I’ve always secretly wondered whether pickled pig’s feet were some kind of practical joke. “You know what would be hilarious,” someone must have proposed many decades ago, “is if we put pig’s feet—yes, the part of a pig’s body that is wading through their own waste 95 percent of the time—in a pickle jar (to make it look like food) and then see if people actually eat it!”
Either way, it turns out the joke is on me, because this is a real food item that people willingly eat in many cultures, including in the American South, China, and in Scandinavia, where much of their traditional cuisine is derived from methods of preservation.
The worldwide prevalence of eating (and enjoying) pig’s feet is of course no comfort to me, since I have never held any desire to eat them. However, I couldn’t let this stop me from determining which wine would pair best with this particular delicacy, as I am apparently a masochist.
Finding pickled pig’s feet wasn’t too challenging—I just had to locate the “gross food section” of my local market. They were literally shelved with canned clams, anchovies, snails, and other items with more “niche” audiences. This turned out to be a really wonderful surprise to cashier Desiree, who grew up eating pig’s feet, but didn’t know the market where she worked carried them.
She told me the best preparation is to boil them until tender and falling apart, like a short rib, and serve over rice with chiles, peppers, and onions. When I asked if they taste like pork, she answered, “No, they taste out of this world!”
Bolstered by Desiree’s enthusiasm and a sincere desire not to be culturally insensitive, I took my jar of feet home and prepped them for wine pairing, once again roping in my fiancé Michael (somehow), and our friend Nina, who evidently has no fear.
Right away Nina aptly noted that the jar of pig’s feet looks a lot like human flesh, which made me a lot more excited about the wine-drinking portion of the night. Because they’re pickled, they can be eaten straight out of the clear glass jar (a design decision I can’t entirely get behind), canceling out the benefits of cooking the feet and pretending they’re a more palatable part of the animal, like the bacon part.
But we were committed to eating it anyway, especially Nina and Michael, meaning there was too much peer pressure in the room for me to fake my way through it.
We tried the pig’s feet on their own first, after spending a good hour stalling by petting the dogs and talking about how brave we all are. Cutting into the sinew and bone is decidedly unpleasant, but it can be avoided if you focus on the fatty meat parts, which easily fall right off the foot.
I learned there’s a reason people eat pig’s feet—because they taste good. If you can get past the slimy-while-chewy texture (which Michael and I didn’t mind but Nina did), the flavor resembles a more savory version of a salt and vinegar chip. There was absolutely nothing offensive about the taste, unless you already know you don’t like flavors inherent to pickling, and I would even go so far as to call them delicious. Of course, eating anything is a holistic experience, so it’s understandable if a certain aspect of this particular dish would turn someone off from eating it, flavor aside.
Next up came the wine. The only pairing I found specifically for pickled pig’s feet, as opposed to boiled or barbecued, was pinot noir. With little other info available, we picked out a broad selection of wines, from rich reds to buttery whites, my favorite of which had a 17.2 percent alcohol content, perfect for drinking with psychologically disturbing foods.
Kirkland California Chardonnay
If you don’t trust Costco to make a kickass bulk-sized wine, then you can get out right now. Michael declared it has a “nose of buttered popcorn” which I took to mean as perfect for taking into a movie theater. He went on to add that it is “pretty freakin’ good. Very refreshing and tropical—you can taste a lot of the mango and pineapple.”
Nina’s impression of the pairing was multifaceted: “It works on the head where it’s fruity, which goes well with the vinegar, but when it gets into the buttery flavor it’s really gross.” Michael felt that the wine brought out the savory pork flavor of the feet more, which was masked by the vinegar. I agreed with Nina that it started off strong, but had a finish that didn’t make for a great pairing. Sorry Costco!
Selva de’Canonici Pecorino
Nina noted that “it’s light and sweet but not too sweet,” since she doesn’t prefer a wine with flavor that hits you over the head. I added, “This is a casual watching BRAVO on TV kind of wine,” so we added an ice cube to it.
This wine gave the pig’s feet a sweeter profile, burning away the intensity of the vinegar, but unfortunately tasted a little bit like bile to Michael. It goes dark at the finish, with a muddy flavor that no one would actively seek. Another complicated pairing brought down by the aftertaste.
Esser Pinot Noir
This wine is bright, and definitely warmer than most pinots, but ultimately sweet and delicious. With our one online source referencing pinot noir as the ultimate in pickled pig’s feet pairing, we were more optimistic than with the other selection.
Once paired, Nina said “it makes the wine taste really, really sweet and heavier, which is surprising for a lighter wine.” The end of it goes nicely with the pork flavor, as opposed to the previous wines which did well with the vinegar, giving it a savory finish.
Martinelli “Vigneto di Evo” Zinfandel
Ever the wine snob, “Big AF” was the description Michael went with, AF of course being an acronym for “as fuck.” It’s a dry wine, sweeter than you would think, and also the aforementioned bottle with 17.2 percent alcohol. “Jammy” would be the best way to describe the flavor, akin to a port.
This pairing was the agreed-upon winner, an excellent combination from start to finish. It inspired Nina to suggest that if the pig’s feet and the wine were combined into one flavor profile, she would drink the whole bottle, since the pig’s feet greatly enhanced the flavor of the wine. The alcohol stands up really well to the vinegar, and creates a creamy note that is really quite delicious. Ultimately, together they taught us a thing or two about stowing our notions about what can and cannot taste good.
Hormel pig feet in jar photo by Francis Storr CC BY-SA
Main photo by Tim Gage CC BY-SA