Hardcore Chinese – Mom’s Best Braised Pork Feet

Chinese style braised pork feetThese braised pork feet are moist, tender and flavorful. They are braised in a slightly sweet and savory master sauce until the skin and meat fall from the bone.

Reader’s alert: If you don’t like strange parts of the animal, say…. pig’s feet, then please skip this article. It might contain some of words that will make you uncomfortable.

A True Story

I heard this story from a client Mr. Jim (fake name). Back in the 80s, Mr. Jim was working at a very influential Chinese state-owned company and was dispatched to the London office to build up a trading network with Chinese buyers.

A quick background of China in the 80s – back then, China was still very much a planned economy (the opposite of a free market) and individual income was still extremely low. A job like Mr. Jim’s meant all kinds of privileges. During the 80s, people could barely move between provinces within China, let alone travel abroad. Until the early 90s, people still had to “purchase” food and daily supplies with stamps issued by local governments.

Mr. Jim has been living in London for quite a few years and had climbed to a management level. He and his colleagues had arranged to stay at the company’s dormitory: one tiny room for 6 people. Although crowded, Mr. Jim was satisfied and happy with his life.

The only thing missing was authentic Chinese food, such as braised pig’s head and feet. In the end, Mr. Jim finally found a butcher in the suburb of London that sold whole pigs. He was thrilled.

From then on, almost every weekend, Mr. Jim and the rest of the management team would drive the company’s Mercedes to the butcher to buy several pigs’ heads for cooking their nostalgic dish – braised pig’s head. They would then share the pots of stew with the whole company.

One day, when the butcher was passing another four pig heads into Mr. Jim’s hands, he took a whiff and said, “Wow, you guys must really have a lot dogs!”

Chinese style braised pork feet

Why Chinese People like to Eat Strange Parts of the Animal

Everyone who hears the story above laughs out loud. However, after a while, when I thought back, I couldn’t help but wonder why Chinese people enjoy eating all kinds of weird parts of the animal – head, neck, feet, tail, intestines, blood, you name it! For me, I’m not a big fan of those parts, but I did have a favorite dish when I was a kid – braised chicken’s head. It’s quite disgusting if you look at the cooking process. When you look at a bunch of chickens’ heads in a big pot, you feel them all staring at you (eew!). Disgusting, but tasty. Especially the brain (and I’m not even a zombie)!

When I posed this question to my parents, they gave me quite a sad answer: because poultry and meat have been so scarce, and starvation has struck so many times in Chinese history. As a result, people learned all kinds of cooking and seasoning techniques to make the inedible (or less palatable) parts of the animal taste better. People use very strong spices, like chili peppers, cloves, anise, cardamon and peppercorns to cover the stinky smell of intestines and make such offal taste less like itself.

Mom's Best Braised Pork Feet | omnivorescookbook.com

Even through the 70s, it was still a luxury to have meat for dinner in a ordinary family. A delicious alternative was cooking fried noodles with lard. For young men who worked on construction sites, pork intestine stew (chao gan) was the most popular food.

Utilizing every part of the animal has become a habit through the modern day. Although food is plentiful and people can choose whatever they like to eat, lots of people still consider pork intestines and chicken’s feet among the most delicious foods. There is a very popular snack – spicy duck neck that comes in small package. You can easily find it  at any 7-eleven store in Beijing. The other famous dish is Szechuan style pig’s blood and intestines (mao xue wang), boiled in spicy oil. Does it sound scary? There are many people who prefer this to normal meat dishes.

Chinese style braised pork feet

For me, I normally don’t eat animal intestines or the strange dishes I mentioned above, but I really love braised pork feet. Again, they look disgusting but are so delicious!

I learned the braised pork feet recipe from my mom. As I mentioned above, lots of spices are added in order to eliminate the stinkiness of the meat. This way you won’t have to worry about the smell of the pig’s feet. The finished dish is as delicious as any pork stew. It’s very tender, flavorful, and doesn’t taste greasy at all. It goes well with white rice, or could even be served as a snack.

I used a pressure cooker in this recipe to reduce the cooking time, but if you don’t have a pressure cooker, you can use a wok or dutch oven, braising the meat longer to achieve the same result. I like the pork feet to be cooked until very soft, so I often boil them until the meat and skin fall off the bones.

