Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Nose to Tail Tuesday (N3T) - Pigs' Tails

From last week’s ‘cheeky’ success, we are heading right over to the other end of the animal for today’s N3T.

These, as you can no doubt see, are pig’s tails:

According to Fergus Henderson, tails have a ‘lip-sticking quality’ thanks to the merging of fat and flesh, similar to snout (which is yet to grace the table) and belly (which has. On many, many occasions). Surely this was going to be a success?


‘What the hell are they? Oh my god, what are they? Oh my god, they look disgusting. I don’t think I can eat those. I really don't.’

This is the (paraphrased) reaction of my girlfriend after I’d pulled a tray full of tails from the oven. And it was vaguely understandable.

You see, even when cooked, a tail looks completely, totally, resolutely and unapologetically like, well, a tail. Only slightly scarier. If Ridley Scott is looking to make a recession friendly addition to the Alien franchise then he could do a lot worse than cook up some tails.

I suppose this is part of what I was talking about yesterday – about detachment and the intrinsic distance that now lies between animal and consumer. If it looks recognisable then it is unappetising. What we have become used to is eating something that doesn’t have to remind us that what is on the plate was once on a farm.

A tail changes that.

A tail is something we are used to seeing in cartoons and in children’s books. It’s curly, it’s faintly ‘cute’ and almost completely representative of the animal that it is from.

It’s also visible. You cannot see a steak when a cow is walking round a field. Many don’t even know where the fillet is, for example. A tail is on show. It is always there, being curly, being piggy.

But there is a way round this. A simple and easy way to overcome this seemingly insurmountable hurdle.

Slice, cover in breadcrumbs and fry in oil. Instantly you have something that resembles a McNugget or goujon (depending on your personal predilection for fast food or otherwise).

First off the tails were nestled into a deep roasting tray with a couple of onions, some squashed garlic cloves, three or four bay leaves and some rosemary. The whole lot was then sluiced with light chicken stock and a splash of white wine before being covered with foil and going into a low oven (about 150 degrees C) for three hours.

What emerged was what caused the (justifiably) negative reaction from my girlfriend (hence no photo).

Once cool, they were plucked from the remaining stock – which had turned to jelly – and slow roasted in the oven to render out some of the fat (in a similar manner to pork scratchings).

Step three was to slice into bite size chunks then bread them. Instead of breadcrumbs I used crushed corn flakes, partly for colour, partly for texture and partly for taste.

Flour-egg-flour-egg-cornflakes is a good way of getting a nice crust.

They took no more than a minute or two on each side to fry in oil (sunflower or canola oil is fine). By then they were a wonderful colour and perched neatly on top of a mound of mustard mashed potato and some broccoli puree.

And the verdict?

They were good. No more, no less.

Just good.

The texture could be hard for some to overcome. The roasting part had crisped up the tails and given them a slightly chewy bite. You also have to be a little careful not to bite down to eagerly due to the high number of small bones.

But the meat is tasty, noticeably porcine with a smattering of fat (although not as much as the St. John recipe due to the slow roasting phase, which Henderson leaves out) and a generous amount of lean.

They would benefit from something acidic, like a salsa, in which to be dipped because they are seriously rich but the mustard mash provided a nice flavour and textural contrast to the crunchy bites.

Would I make them again? I doubt it, but I will be keeping a bag of these in the freezer to throw into the stockpot every now and again – they’d add a smattering of body and richness to chicken, or beef stock.

So, verdict? N3T 2 – partial success

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Anonymous said...

This is a really interesting post. I considered cooking some tails recently myself but I'm not sure I will now. They do sound nice but all those little bones - and you don't seem that enamoured with them. It's interesting to hear about that lip sticking texture though, I know exactly the texture you mean.

Thistlemoon said...

This kind of reminds me of eating gator tail - very similar, and always served cubed and fried! LOL!

Good for you for experimenting and getting past some of the squeamishness that occurs when eating "recognizable" cuts!

Simones Kitchen said...

O my goodness... I just saw your comment on the cheesewench's blog and followed it to yours and your post just makes me laugh... I can soooo imagine the horror of your girlfriend upon seeing those tails! I've eaten porkears at some point (it seems to be a delicacy in Lithuania, so when I was there I tried them) and I imagine the structure of the tails to be slightly similar... I loved your story though; your writing is very entertaining so I will definitely be back here! (but I'm not gonna try any pigtails anytime soon...)

