The Chef: Christopher Gross The Restaurant: Christopher's Restaurant The Animal: Pig The Dish: Pied de cochon
Chef Christopher Gross can make a silk purse out of a sow's ear -- or a pig trotter for that matter. And he does it often, featuring pied de cochon (the pretty French word for pig feet) on his tasting menu as well as offering it as a nightly special on his regular menu when the spirit moves him.
You may think there's nothing particularly unusual about that. And it's true, Christopher's is a French restaurant, after all, boasting a solid selection of bistro classics, including frog legs, sweetbreads and rabbit.
Unless you've eaten Gross' pied de cochon -- and then you understand that this is a truly exceptional dish.
Although Europeans, Asians and American Southerners (who like them pickled) have been eating pig feet for almost as long as pigs have had them, they aren't exactly a mainstream food favorite with most Americans, who turn up their noses at the thought of eating noses -- not to mention tails and the random parts in between.
Granted, British chef Fergus Henderson who wrote The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating in 2004, made parts and offal seem far less awful than we'd once imagined. And his cookbook (now a cult classic for Slow Food enthusiasts) helped kick-start the whole Snout-to-Tail trend.
But to be on the safe side, Gross makes pied de cochon look and taste as good as it sounds to avoid creating "mental anguish" for his guests. Here's how he does it:
First, he slow braises the pig feet (with veggies and bones) at 180 degrees for 20 hours, then separates the meat, adds a puree of lean pork as well as shallots, five-spice, thyme and garlic.
The mixture is shaped into a torchon (think log, tightened and twisted like a dishcloth), baked for two and a half hours at 150-degrees, then chilled, sliced and wrapped in puff pastry.
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Now, here's the good part (because really, you're not going to try this at home, are you?): After the two discs of puff pastry emerge from the oven all browned and buttery, Gross arranges them around creamy mashed potatoes and haricots vert, spooning the plate with a red wine-veal sauce enriched with coarse-grained French mustard (Moutarde de Meaux). Tear-shaped, potato chip-like garnishes, darkened with portobello mushroom powder, add crunch and umami.
You may be eating odd piggy parts (and yes, the occasional bit of skin or gelatinous meat would be the dead giveaway), but unless you're one of those squeamish people who picks through every morsel that passes your lips, you'd never know it.
Both the lightly spicy flavor and the chopped texture are reminiscent of country pâte. Delicious! Can't blame you if you can't get it out of your head: This little piggy went to Christopher's....