Text Susan Jung / Photography Jonathan Wong / Styling Nellie Ming Lee
One of my earliest food memories is of sneaking into my grandmother's enormous kitchen to dip into the pot of pig's feet with sweetened vinegar and ginger that she often had on the stove. She made it to feed daughters and daughters-in-law who were having babies because it was said to strengthen women's bodies after childbirth. This dish was considered too strong for children, so I was only allowed one small taste from each batch. When nobody was looking, though, I would fish out the small bits of meat, skin and tendon that had fallen off the bone; these were the best parts, because they were so tender. Since then, I've loved pig's feet in almost all preparations, whether in simple, homey braised dishes like these or fancier ones where the bones are removed and the ingredients are pressed into a jelly-like terrine.
Braised pig's feet with soy sauce, ginger and spices (pictured)
While most people refer to all four of the pig's limbs as the feet, Chinese butchers call the front legs (larger, meatier and more expensive) the "hands" and the back legs the "feet". Which of the two you use is up to you, but for both types, ask the butcher to cut them in half lengthwise, then into pieces about 3cm wide. You should also have the butcher singe off any hairs left on the feet.
2 pig's front legs (shin and trotter portion) or 3 pig's back legs, about 2kg in total
150 grams fresh ginger
1 head of garlic
2-3 dried chillies
150ml soy sauce
75ml glutinous rice wine
2 cinnamon sticks
5 star anise
1 piece (about 65 grams) Chinese slab sugar, or 65 grams soft brown sugar
1 piece chun pei (dried tangerine peel)
1 tsp fine sea salt, or to taste
100 grams raw peanuts (use the large, skinless type suitable for making Chinese soup)
2 sheets fresh fu pei (beancurd skin) torn into large pieces (optional)
Spring onions (cut into 1cm pieces) and/or fresh coriander sprigs, to garnish
Rinse the feet under cold running water. Bring a large pot of water to the boil, add the pieces and simmer for about five minutes (unless your pot is very large, you'll probably have to do this in batches). Drain the feet and rinse them well. Bring a fresh pot of water to the boil and repeat this process (this rids the feet of impurities).
Wash the pot. Rinse the ginger (no need to peel it) and cut it into large chunks. Put the pieces on a cutting board and lightly crush them with the side of a cleaver. Put the ginger into the pot. Peel the garlic cloves and add them to the pot. Break the dried chillies in half, shake out and discard the seeds, then put the chillies into the pot. Add the soy sauce, rice wine, cinnamon sticks, star anise, sugar, chun pei and 1 tsp of salt into the pot, along with 600ml of water. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sugar is dissolved.
Put all the pieces of pig's feet into the pot and bring to the boil. Cover with the lid, turn down the heat and cook at a low simmer, occasionally moving around the pieces of pig's feet so they are submerged in the liquid. After about an hour, add the peanuts.
Simmer the ingredients for about three hours in total, or until the pieces are very tender. The sauce should reduce to a sticky, light syrupy consistency; if it's too thin, remove the lid when the meat is tender and continue to simmer. Taste the sauce and correct the seasonings, if needed. Fish out the pieces of pig's feet and put them in a large serving bowl. Add the fu pei to the pot, simmering it in the sauce until soft. Pour the sauce and fu pei into the serving dish and garnish with the spring onion and/or fresh coriander sprigs. Serve with steamed white rice.
Pig's feet with sweetened vinegar and ginger
This is the dish I loved as a child. You don't have to wait until someone has given birth to make it (although in traditional Chinese medicine, it's considered very warming because of all the ginger - so don't eat too much of it). Try to use the Pat Chun brand of sweetened rice vinegar. If you use another brand, you might need to add some Chinese slab sugar.
2 pig's front legs or 3 pig's back legs, about 2kg in total
1 kg fresh ginger
2 bottles (600ml each) sweetened rice vinegar, preferably the Pat Chun brand
Chinese slab sugar, if needed
8-12 large eggs (optional)
Blanch and rinse the pig's feet as in the first recipe. Use a spoon to scrape off the papery skin from the ginger and cut it into large chunks. Put the eggs in a pan of water just large enough to hold them in one layer with a little room to "swim". Place over a medium flame and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, cover the pan with the lid and leave for eight minutes (this leaves the yolks slightly undercooked; they'll cook more when simmered with the pig's feet). Put the eggs in a bowl of cold water; when cool enough to handle, crack the shells all over, put the eggs in ice water and leave while cooking the pig's feet.
Put the ginger in a large, clean pot and add the sweetened rice vinegar. If the vinegar is very acidic, add some slab sugar. Bring to the boil and add the pig's feet. Boil the ingredients, lower the heat, cover with the lid and simmer, occasionally moving the pig's feet so they cook in the liquid. Cook until the meat is tender and the sauce has reduced to a sticky, thin syrupy consistency. When the pig's feet are almost done, peel the eggs and add them to the pot, making sure they're in the liquid. Cook for an additional 30 minutes, or until the pig's feet are very tender, before serving.