Just Cook It said...

Thanks Helen - I think if I were to do them again then I'd make a couple of changes, maybe not roast them for so long. I think done well they could be almost as good as belly. Might be worth giving it a go.

Jenn - It's a great way of making the unpalatable more appealing! I think they do something similar with 'Rocky Mountain Oysters'. Thanks for the kind words

Junglefrog - Thank you! What a time to join me, wow. I do cook some more recognisable things as well, I promise.

QGIRL said...

I'm sorry, but eww gross!
I totally sympathize with your girlfriend.
I'll give you a A for effort though!

Chocolate Shavings said...

This sure spikes my curiosity!

Just Cook It said...

QGirl - I'm sure she will appreciate the sympathy - I'll make sure to pass it on. Thanks!

Chocolate Shavings - Thank you, mine too, I suppose.

Hopie said...

Hm, interesting. I'm not wild about that texture you describe so I don't think I'll be getting into tails in the near future but bravo to you and your girlfriend for your adventurous spirit :-) (If she lets you serve her tails with only a few choice comments, I'd say you've chosen well.)

Jennifer said...

While I have tried many different animal parts, a tail I have not. Great post however. Im not certain I could get past the visual aspect of eating a pigs tail. Although my husband does it the skin fried without another thought....

I'm with your girlfriend on this one!! :) haha

Anonymous said...

What a well-written post. I've often that it was interesting that people are all about "farm to table" eating nowadays, but only in terms of produce. No one really wants to see their meat when it's alive and walking, and no one wants to eat something that resembles something that once was alive and walking.
I applaud your bravery in actually eating the tails and making them look, well, edible.

Just Cook It said...

Hopie - yes, I think you are right, often we are put off by texture than flavour. I tihnk this is apparent in the Far East when many delicacies have a gloopy gelatinous texture that western palates find very unappealing. And, yes, she's very understanding!

Thank you Jennifer, I think most people are with my girlfriend on this one!

Cynthia - thank you very much for the kind words, much appreciated. I totally agree with you - many of us need to maintain an 'epistemic' distance between animal and food. Which is a shame.

Anonymous said...

I saw some pigs tails (and snouts) for sale recently and was really curious about how to cook them so consulted Fergus too. I don't consider myself to be particularly squeamish but I'm struggling to imagine enjoying the tails and snouts.

Like Junglefrog, I've eaten ears before and don't remember being too squeamish about that, I didn't cook them myself though which may be something to do with it.

Really good point about the piggyness of the tails too.

Alicia Foodycat said...

Ridley Scott is EXACTLY what I was thinking! Or possibly Predator's whippy tentacle hair stuff.

Anonymous said...

Think I would try it but I really don't like bones in my meat :-/ I could imagine tails as main-part of aspic. Just peeling off the meat from those tiny bones ...

Just Cook It said...

Ginger - They are ok, quite a lot of effort though. It does take a leap of faith to get over the recognition of the tails. Thanks for commenting.

Foodycat - Yes! Definitely on the Predator thing.

Aniko - You're right, they so much gelatin in them they would make a very solid aspic.

Cynthia said...

Here in the Caribbean, particularly a place like Barbados, pig tails play a vital role in its cuisine especially in the daily rice and peas. In these parts, the pig tails are salt cured and cut into varying lengths. A piece of the tail is then cut and added to the pot for the flavour and also for the salt that it will impart to the dish.

BBQ pig tails are also a big deal here and are very popular with tourits. You can check this post: http://www.tasteslikehome.org/2007/06/rice-peas-prize.html

Just disovered your blog and am currently browing through :)

Just Cook It said...

Thanks so much Cynthia. That sounds like a great tip and I'm looking forward to reading about a different take on the tails

Lorena said...

This brings up childhood memories, of Christmas when my granddad would roast a whole pig or two over charcoal. I don't know why, but he always made sure to give me the crunchy tail or an ear to nibble. It sounds gross, but if you like eating cracklings you will like pigs tail.


impressively adventurous
and entertainingly recounted

we tried the salt dried pigs liver from Henderson's Nose to Tail
anti pasti for the very courageous