every language I've ever spoken, and I debated going to Lowe's to buy an industrial table saw. I gots no skillz, yo.

I placed the split-open trotters skin side down onto a bed of aromatics (carrots, onion, leek, bay leaf, thyme sprigs, parsley) and mirepoix (carrots, leeks, onions), then covered them with more vegetables. I added chicken stock and water to cover them, put the lid on the pot, and brought it to a simmer:


After I brought it up to a simmer, I put the pot in the oven at 300 degrees for what was going to be six hours. The book recommends the six-hour cooking time, but it also adds the caveat of "or until the meat is falling away from the bone." For me, that happened at about the 4.5-hour mark... and what also happened is that the skin completely disintegrated. Shredded. Melted. Went bye-bye. Bought the farm. Flipped me off. Rendered itself completely useless.

So, I took the feet out of the braise, deboned them (which was kind of gross), removed all the meat, shredded it, and put it in a little storage container next to the storage container of skin I was able to salvage.


I put the containers of meat and skin in the fridge and debated what to do next. The house still smelled pretty good -- the scent of braised pork in almost any form is a very nice thing, but even a fine-smelling, porky house does not make up for the fact that I knew I was sort of in the shitter on this one.

The next step in the book is creating the farce (or stuffing) for the skins, then stuffing them, wrapping them in caul fat, and cooking them before serving them on a bed of green lentils. However, I knew the pieces of skin were too small (the largest, most intact one was 2x3") so I knew I couldn't finish this dish the way I had planned to, so I had to improvise and figure out something else. I decided to just serve the pig feet meat (great name for a band by the way, "Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Piiiiiiiiiiig Feeeeeeeeet Meeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaat!!!!!!!!!!") over lentils. I thought it would taste pretty good.

What I didn't think about is what it would look like. Note to self: THINK ABOUT THIS KIND OF THING, YOU DUMBASS.

I had thawed some veal stock for another dish I was working on, so I took a bit of that and mixed it with the meat from the feet and reheated it in a small saucepan on the stove.

I had already cleaned the lentils the day before, so I made those (with a little garlic, slab bacon, carrot and onion) and they looked great. The pig feet meat was all warmed up and ready to go, so it was just a matter of plating the dish.

But first:

"Aw, who is that precious child with the yarn-tied, lopsided pigtails looking all pensive as she contemplates which present to open first?" you may be asking yourself. Before I show you the final dish, I thought I'd insert a photo from my birthday party when I was four as a cheap ploy to garner some love and support because once you see this final dish, you will lose any and all respect for me and you will say, "Huh. I didn't know there was a recipe for Ken-L-Ration in The French Laundry Cookbook."



Sorry about that. Trust me when I tell you it actually looked WORSE in person. And in addition to its non-beauty, the meat smelled great while it was braising but when I warmed it up using a little veal stock, it made it smell like really bad b.o., which, you know, is great at meal time.

One of the most frequently asked questions I get is "how many times to you try these dishes before you finally post it?" And, my answer is "One." When I started this project, I debated whether or not to test some of these dishes before doing a final version for the site, and I decided that it would be much more interesting (and honest, and cost-effective) to employ and "one-and-done" strategy.

This dish is a prime example of that.

I had a few friends over to taste it, and they sat down at the table and didn't say a word as they stared at their plates waiting for the ghost of Allen Funt to appear (or Ashton Kutcher, for you young whippersnappers out there - now GET OUT OF MY YARD!). We each took a bite, chewed semi-politely, swallowed, pushed our plates away, and drank many, many glasses of water.

Not only did it look and smell pretty bad, it didn't taste all that great, either. Texturally, it was really stringy and weird, and the smell overpowered any positive taste aspect there might have been.

So, pig feet meat? Great band name. Not so great dinner.

Pig: 1 Carol: 0

Up Next: "Head to Toe," Part Two. The moment you've all been waiting for: The Pig's Head.

Resources:
Trotters from Union Meat Company; Eastern Market; Washington, D.C.