This recipe is one of the recipes from my Mom’s Best series. In this series, I collect family recipes handed down from my grandma to my dad, then to my mom, and now, to me. In the same series, you can also findMom’s best braised chicken stew with mushroomsMom’s best braised pork spare ribsMom’s best braised duck leg, and Mom’s best beef stew with tendon. More family recipes are on the way!

Mom's Best Braised Pork Feet | omnivorescookbook.com

4.9 from 9 reviews
Chinese Style Braised Pork Feet
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
When you purchase pork feet, ask the butcher to chop them into smaller pieces (Split in half, then chopped into 3 pieces). It will be easier to cook and serve this way.
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Chinese
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 2 pork feet (1 kilograms / 2 pounds), each one chopped into 6 pieces
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, thickly sliced
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, coarsely smashed (*see footnote 1)
  • 1/2 cup white part of scallion or green onion
  • 3 - 5 dried chili peppers (*see footnote 2)
  • 1 and 1/2 star anise
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 tablespoon crystal sugar (or white sugar)
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons Chinese Shaoxing wine (or Japanese sake)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
Instructions
  1. Place pork feet and ginger slices in a large pot and add water to cover pork feet. Bring the water to a boil and continue boiling for about 3 minutes. Discard water and wash pork feet carefully.
  2. Add pork feet into pressure cooker and add water until the pork is covered completely. Cook over high heat until rated pressure has been reached. Turn to lowest heat and cook at rated pressure for 15 minutes. (*see footnote 3)
  3. After releasing pressure naturally, transfer pork feet to a wok (or dutch oven). Transfer pork broth from pressure cooker to wok until it almost covers the pork. Add the rest of the ingredients into wok and turn to high heat. After bringing the broth to a boil, reduce to low heat and simmer covered for 30 minutes. Stir pork feet every 10 minutes to avoid burning on the bottom. Stir more often toward the end of braising, after the sauce has thickened. Add water during the braising process if the broth becomes thick while the pork is still tough. If the pork turns very soft but the sauce is still thin, turn to medium heat and boil uncovered. Reduce sauce until desired thickness.
  4. To cook without a pressure cooker, skip step 2 and add boiled pork, water and all ingredients into a wok or a dutch oven. Add water until it covers pork and boil for around 2 hours. If the water level becomes too low while pork is still though, add warm water, 1 to 2 cups at a time, and continue braising.
Notes
1. To smash ginger, place peeled ginger on a cutting board, lay a wide knife on top of ginger and use palm to press against the knife to smash the ginger. No need to cut ginger.
2. Add 3 peppers for a mild spiciness or 5 for a hotter dish. If the sauce turns too spicy, add more sugar to balance the heat at the end of braising.
3. To shorten the braising time, I used a pressure cooker. Either an electronic or stove top pressure is OK. Every pressure cooker is different. You might need to shorten / prolong cooking time according to your cooker's specifications. If your pressure cooker has a user manual and happens to indicate a cooking time for pork, you could follow that recommendation for this recipe.

The post was updated on 18th Oct. 2014

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Meet Maggie

Hi I'm Maggie Zhu! Welcome to my site about modern Chinese cooking - including street food, family recipes, and restaurant dishes. I take a less labor-intensive approach while maintaining the taste and look of the dish. I am originally from Beijing, and now cook from my Austin, Texas kitchen.

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41 thoughts on “Hardcore Chinese – Mom’s Best Braised Pork Feet

  1. yoko

    tried making pork feet for the first time tonight! this made the house smell soo good. thanks for the recipe!! can i braise other cuts of meat in this braising sauce? it kind of reminds me of my grandma’s char siu braising liquid

    Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Yoko, thanks for leaving a comment and I’m so glad that you cooked my recipe! 🙂
      Of course you can use the braising sauce for other dishes. You can use it to braise pork belly, ribs, or chicken. If you have leftover of the cooked sauce, you could add a small amount into stir fried dish. Or use it as broth to cook vegetable stew (My favorite way is to add the sauce into napa cabbage, potato or green bean stew). It will add a nice flavor into veggies dishes (same logic as chicken bouillon).
      Happy cooking! 🙂

