Here's another FoodiePilgrim exploration of the less popular foodways: chitterlings, or chitlins, a soul food classic with a reputation even worse than that of Haggis.
I found a 5-lb block of Aunt Bessie's brand frozen chitterlings at Fairway Beef in Worcester (where all the cool stuff is), so naturally I bought it figuring I would find an excuse to cook it some day.
Last Sunday was the day. Lorna, a piscene vegetarian, would be out of the house all day through dinnertime with a girlfriend, and it was too late for Richmond and Annette to come up with alternative plans!
I had had the chance to talk to my old friend Charlie about chitlins. He had some experience with them, and gave me a few tips:
- Don't believe the bag that says "ready to cook". Clean them and clean them until the water runs clear.
- Slice a potato and cook it in there, then discard it. The potato absorbs some of the off flavors that are natural to chitterlings.
I used the recipe from the Joy of Cooking.
- Clean them until the water runs clear. They feel kind of slippery and almost slimy. Revolting, really.
- Cut each piece into 2-inch segments. This makes some rings and some straight pieces.
- Put in a heavy pot with water to cover. I used a slow cooker on Low.
- Add a chopped onion and a bay leaf, and season generously with a garllic clove, pepper, cloves.
- Simmer for a couple of hours. It doesn't take long for the meat to cook, because it is very thin membrane, not muscle, but you want to get the flavors of the seasonings cooked in there.
- The lore says that cooking chitterlings will stink up the house intolerably for days, so I opened all the windows and the back door. In the end it wasn't so bad, really hardly noticeable. That may be due to the extra-vigilant washing step.
- When they are ready you can serve straight from the pot, remembering to discard the slices of potato. It doesn't look like much, but it doesn't really look or smell lethal.
Annette had tried chitterlings once before, in France, and said these were about as good, opining that you can't make a silk purse from a sow's intestine.
I have to agree - this is the sort of thing that people ate when there was nothing else to eat. Describing it to my friend Dennis later, I said that with the pig, people will eat everything but the oink, but this is about the last bit you get to before the oink.