Saturday, October 1, 2011

An Ode to Pig's Feet


Thursday was the night of the 13th Annual Chef's Affaire at The Boise Center on the Grove.  My team and myself were fortunate to be involved in this event this year.  I was the captain of the first course and the fourth course.  We had a lot of fun and we definitely had our share of craziness (mostly caused or initiated by me). 

For the first course we served Manchego Veloute with Double XL Pork Trotter Croquette, Arugula and Fennel Gelee.  Much to my chagrin, this was quickly translated to "Ham and Cheese Soup".  The fourth course was a Pomegranate and Koenig Huckleberry Vodka "Otter Pop".  More on the Otter Pop later.

I was pleasantly surprised by the response to the Pork Trotter Croquette.  It is not very often that the elite of Boise get served Pig's Feet, even ones given the love and care that these were.  I used a process learned from Daniel Boulud's restaurant DBGB, where the foot is brined in a corned beef brine, cooked sous vide for 30 hours minimum, shredded, rolled, portioned, breaded and deep fried.  All this effort for the humble pig's foot.

In addition to being tasty, pig's feet serve a valuable lesson.  For every 2 pork loins, there are four feet produced.  For every 2 pork tenderloins, there are 4 feet produced.  There are 2 cheeks, 2 ears, 1 tail produced for every 4 premium subprimals.  These are edible pieces of pork.  In fact, these are the tasty bits.  What we don't realize is that if a pig farmer can't sell these pieces, it drives the price of the premium cuts up.  The so called offal or undesirable parts of the animal cost just as much to raise as the tenderloin. 

One of the largest hurdles to converting to a sustainable agricultural model is how to make it affordable across all economic models.  I suggest a very simple solution:  eat feet.  Eat ears.  Eat noses and tongues.  Eat the other 1/3 of the animal that is currently going in the trash or to animal feed.  All of these off cuts have strong culinary traditions behind them, and not just in "ethnic foods".  We as Americans have very strange concepts of what is an acceptable foodstuff.  Americans will eat fast food, but say "yuck" to ears and feet grown by local, sustainable and organic farmers.  I am just as guilty as the next person, if not more so.  I regularly eat whatever is shoved out a window at me.  I use the excuse "I don't have time to cook".  But if I hit up Los Betos after a 15 hour day on the truck, do you know what I am eating?  Tacos de Lingua.  Not out of perversity, but because they are really good.

If we as consumers eat the off cuts of our local and sustainable products, it will do two things: continue the demand for the product but it will also help to moderate the price of the premium end.  The vast majority of farmers are not gouging us on loins, chops and premium cuts because they can.  They are recouping the losses of offering a premium product that isn't being fully utilized.  And if they are gouging us, we will know.  Then we can shift our purchasing power to a producer who is able to moderate pricing.  It's a win-win. 

This doesn't only apply to pigs.  We as Americans drastically underutilize our beef, poultry and other livestock.  We buy beets at The Capital City Market and then throw out the tops.  Then we buy swiss chard to serve with our beets.  FYI - Swiss Chard is a non root producing variety of beet. 

We need to start eating feet as a nation.  We need to start eating hearts, cheeks, liver, ears, and tongue.  Eat weeds.  Eat tops.  As Anthony Bourdain puts it, "eat the nasty bits."  Our current eating habits are just pushing the ideal of sustainable eating further towards the few and away from the many. 

Now this as a cook lends a certain dilemma.  These bits and pieces aren't easy to cook.  Take the process to make pig's feet.  This was a lot of work.  I didn't have to slice a steak and slap it on the grill.  That's a quick $20-$30, where pig's feet go for $8-$12 in a best case scenario where I am actually, you know, selling pig's feet.  To you guys, who are eating pig's feet.  The math is pretty clear.

Cooks have to step it up.  We have to offer these products, and prepare them with enough skill that an adventurous skeptic will become an avid fan.  This requires dedication, a capital investment and practice.  Tongue isn't expensive, but screw it up 4 or 5 times and it starts to add up.  It really adds up on the time end, where proper preparation can take hours or days.

This isn't the final solution, but it will progress us towards the goal of sustainability. 

Oh, by the way.  The Pomegranate and Huckleberry Vodka Otter Pop won best course at the Chef's Affaire. 

B29 Streatery, serving Pied du Cochon "Hot Dog"s at the Food Truck Rally on Thursday, 4th and Grove.


  1. I saw some jowls at the store the other day and almost bought them. Next time I will....

  2. Brenton, jowls are awesome! They make great bacon or grind them into a sausage mix and it's silky smooth.