      Reply
  2. Trang

    Maggie, what you said in this post is so true. I grew up in VN and meat was definitely more of a garnish to the meal. It’s different now, but pig feet is still one of my favorite dish!! I love this dish and your stories. I must try to recreate this one day 🙂

    Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Trang, it’s so interesting to hear the people from different cultures also share the same experience! Yep, it’s totally different now, but food from the not-so-good-old-days is still very delicious! Happy cooking 🙂

      Reply
  3. Mildred

    I am from Ghana and was raised by parents who had a farm. We ate all the strange parts too and never thought it was a big deal. Mom was matter of fact about it and it was so delicious, I don’t think we would have cared. I tend to get Chinese foods like this when I need comfort food and don’t feel like cooking. We did not use soy sauce or much sugar in our stews but anise, ginger and all these spices remind me of my mom’s stew pot. Thanks for this recipe.

    Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Mildred, thanks for commenting and I’m so glad to hear you like the recipe! It’s very interesting to know that you use very similar spices in Ghana too, and eat these parts from an animal too. It makes me wonder what types of Chinese food you can get there. If you ever have chance to cook with soy sauce, I hope you’ll like it. It goes great with ginger and adds really nice flavor to savory dishes. I don’t even know how to make a stew without it 🙂
      Hope you have a great day and happy cooking!

      Reply
  4. Mildred

    I actually currently live in Orlando so I don’t get to eat my mom’s cooking. I try but it does not taste the same when I make it. That’s why I go for dishes like these. Luckily there are some hardcore chinese restaurants here that serve these strange bits of the animal.

    Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Mildred, I share the same experience about the taste of mom’s cooking! When I was living in Japan, I was cooking exactly the same recipe my mom used to do, but it never tasted the same. I think it’s partially because of the different local ingredients you can get, and also because of those tiny difference cooking habits that everyone has.
      Glad to know that you can still get these types of food in Orlando. By the way, I had some of the best pork and chicken “related” dishes in Japan (grilled intestine and liver). Keep an eye on “horumon-yaki” next time if you’re at a Japanese (or Korean) restaurant, they are very good 🙂

      Reply
  5. crystal

    Love the stewed or braised pig feet eat all the time the aroma is so wonderful. Im African American and the history of eating all parts of the pig are the same and traditional in my home as well, alittle more used to the smell lol garlic, onions, & cilantro help with that some. 😉 Enjoy lots of authentic Asian recipes will try others that you hve posted. Thk you

    Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      I’m so happy to hear it Sally! This is one of our family’s favorite recipes. Now since you mentioned, I started to crave for it again! Need to make a batch over this weekend 🙂

      Reply
  6. G N

    I grew up in Western Canada and Pigs feet and hocks were served at my home. I noticed you spoke of high food costs in China but you only have to go back 100 years to find “the whole beast” dinners were common, and in certain parts of the continent, especially in farm country, less than 50 years. So thing are not so different here compared to other parts of the world.

    Reply
  7. millie

    Love this recipe.
    Thank you, reminds me of my mothers southern cooking.
    I make rice, collard greens, and corn bread, With these delicious braised pigs feet, we call trotters. Do much flavor!
    Thanks,
    Msmillie

    Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Millie, the combination corn bread and pig feet sound so delicious! We always serve them on the rice in China, but I’d love to try out new combinations. I’m craving some now when I was writing this line :p I’m so glad you like this dish too! It’s one of my favorites 🙂

      Reply
  8. D. Singh

    Maggie this Braised Pig’s Feet look so good that I must give it a try sometime soon. I usually make a dish with pig’s feet which I think you’ll love very much and I’m willing to share my recipe with you also.

    Thank you and God bless!

    Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      I’m so glad to hear you like the recipe Singh! This is a family recipe, and I hope you enjoy the dish too!
      What recipe did you usually make with pig’s feet? If you’d like to share the recipe, you can send it to maggie (at) omnivorescookbook (dot) com. I’d love to try it out!
      Hope you have a great weekend 🙂

      Reply
      1. Bambi sadeli

        Hi Maggie, I love pig feet,but my family rather eat ham hock or shoulder part. Can I braise it like feet?