Produce from
Whole Foods
Lentils from
TPSS Co-op

Music to Cook By:
Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam; Head to Toe. Are you surprised?

Read My Previous Post: French Laundry at Home Extra -- How (not) To Cook Tripe

37 comments:

JordanBaker said...

You are a brave, brave woman. I have to close my eyes and flip the pages really fast when I get to the more adventurous (parts-wise) bits of Pig and Sons. To have even attempted this is testament to your awesomeness.

Clare said...

I suppose this is mean but I absolutely LOVE your disasters. Just too funny. Please know that we are all holding your hand (in a virtual sense) as you embark on the Great Pig's Head Adventure.

Any chance of video?

Carol, you are the best!

Rochelle said...

I wonder if you could use pig skin from, say, the belly (do you make your own bacon?) to wrap the meat. I'm surprised and disappointed that this sucked so badly, because pig trotters = teh awesome.

Vincent said...

Hilarious post Carol...

Gilahi said...

First I notice that you gave the pig the win. Not so sure that he/she would agree with you on that score.

Anyway, second, I was in a Chinese restaurant for dim sum one day. A table full of Asian folks stopped the cart going by and asked for something. The server ladled out bowls of what appeared to me to be sticks in broth. It was some time before I realized that it was a soup made out of chicken feet.

I haven't had much of desire to eat anything below the knee since then.

Lisa said...

And, to rush headlong into this right after tripe? True courage!

the italian dish said...

Oh, Carol, I'm glad I've eaten my breakfast already this morning. I do love the way you solider on in that cookbook. The French Laundry needs to give you some kind of award when this is all over.....

Krysta said...

I have to agree with lisa to go from tripe to this, is really brave. Though it kinda reminds me of school, you put off the hardest/ stuff you don't want to do stuff last.

jgunnink said...

In the third picture I see an image of the Virgin Mary resting on the Mirapoix. Coincidence?!

ntsc The Art of The Pig said...

Even with your description, this is one I want to try. Absent the skin I would have taken the meat and made the oposite of head cheese.

Carol Blymire said...

ntsc: that'd be toe cheese, wouldn't it? Mmmmmm, mmmmm.... ;)

Jen B. said...

You are very brave. Project or no project, there are some things that I don't think I could handle...pig's feet being one of them. Ew. This one would have been a deal-breaker for me. At least you tried!

www.potsandpins.com said...

Too funny! You're either a masochist or nuts or both! But whatever, I'm so glad I found your blog and I will definitely continue to read it - I think, aside from your sanity issues, that this is brilliant! And I'm so glad that "blog-odor" is not yet available...seriously, your blog is great fun! Nan

Jarrod Zickefoose said...

Your blog is just brilliant.

I think the reason the image of those trotters is so disturbing is because they look too much like human arms.

When you eventually finish this project, you have to tell us what it cost! Good Lord!

HOARFROST said...

When I was in yarn-tied pony-tails, I had a big, stuffed Miss Piggy puppet, in her "Pigs In Space" get-up. The pre-op picture and (as many of your posts do)brought it all back to me: that was what was sticking out from under the purple & silve lame hem. The puppet probably tasted better, and while pre-organic and certainly "chemically," likely tasted better.
I'm sorry for you, I am--but thanks for the Vitamin E(ntertainment).

J.T. said...

Oh, wow.

When we did pig's feet for a recipe not long ago, we ended up essentially turning it into a patty and deep frying it. It was good.

(But then I was spared the demeating of the feet thing, which my wife valiantly performed for the good of the cause. I was out picking daisies or something.)

It's a shame it didn't taste better...

Jennifer said...

Brave indeed. After the whole tripe incident I would have run straight to something I knew would be good. The "Banana Splits" perhaps? I would try and repress the memory of tripe with ice cream and chocolate. So Carol, I feel that I am not worthy of your courage to tackle feet and then the dreaded head. I think that post needs extra pics.

rt said...

