Christmas must be near. My Mom asked me to “keep my eye out” for pigs feet. Why, you ask? Such a silly question for someone like me, who cherishes the one time of the year where I enjoy this “delicacy.”
OK, I admit the oft-maligned porcine treat does not fall into the “delicacy” category for many, except the hearty souls who still enjoy a bit of the “old country.” That would be Sweden and Norway for the uninformed, thank you. Alas, my birthplace is Minnesota, but my gene pool can be found amongst the fjords. Ever since I can remember, pickled pigs feet were an integral part of our family Christmas.
I know there are variations to the recipe using vinegar and spices, but we are purists. The ingredient label rivals the shortest on record: pigs feet and salt. Not much of a recipe here. You take pigs feet (conveniently pre-split by the butcher) and boil them. And boil them. And boil them. Hours. You can start checking them around the 4 hour mark, but don’t expect them to be done. And what I mean by done is by most standards considered to be closely resembling Jello. Oddly enough, the resulting cooking liquid is LOADED with gelatin, as you will be able to tell when it cools down.
You would think that after a few hours, the feet should be tender. To the casual tester, a fork does easily slide into the feet, fooling the novice into thinking they are done. Experience has told me this is not true. The next step proves this point.
Get yourself a kettle and make a salt water brine solution. No recipe. Just lots of salt. But not too much. Or too little. You know, just the right amount. Cool that down, put your feet (well, not yours, but the pig’s) into a bowl or bucket, and cover them with the salt solution. Throw them in the fridge behind the herring and the lefse. Take them out the next day and repeat the brining process, as the first batch of brine will usually have that gelatinous viscosity. Taste them. Salty enough? Too salty? Adjust your salt brine solution accordingly. You know, just salty enough. But not too salty. Throw it back in the fridge behind the lefse, herring, and lutefisk you picked up that day. The next day you are in business! You will find that what you thought were mushy wads of goo have firmed up into, well, firm wads of goo. But delicious ones.
I have to admit my mom, one brother, and I are the only ones who eat these gristly wonders. The slimy mixture of tendon, skin, fat, and tiny morsel of actual meat are heaven-sent. My brother loves to “suck a knuckle” as he proclaims, and the inevitable toe jam joke is brought out of storage for the annual event (always by a non-pigs feet believer.) I take great pleasure in slurping down a knuckle in front of the rest of the family, gleeful in the knowledge I am traveling down a road they dare not travel.
Mmmm…I can taste them now…!