      2. Maggie Post author

        Hi Bambi, yes you can definitely use this recipe to braise ham hock or shoulder. The cooking time might be different but the process is the same.
        Happy cooking and hope you dish turns out great 🙂

  9. Jason

    My second time making this dish. Still one of my favorite cuts of meat & your recipe really is any easy, delicious way to cook trotters. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      I’m so glad to hear you like the recipe Jason! My mom has been cooking this recipe so many times and she found the easiest way to do it. Now I’m craving some braised trotters. Will be making a new batch this weekend 😉

      Reply
  10. Christopher

    I did try your method of cooking the pig feet: but I did it my way. I used all the ingredients according to your explanation. but added a few of my own ingredients.
    I added 2 tablespoons of read chilly flakes
    One medium size cooking onion – thinly sliced,
    and with 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil: firstly fried up the onions, and once the onions were browned up, added the chilly flakes and played around steering it around for about a minuet ; then merged it with the poke feet and added some sweet tambouring with roasted sesame seed. .

    Man, I just finished off the stuff, and then licked the plate dry. Yum, yum, yum.

    Reply
  11. Cal

    Hi Maggie, I love the simplicity and options of making pig’s feet that you share based on your mom’s recipe. I used to do a variation of this with a crock pot, but I would inevitably let it simmer so long that not only would the bones fall off, but the skin and tendons would dissolve away! LOL

    Using a pressure pot like you suggested sure kept everything intact. Parboiling the pig’s feet in water with ginger slices before cooking in a pressure pot sure cleaned up the disgusting odors. I added some variations to your recipe based on what my mom used to do.

    In the old days my mom would use vinegar, honey and dried tangerine peels (Chinese save everything for incorporating somehow into cooking) to add some marvelous flavors. So lacking cloves, anise and wine this time, I improvised a batch. I decided to do most of the softening of the pig’s feet in a stove-top pressure pot, so I at least doubled the time in the pressure pot, with a steaming rack in the bottom, to close to an hour with all the flavor enhancers and pig’s feet immersed in the broth above the pot bottom on top of the rack. I used a stock pot for the initial parboiling, transferred to the pressure pot, then reduced the broth and pig’s feet back in the stock pot till done.

    I could probably do this as a one-pot meal and use the pressure pot for the whole process with the steaming rack kept in place and not have to stir anything, but just watch the liquid level after the pressure phase when reducing the broth to a creamy state.

    As an aside, my mom would get the inexpensive (“cheap”) cuts of meat and have Chinese variations for dinner. We had flank steak before it was the expensive, trendy cut it is now. We also enjoyed oxtail and short ribs cooked slowly in Guardian Ware heavy duty aluminum pots and pans (my dad insisted on the best cookware we could afford). Now that I better understand the elixir broth you describe, I’ll try to incorporate the pressure pot into the process and forego the crock pot altogether.

    Thanks so much for your stories and wonderful cooking tips that help to recreate mom’s cooking in an up-to-date and faster process without any sacrifice in flavor!

    One final pressure pot speedy variation — I infuse artichokes in a pressure pot by cutting off the stems and tops (wipe the cut surfaces with a half lemon to keep the darkening and oxidation from occurring), opening up the innards so I can insert garlic, ginger, citrus wedges, etc. around the boundary between the dark outer leaves and the lighter inner leaves. I drizzle lemon or lime juice into the top and spray with olive oil. Place topside up in pressure pot and cap each artichoke with cut up remnants of that lemon (or try an orange for an edible variation). Get the pressure pot up to the high range and let it sit simmering for 30-45 minutes. Turn off stove and let sit until pressure dissipates by cooling. Open, let cool, and enjoy!

    Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Cal, thanks for taking time and leaving such a thorough reply! I’m still getting to to the concept of slow cooker. We did not have such a thing back in China, so I’ve never used it in cooking. It’s such a popular cookware here! How long do you usually cook the pig feet in a crock pot? I don’t mind the meat falling off the bones. That’s the way I like it. But I do want to keep the tendons intact. Tender, but not gone. Because they’re the best part 🙂

      I agree, the whole cooking process can be finished in the pressure cooker. I’d take out the steaming rack after releasing pressure, so to make sure the pig feet covered in the broth.

      The vinegar and tangerine peels sound like a nice combination. We use them in stew and braised dish too. But we always add star anise, because its flavor goes so well with pork.