I was really hoping that the feet somehow contained unsung secrets of goodness. But I didn't think it looked bad, just a little boring. Nothing gross. Unlike, mmm, for example your comment about eating toe cheese!!!!

MrsVJW said...

I was really interested in fining out how this one turned out. I tried the trotters outta Bouchon and it was about an equal disaster... troubles with the pig skin and in the end, it just did not taste "right" and had an off smell. At least now I know this recipe is no easier and has the same result, lol.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure it tastes amazing at Keller's restaurant.

Sarah said...

I didn't think I would make it all the way to the end with your story about pickled pigs feet, yuck :(

But I did and all I can say is thank you for making this so I don't have to :)

Hopefully part 2 will turn out better!

velvetpdx said...

Oh. My. God. I got nuthin' but love for the person trying the recipe but nuthin' but a little vomit in my mouth from those photos. Ugh! Did you just leave the nasty parts of the book for last??

Ticky said...

My main pondering, upon reading the tripe episode and the pig's feet adventure, is who the hell thought this up? And who makes this stuff on purpose? Apologies to the aficionados of odd animal parts. This could turn me into a vegetarian. Almost. But, no.

Chris said...

This has to be one of your best. Having lived 10 years in England with true carnivore friends, however, I can say that not everyone has the same trotter experience. Go here for pleasure and profit: http://www.trottergear.com/what_is_unctuous_potential

sharonsfriedman said...

I want to thank you for this post, it helped to maintain my waistline. Just before I read this, I was about to finish my daughter's delicious chocolate cake donut from Top Pot Doughnuts. After I read this, there was no way ANY food was passing my lips. So...again, thank you.

Anonymous said...

Brave brave woman. I laughed at loud at the way you described making this dish. I cant wait to see what happens with the pig head!!
~Regina

Anonymous said...

You are great. Love your posts. I will always think of you when I get a wild idea to cook with pig ears and tails. I have almost decided to skip the idea.

Elke said...

You are always making my day. Thanks a million for that. And I did feel for you especially after your birthday pic....keep going...I will try to re-create your successes....

Anonymous said...

I love your failures just as much as I love your succeses. I'm sure I won't be tackling tripe, the pigs feet or the head, but I admire your courage and honesty.

Natty said...

I've had this weird desire to do something with chicken feet lately but I think you just cured me of that...

Bernie said...

OK, so after I saw the first picture in this post, I skipped right down to the Music to Cook By. I'm jammin to Lisa Lisa while deciding if I have the balls to scroll back up and look at the other pictures. :)

kitoko said...

head, shoulder, knees and toes, knees and toes! Let's all sing along! Tete, epaules, genoux et pieds! OMG what a valiant effort. I have eaten a number of roast pigs, including body parts that I will reserve for the next recipe. You are so much braver in the culinary department than I am. Terrific tripe and terrific toes too.

Barbara said...

When I saw pig feet in the market, I thought to myself there is a recipe in the FLCB. Has to be good, right? It's in the FLCB for God's sake. So I bought the trotters and guess what? Got the exact same result!! Couldn't eat it, no way, no how. Stunk (stank, stinkked) to high heaven and tasted worse. Is this a case of the Emporor Has No Clothes maybe? I dunno... Thanks for the great post!

Arundathi said...

thats brave - i would've seen those feet at the market and ran the other way.

Donna said...

hi im new here and im hooked, what a great premise. i am curious, does the cookbook ever offer sommelier advice for pairing these masterpieces with wine? if not do you ever attempt to pair yourself? the dishes seem so complex, i can imagine its quite a feet, no pigs intended....

Carol Blymire said...

Hey Donna -- welcome! The book doesn't do wine pairings... honestly, I think it's such a personal preference thing for people, I'm kind of glad it doesn't. Some dishes I serve with wine, others not. If this one had been any good, I might've served a medium-bodied red. That's just my preference though.

Kim said...

Funny Carol! Perhaps you can suggest a wine that we drink while we look at your pigs feet and pigs head post. I am so grossed out and need a glass about now, oh it's morning. My hats off to you, you've got guts.