Sunday, June 10, 2012

RECIPE - Pork Hocks Minas Gerais Style (Pé de Porco Mineiro)

The new/old philosophy of raising food animals humanely and organically is something that has struck a chord around the world in recent years. The success of worldwide organizations like Slow Food as well as of small community group-created iniatives in support of local organic food producers would seem to indicate that there is growing concern that the meat and dairy products that we eat (at least those of us who are not vegans) come from animals that have had a healthy, non-medicated and relatively happy life and that the animals who have been slaughtered suffer as little fear and pain as possible.

The most recent post in this blog, about a ranch in Brazil that is home to a contented group of pigs, is an example of this philosophy being expressed in action. You can click here to read more about the ranch and its four-legged denizens.

There is another aspect, though, to this new attitude to meat-eating that wasn't discussed in the post about Alfheim ranch. That aspect is the idea that once an animal has been slaughtered for food, for our benefit, it behooves those who eat it not to waste large portions of the animal. The thought is, basically, that if we kill an animal to eat it, it deserves at the very least not to have only small choice bits used and the rest thrown away or converted into food for other farm animals.

Traditional food cultures around the world have always felt that way and have found ways to eat almost the entire slaughtered carcass. There's an old saw about Chinese cuisine that says that when it comes to pigs, it serves up everything but the squeal. Obviously there is an economic rationale for this complete utilization of a slaughtered animal, but it is also a matter of respect.

Brazilian cuisine has traditionally made use of many portions of an animal that might be thrown away in other cultures - limbs, bones, organs, ears, noses, testicles, everything. Some of the most iconic traditional dishes of Brazilian gastronomy, like feijoada and the recently-discussed buchada, make use of what might euphemistically be called "lesser cuts" of meat.

Minas Gerais state, in Brazil's mountainous interior has a well-developed traditional cuisine and one might expect to find recipes using less expensive cuts of meat to be found in cookbooks, on family tables or served in restaurants specializing in regional food. And one does. Recipes like this one for pork hocks (or pigs' feet if you will) which is the house specialty at the Bar Giovanni in the small village of Cristina, 250 miles from Belo Horizonte, the state's capital and biggest city.

At the Bar Giovanni, pork hocks are never off the menu - the owner, Giovanni Concenza, and his wife/chef say that local customers wouldn't allow it. Sr. Concenza says that it's not when a customer leaves the bar singing the praises of the dish that they know the customer loved it, it's when the customer has eaten so much of it that he or she has trouble even walking out the door when the meal is finished.

The recipe is very simple, and at Bar Giovanni, the pork is accompanied by sauteed kale and angu, the Brazilian take on polenta. Pork hocks are generally available from good-quality butcher shops everywhere, though you may have to order them in advance.
RECIPE - Pork Hocks Minas Gerais Style (Pé de Porco Mineiro)

2 lbs (1 kg) pork hock (usually two pieces)
10 cloves garlic, 7 chopped, 3 whole
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 14-oz can crushed tomatoes, or tomato puree
salt to taste
chopped cilantro and green onion to taste
Wash the pork hocks carefully in running water. Using the tip of a sharp knife or a turkey-trussing pin, pierce the skin thoroughly to allow fat to drain.

Put the hocks in a large pan, add 2 quarts cold water, bring to a boil over medium high heat and let boil for five minutes. Remove from the heat, drain the hocks and reserve.

In a clean deep pan, combine the hocks with 1 quart fresh water and three whole cloves of the garlic. Bring to a boil, cover the pan and reduce the heat, and cook at a slow boil for 1 hour to 90 minutes, or until the pork is completely cooked and tender. Drain the pork and reserve.

In another clean pan, heat the olive oil, then add the chopped garlic and fry for a few minutes. Do not let the garlic brown or burn. Add the chopped tomato and the canned tomatoes, mix thoroughly and cook for a few minutes. Add the pork hocks, regulate heat so that the tomato sauce just bubbles, cover the pan and let cook for 30 minutes, adding a small amount of water if necessary to cook moist.

Remove from heat, and serve the hocks immediately, sprinkled with chopped cilantro and green onion. Traditional accompaniments are kale and angu (polenta) but you can substitute other green vegetable and boiled potatoes if desired.

Recipe translated and adapted from Sabores de Minas-Roteiros Gastronomicos website.