      Oh we love cooking with oxtail and short ribs. Unfortunately it’s very expensive to get oxtail here. Somehow it’s a fancy cut, although it seems like very few people cook with them. Short ribs is my favorite cut. I use the boneless one for stir fry. And use the bone in one for braising. It has the perfect lean fat ratio, so the meat won’t dry out during cooking.

      It’s interesting to hear that you consider this method “faster”. It’s quite time consuming to me lol But yeah, it’s way faster than the crock pot. I still don’t understand why people cook stir fry with it and use 6 hours when you can do it in a wok in 6 minutes.

      The artichoke recipe sounds so interesting. Do you add some water into the pressure cooker? (I think you need to?) And I thought you’d put the artichoke in a steaming rack without touching the water? I’d love to try this out soon! My husband and I both love artichoke 🙂

      Reply
      1. Cal

        Hi Maggie, for artichokes I place ~3/4″ water to just below the steaming basket (stainless steel, 7″ circular base on 3/4″ tripod legs, with multiple overlapping wings [similar to an iris on camera lenses for you photography buffs] that fan out to internal width of pot and keep pieces from falling into pot bottom).

        Artichokes do not touch water, just the hyper-heated steam during a 45-minute cooking time once the desired pressure is reached. By interleaving various flavorings (shoe-stringed garlic and ginger, thin citrus wedges, etc.) at the dark leaf / light leaf interface and then spraying with olive oil, the upright artichokes seem to be infused with your choices. I also cook the artichoke stems for bite-sized chef’s choice.

        Be creative and enjoy. It’s artichoke season in California now. Whatever is in season is the menu of choice for fruits and vegetables.

      2. Maggie Post author

        Thanks for the detailed recipe Cal! It sounds truly delicious. We do not have artichokes in China, so I was intimidated by the cooking process. You made it sounds so much easier! We need to stop buying canned artichoke hearts and cook fresh ones instead 🙂
        Hope you have a great start of the week!

  12. Elaine

    I would like to try this, but I already have the feet and they are not split. Can I cook them whole and just braise for longer? Maybe taking the meat off the bone for serving?

    Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Elaine, yes you could cook the whole pork feet without chopping them apart. As for serving, it can be tricky picking the meat off but you can try. Some of the cartilage attached to the bone is the best part 🙂
      Happy cooking and let me know how the dish turns out!

      Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      I’ve never tried cooking pig ears along with the feet. From what I read, they almost take as long to cook (2 hours to 2 hours 30 minutes if simmering without using pressure cooker), so I think it’s no problem to cook them together.
      Happy cooking and let me know how the dish turns out 🙂

      Reply
  13. Julien

    Dear Maggie,
    Thank you so much for this recipe: my wife missed this dish very much (not so many genuine chinese restaurent in the area of France where we are living), and she was pleasantly surprised when I cooked it for her.
    Many thanks for all those recipes, they are very detailed and easy to follow.
    Best regards,
    Julien (from France)

    Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Julien, I’m so happy to hear you enjoy the dish! It’s one of the dishes I missed the most after moving to the US. The recipe is quite straightforward and it creates super flavorful pork. I hope you both liked it 🙂

      Reply
  14. commandqueue

    Wow, wasn’t expecting such a sobering article while looking up recipes that reminded me of home, haha. 😐 Seriously got a bit emotional there. Keep up the interesting/tasty posts!

    Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      Glad to hear you like the post! This is one of my favorite dishes and I demand it the first whenever I travel back to China to visit my parents 🙂
      Thank you for leaving a comment and have a great week ahead 🙂

      Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Melinda, I haven’t tried to cook this one in a slow cooker yet but I’m pretty sure it works. You probably want to cook it for at least 8 hours to get the meat tender. The broth won’t reduce so much at the end if you use a slow cooker. You can either drain the broth and reduce it on stove top, or add a cornstarch slurry to thicken it.
      Happy cooking and let me know how the dish turns out 🙂

      Reply
  15. Elle

    Hi. This looks so good and I’m wanting to try it in my instant pot electric pressure cooking. Do you know if I use high heat at 15min will yield the same as your yours? Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Maggie Post author

      Hi Elle, yes you can use Instant pot instead of a gas top pressure cooker. I think 15 minutes will work for IP as well. However I do want to emphasize that you need to finish the recipe by simmering without the pressure. So the broth will reduce and form a thick sauce.
      Happy cooking and hope you enjoy the dish 🙂

      Reply