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Pork trotters, or the feet and hocks of a pig, can be prepared in a number of ways but sometimes require special attention. One of the most important things to do before cooking pork trotters is to clean them to make sure they are free from hair, blood and other undesirable elements. Nearly all recipes also cook pork trotters in two stages, with the first being a parboiling to tenderize the meat, dull the offal flavor and loosen the collagen and other tissue inside the cut. Actual methods for creating a meal from the trotters range from making thick stews to deep-fried bits of meat and vary widely from one country to another. There are some labor-intensive recipes for pork trotters, such as making a French-style terrine from the meat that can be unmolded onto a plate for an interesting presentation.
Some chefs use a few tricks when preparing pork trotters for cooking. An effective method of making sure there are no stray hairs on the skin of the trotters is to singe the meat briefly over an open flame. This will cause any hairs to catch fire and quickly burn away, although the meat needs to be washed after this procedure. The trotters also are usually boiled in water from 10 to 30 minutes to draw out any blood and to remove unpleasant tastes that could be stored in the skin and collagen. Another way to make the taste milder is to soak the trotters in milk or a light vinegar mixture.
The first step in most recipes for pork trotters is to boil the meat in fresh water after it has been cleaned. This cooks the meat and loosens the tissues inside so they can be more easily butchered or break down easier in a liquid. Flavoring the water with herbs such as thyme, sage or rosemary and aromatics such as onions and celery can impart some flavor to the trotters before the main spices are applied.
When cooking pork trotters, it is best to leave the meat on the bone when it is being prepared in a stew or soup, because the bone will provide some depth of flavor and assist the gelatin in the meat in thickening the cooking liquid. Alternately, for dishes that are drier, the meat is usually best removed from the bone so it can be handled and eventually served and eaten more easily. When taking the meat off the bone, it is up to the chef to determine whether the collagen and other tissue also is removed and used. In most cases, pork trotters should be almost fully cooked during parboiling, meaning the meat should not have to cook for a long time in whatever cooking method follows. Overcooked trotter meat can be tough, dry on the inside and unpleasantly greasy on the outside.
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