Does this look like a pork trotter to you?
My fondest memories of childhood are set in the kitchen. Perched on a stool, I had a vantage point from which to observe my granny painstakingly prepare everything from rempah (a pounded spice and herb paste with varying ingredients depending on the curry or stew it's meant to flavour) to coconut milk (which she extracted with freshly grated coconut rather than a can-opener) by hand. Like all formidable cooks, she was suspicious of short-cuts and believed in doing everything from scratch. Of her innumerable trademark dishes, my personal favourite was the traditional Chinese dish of pork trotters braised in black vinegar, a moreish number syrupy with brown sugar and fragrant with seasme oil and ginger.
It wasn't until I was living in London that I first ate pork trotters beyond the confines of home, and realised its culinary potential stretched far beyond my beloved homely braise. At the then-It restaurant, Maison Novelli, Jean-Christophe Novelli's house special was pork trotter, stuffed variously everyday according to the Frenchman's mood and fancy - the oxtail and liver mousse stuffings particularly stand out in my mind. I also really enjoyed my visits to St. John, Fergus Henderson's unpretentious but utterly brilliant restaurant. Here, commonly-deemed lowly cuts are treated with as much respect as filet mignon. At this temple of visceral delights, you can feast on tails, tongue, tripe and trotters (fried, boiled, au gratin and stuffed, respectively). What with spleen, brawn, brains and all other manner of offal and variety meats also on offer, the fifth quarter aficionado is truly spoilt for choice.
There is something gratifying about transforming a cheap ingredient into a dish that's not merely edible but very good, a goodness that belies its humble provenance. Afterall, it's easy to turn foie gras, say, or truffles, into a little tasty something.
Having nearly lost a finger trying to de-bone a raw pork trotter - nails, cloven hoof, and all - once (I've yet to meet a butcher who will deign to expand this effort for a cut so economical), I now stick with preparations that either require no boning, or if so, only require it after the trotter has been pre-cooked. Boneless preparations have the distinct advantage of being easier to eat and prettier to look at. In other words, more fun for the diner and more work for the cook.
Thomas Keller's Pork Trotters with Sauce Gribiche from the Bouchon cookbook is as elegant a preparation as they come. With nary a claw in sight, it's truly innocuous-looking - very useful if you're feeding the squeamish. I plan to use the leftover Sauce Gribiche (not much, seeing as I ate it while I made it, all in the name of tasting of course) to dress plain poached chicken. As for the remaining pork mixture, I'm dreaming of squashing thin slices into a crusty baguette thickly slathered with salted beurre d'Isigny.