“Chicago Likes Pigs’ Feet,” declared the headline of a 1911 New York Times article. According to an “assiduous and enterprising statistician,” Chicagoans of the time consumed approximately 40 million trotters a year from hogs slaughtered at the Union Stock Yards. “There is little or no
demand for pigs’ feet among the wealthy class, but the man who toils all day in the shop or open air is, as a rule, fond of pigs’ feet,” the brief article concludes.
In the last decade or so even the “wealthy class” has caught on; as offal has increased in popularity, so have pork trotters. Jenner Tomaska, sous chef at Next , said that he was “very, very happy” to hear that Francis Brennan (Do-Rite Donuts) had challenged him to cook with pigs’ feet.
The first time Tomaska ever had pigs’ feet was when he was working in South Carolina and a Hungarian chef served him braised trotters with sour cream and spaetzle. He describes them as having “a collagen, skin flavor . . . you could say it has that umami factor.”
He considered creating a Hungarian spin on the pig parts in honor of his first taste of them, but instead settled on a dish inspired by chef Marco Pierre White’s traditional stuffed trotters. “I wanted to serve it hot because it was so cold out, and then we got that warm spell, and I was like, oh, this would be great cold,” he said in mid-April. “And then we got snow today.”
Tomaska deboned a whole pig’s foot, cooked it sous vide, and pressed it to make a casing that was “very tender, but it’s got that gelatinous kind of bite to it.” Inside the casing went a white pudding of foie gras, pork (from the trotter), egg yolk, and cream, as well as a sprinkling of pistachios. After wrapping the rolled-up trotter tightly in plastic, Tomaska poached it to cook the pudding inside, let it cool, and then sliced it up.
Accompaniments included puffed pork tendon (cooked, dehydrated, and then fried), pickled mustard seeds, pickled ramps, apricots, onion jam, and pistachios. Pigs’ feet found one more application in an aspic that Tomaska served with the stuffed trotters: he cooked down ramp stock with the feet (which provided gelatin), then removed them and pureed the stock with fresh ramp tops for a bright green color.
“When I was plating I was thinking along the lines of not needing silverware,” Tomaska said, picking up one of the pieces of stuffed trotter and popping it into his mouth. “I like to eat with my hands.”
With a few changes, Tomaska said, the dish could end up on Next’s upcoming menu, featuring modern Chinese food. “Chef Dave [Beran] loves it. He’s like, ‘Can we tweak this and make it Chinese flavors?'”
Erick Williams of MK, challenged by Tomaska to cook with kudzu starch, derived from the root of the kudzu plant and used as a thickener in Japanese cooking. Tomaska says it’s “a pain in the ass to work with.” He used to work for Williams and thinks the ingredient will be “a little out of his comfort zone . . . I want to see him sweat.”