Prepared Pigs' Feet as a Dish

I have returned to my apprenticeship at Fleisher's, a butcher shop in Kingston, New York. There were some unusual occurrences this past week. When I first walked in on a Tuesday, there were a few attractive, ripped men chopping beef at the communal table, but no women in sight. How did you get to be so attractive and powerful? Could be all the grass-fed, organic meat they're consuming. Although women are a minority at Fleisher's, it would take an all-male staff to make one stand out. Putting on a metal guard, a mesh apron that covers your entire front side, helped me feel a lot safer.

The rhythm of the butcher shop is set by the little things: the shriek of the bandsaw as it cuts heads in half or trims steaks to size. sound of cryovac machine whining as it deflates trim bags There's the reassurance that no matter what you're doing, if someone moves behind you, they'll always say "behind you," just in case you have a knife. If you're opening a cooler door from the inside and don't want to accidentally hit a customer walking by, you should knock to let them know you're back on the shop floor.

Everything went off without a hitch on the first day. The first day of the heat wave, temperatures hit the 90s and stayed there for two days. The shop was warm, the kind of heat that makes you feel like you can't catch your breath and makes your mind fuzzy. Since early in the afternoon, we'd been dissecting pigs. There were a lot of feet and hocks on the table.

Manually slicing pigs' feet is a rewarding task. The electric bandsaw is used most often because it produces the straightest and cleanest crosscuts in the feet. The traditional butcher shop, on the other hand, takes pride in doing everything by hand. When you get to the last bit near the hooves, you can split it by using both hands to part the halves of the trotters and then prying the smaller joints apart. It's music to the butcher's ears when a joint dislocates.

It's difficult to avoid slipping and sucking on joints. They are separated by a cushion of synovial fluid, which is transparent and smooth like thin mucous. In order to release synovial fluid, you must cut through the connective tissue between the bones (the sinews). Since the cow has the largest bones and thus the most fluid, it is subjected to the highest levels of wetness. Larger joints in pigs are the only ones with significant synovial fluid.

As I worked to free the tendons from the joint closest to the hoof, I held the pig's foot steady in my left hand while maintaining a pistol grip on the knife in my right. My knife stumbled against the slippery joint when I stabbed at the bone. My left hand was where the knife's blade landed. My skin split open like a book, and dark, almost purple-colored blood gushed out in gouts onto the pigs' hooves. In shock, I let out a gasp and slammed my knife down on the table.

When you look down at your hand and wonder if you've done any damage, it's almost like you're having an out-of-body experience.

Contrast stabbing with cutting. When I accidentally severed my fingertip many years ago, it took me a few seconds to realize what had happened. Seeing a surgical, sharp, and clean cut on your hand can make you feel like you've left a part of yourself behind as you stare at it in horror. Since the knives in the store are so sharp and the meat is so cold that it has just come out of the cooler, it can be easy to cut yourself or accidentally scald your fingers. When cutting a particularly bloody piece of meat, it's easy to confuse the animal's blood with your own. As you cut, it's common practice to pause every so often to check your hand.

However, a stab registers instantaneous shock and pain. At the precise moment the blade's tip entered the tender space between my thumb and the rest of my hand, blood began to spurt forth. When I saw how fast the blood was gushing out of the cut, my stomach did a flip. For a good ten seconds, I just sat there at the table, staring numbly at the cut on my leg. Taking a paper towel in hand, I went to where Bryan Mayer was waiting. Bryan, who has worked as diversely as a fishmonger and an indie rock musician, is the most knowledgeable person I know when it comes to food.

I had been using the paper towel to keep the cut from bleeding out.

"Oh no, you sliced your finger!" " he asked

We went to the bathroom sink so I could clean the cut. As soon as I took my hand off the paper towel, the bleeding resumed. When the cold water was applied to the cut, my hand trembled violently. It was about a third of an inch wide and as deep, and I reapplied pressure.

