Wednesday, February 15, 2012

On the Pleasures of Pigs' Feet

I think we can all be grateful that life abounds with guilty pleasures. That "I know this is terrible for my mind/body/well-being, but surely one time won't long as nobody sees me" feeling makes the secret, illicit joy of a guilty pleasure all the more enticing. Personally, I tend to shy away from bad movies, reality television, and romance novels, but I am not immune to the allure of food as a guilty pleasure. I am here today to share that pigs' feet fall squarely into this sumptuous category.

You can buy pigs' feet--usually pickled--in the USA. Those briny, pallid chunks of flesh crammed into dusty jars on long-untouched grocery store shelves always seemed a bit unappetizing to me, and I suspect most people share that assessment.

I can't imagine why.
Photo courtesy of Geoff 

So for those, like me, who have looked ungenerously upon the humble pig foot, let me tell you this: there is another way.


These pigs' feet--a specialty in Kunming--are a revelation for those of us accustomed to those other pigs' feet. Watch as these vibrantly colored hunks of meat and bone are cut down the middle, grilled, and seasoned before your very eyes and served hot, fresh, and oozing with grease. It's that last part--the grease--that turns this from a quotidian pleasure to a guilty pleasure. Here's how it looks when it is served:

I want you to take a moment to notice that generous layer of fat visible on the bottom left of this picture. While you're at it, you might as well take note of the thick skin, best seen at the far right. When this foot is staring up at you, waiting to be eaten, it's hard not to notice those features. Your arteries involuntarily clench in anticipatory revulsion, while your brain frantically replays the relevant lectures from high school health class, hoping to overrule the momentum your taste buds are trying to build. There are no two ways about it: this is not a healthy food. If you're lucky, your taste buds win the internal debate and you tear into this porcine delight with vigor. It is heavenly. The skin is rubbery and chewy, while the meat (or fat) is soft and greasy. The seasoning is mildly spicy and the meat is a bit sweet (not sugary sweet...meaty sweet...think of the sweetness of ham for a comparison). As you eat, your mouth is coated with a thin layer of grease, giving your tongue, teeth, and cheeks a sticky, waxy sensation. Before you know it, you are left with bones on your plate, contentment in your stomach, and half-regret in your brain. Not real regret though--the same regret that you have after eating a whole pint of rich ice cream. Your brain says you regret it, but your soul is richer for the experience.

Pigs' feet, as Cookie Monster might say, are a sometimes food. You would be paving the path to an early grave if you ate these every day. And that's what makes them such a delicious guilty pleasure: the internal tension between knowing they are bad for you and knowing how amazing they taste. Most of the time your brain will win out and you will opt for some spinach or something else boring and healthy. And that's how it should be. Once in a long while, though, you will take the plunge, and you will be richly rewarded. Like all guilty pleasures, the bashful guilt you feel coupled with the rarity of the experience are all part of the magnificent joy of pigs' feet. Savor those moments. Every day foods like spinach sustain life; guilty pleasures--like pigs' feet--are what make it worth sustaining.


Mo Shanley said...

Your descriptions are fantastic, most notably in this one as it actually makes me consider trying pigs feet! But I don't think I could manage it...

Frank Kasell said...

Thanks, Mo! I'm sure you could handle it. It would certainly...behoof you.

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