Saturday, January 31, 2015


About the pig it’s said, “Everything but the squeal.” Or, in Spanish, “del cerdo, hasta los andares.”  Everything but its waddle. From the pig come fine cuts such as loin chops and tenderloin, big leg joints to turn into hams, bacon! but also extremities and innards. Nose to tail eating. Or, this week in my kitchen, cheek to trotter.

Pig's trotter, split in half.

I like pig’s tripe, especially in a robust potaje with chickpeas, trotter, ears and sausage. I like tongue, too, and I sort of like pigs’ feet (trotters, manos in Spanish). But, frankly, I don’t care for pig’s liver, nor any other pig’s offal. (Although I’m partial to calves’ liver and lamb’s kidneys.)

One of my favorite parts of the pig is the cheek (carrillada or carrillera), a collop of flesh from the jaw. Well-exercised (from chewing), it needs long, slow braising to turn it into a tender, flavorful morsel. If the cheeks are from the ibérico pig, they are even better. (In the US, you can buy fresh ibérico pork cheeks from La Tienda and from Wagshal's.)

Ibérico pork cheeks, ready to braise.

Braised pork cheeks served with butternut squash sauté and olive oil fried potatoes.

 Carrilladas de Cerdo Ibérico Guisadas
Braised Ibérico Pork Cheeks 

The cheeks will shrink considerably during cooking. The braising vegetables are pureed to thicken the sauce.

Serves 4.

1 ½ - 2 pounds pork cheeks (about 12 pieces)
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup diced carrot
1 cup chopped leek or onion
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera (smoked paprika)
½ cup fino (dry) Sherry
1 ½ cups chicken or meat stock
Sprigs of thyme, rosemary, bay leaf and celery

Remove excess fat from the cheeks. Wash them and pat dry. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a cazuela or braising pot. Brown the meat on both sides. Remove.

Add the carrot, leek and garlic to the pot and sauté until onion begins to brown, 5 minutes. Stir in the pimentón and immediately add the Sherry. Raise the heat to cook off the alcohol, then add the stock. Tie the thyme, rosemary, bay and celery together and add to the pot. Taste the liquid and add additional salt if necessary. Return the meat to the pot.

Simmer the meat, covered, turning it from time to time, until it is very tender, about 1 ½ hours.

Remove the pork cheeks to a plate. Discard the herbs. Puree the pan juices and vegetables in a blender to make a smooth sauce. Return the sauce and cheeks to the pot and reheat the meat gently. 

After braising, pork cheeks are tender and succulent.
Slow-Cooked Pigs’ Feet
Manos de Cerdo Estofadas

I finally “get it” about pigs’ feet, after various experiments in eating them and cooking them. They fall into the same category as snails—the sauce is so delicious that it makes preparing something a little oddball, with a weird texture to boot, worth all the trouble. Pigs’ feet have a lip-sticking, gelatinous texture that either you are crazy for or else you don’t want to know.

I consulted various recipes for cooking pigs’ feet. Invariably, they instructed me to boil the trotters, remove the bones, and cut up the “meat.”

Well, let me tell you, that pigs’ feet don’t have “meat.” Meat is, really, muscle, and feet don’t have muscle. They have thick skin and gelatinous cartilage. The broth they cook in, which sets up into a firm gelatin, makes a serious soup or sauce. The “meat,” cut into bits and stewed in a flavorful sauce is unctuous, a little slippery, and ever so delicious. (If you want a meatier version, add 4 ounces of pork shoulder meat to cook with the trotters.) Serve the pigs’ feet very hot with lots of fresh bread for sopping up the sauce.

Note: choricero and ñora peppers are dried sweet peppers. The choricero is long and skinny; the ñora is round and plum-sized. If not available, use additional pimentón in the recipe.

Serves 4.

4 pigs’ feet (trotters), split in half (4-4 ½  pounds)
2 leeks, white part only
3 carrots
1 dry choricero pepper or 3 ñora peppers (optional)
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon peppercorns
3 cloves
1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3 cloves chopped garlic
2 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon hot pimentón or pinch of cayenne
1 to 3 teaspoons pimentón dulce
2 tablespoons red wine
Parsley to garnish

Put the pigs’ feet in a large stew pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil, boil 5 minutes, and drain.

Rinse out the pot and put the trotters in with fresh water to cover. Bring to a boil. Add the leeks, carrots, choricero peppers, bay leaves, peppercorns, cloves, 1 tablespoon salt, and vinegar. When the pot boils, cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until pigs’ feet are fork-tender, about 2 hours.

Lift the pigs’ feet out of the broth. When they are cool enough to handle, remove all the bones and thick parts of the skin and discard them. Cut the remaining meat, skin, and cartilage into bite-size pieces. Skim out the carrots and choricero peppers and reserve. Discard the bay leaves.

If using the choricero or ñora peppers, split them open and scrape the pulp with the blunt edge of a knife. Save the pulp and discard the skins.

When the broth cools, skim off and discard the fat that comes to the surface.

Heat the oil in a deep skillet and sauté the onions until they begin to brown, 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté 2 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the flour. Add the pulp of the choricero peppers plus the hot pimentón and 1 teaspoon of sweet pimentón. (If not using the choricero peppers, stir in 1 tablespoon of sweet pimentón.)

Stir in gradually 2 cups of the broth in which the trotters cooked. Add remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Return the pan to the heat and cook, stirring, until the sauce thickens. Return the reserved meat to the sauce. Simmer, covered, 30 minutes.

Slice the reserved carrots and add to the sauce. Heat. Serve the pigs’ feet with sauce very hot, garnished with chopped parsley.

Slow-cooked pork cheeks are fork-tender.

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