"Oh, you're going to finally stop cutting? Bryan poked fun at

As I stood by, trying to staunch the bleeding, everyone smiled at me. When I put my hand below my heart, the blood rushed back to the cut like a glass of warm wine down the gullet. That's why I'd like to volunteer my hand once more. As the rest of the crew kept on slicing, I observed After I bled all over the table and Bryan threw away the trotters and hocks and cleaned up my blood, he said, "It's not worth it."

There was a serious itch in my right hand to eat meat again. I became enraged, initially at my own carelessness and then, strangely, at the rest of the crew. I was jealous of everybody else's butchering skills.

To get away from the cutting table's temptations, I busted out my laptop and started typing. After waiting for an hour, I finally felt dizzy. Both my breathing and my head were erratic. Everything about my left arm and hand hurt, and it felt like a dead weight was dangling from me. The floor felt shaky as I got to my feet and walked over to the table.

Um, my entire left hand is numb and painful. And that's to be expected, right? It was difficult to keep my worry from coming through in my voice.

After a while, Bryan came over to talk to me. He instructed, "Hold out both arms." As the saying goes, "I just want to make sure there isn't any swelling or anything," Actually, it seems fine. "

I sat down in a lonely area of the store and guzzled more ice water. The trotters and hocks that we had to throw away made me nostalgic for their former glory. Getting ready to cut the next day, I wondered if I would be able to. Inability to maintain my current cutting routine would be a disgraceful setback that would force me to return to Brooklyn.

I took two Advil and went to sleep that night. After a full day at the shop, I feel more exhausted than ever before. It's the kind of weariness that saps your will and your ability to think clearly. When you finally get into bed and settle in for the night, you may become aware of your breathing becoming more deep and heavy as you watch your chest rise and fall dramatically with each inhale and exhale.

While I was unconscious, my mind wandered to the realities of working in the store. The irony of the gap between the popular conception of a chef or butcher and the realities of the trade only grew larger. Having a lot of tattoos or being able to disassemble a pig in record time are not necessary skills for a butcher. Tasks like scraping fat and meat from skin and bones, cutting and arranging chops and steaks for the display counter, and putting everything back in the coolers at the end of the day are what keep a shop running. Punctures and abrasions are commonplace in the workplace. When accidents happen, you keep working despite the setback, which slows everyone down.

My left hand still hurt the next day, but the bleeding had stopped by then. When the skin was gradually peeled back, the wound became much less raw and exposed. I quickly wrapped up the wound and went back to work. My initial reluctance to use my left hand faded after a few minutes. Fat and blood, though not mine, soon began to stencil the edges of the bandage. Not that I was an ungrateful person before, but I have never been more appreciative of the complexity of my own skeletal system than I was on that day.

The addition of pigs' feet makes for a delicious stock. Though there isn't much actual meat, the gelatin in the skin and bones provides plenty of substance to the broth. It seems wasteful not to crisp the skin if you're going to eat them whole. Even though the Chinese love to braise and eat trotters off the knuckles, I find that without some sort of crisping method, such as deep-frying or grilling, the skin and fat around the joints make them too soft and boring to eat. If you're going to grill the feet, you should definitely split them in half. After all, trotters are meant to be eaten with your fingers, so you want to make sure they're easy to chew on.

To ensure a juicy grilled trotter, the tendons and skin must be tenderized first. Trotters braised in kecap manis, a sweet Indonesian soy sauce I've been using for a while. It has a thick, oyster sauce–like consistency and a sweet, smoky flavor with hints of caramel. The braising was as simple as it gets; I threw all the trotters into a pan with some ginger, drizzled on some kecap manis, and finished it off with some Sriracha.

When grilling the trotters for the final time, make sure to use indirect heat. To avoid burning the skin before it has had a chance to dry and become crisp, avoid placing the trotters directly over the coals. The trotters' skin will be crisp and chewy after being grilled, while the meat and tendons on the inside will be meltingly soft. The feet will be delicious on their own, but you can take the experience to the next level by serving them with an impromptu sauce made from kecap manis, additional chili and garlic sauce, and a dash of vinegar or tamarind sauce to balance the flavors. It wouldn't be out of the ordinary to drizzle the sauce over other foods, like the grilled asparagus or the bowl of noodles that come with the trotters.

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