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Okinawan Pig's Feet Soup (Ashitibichi)

Here's a soup that may not be for everyone. Ashitibichi (AHSH-teh-BEE-chee), or Okinawan Pig's Feet Soup, definitely warms the bones as the weather gets cooler. Having said that, I'm reminded that ashitibichi is also one of the most popular offerings at Honolulu's annual Okinawan Heritage Festival, and it's not exactly cool on Oahu, even in September when the Festival is usually held. I guess this is for the hard-core pork lovers! *Guilty!*

In ashitibichi, whole or sliced pig's feet, or trotters, are simmered with ginger to produce an incredibly savory and gelationous broth. Large cut vegetables are added to create a final dish that is more a stew than soup from a Western point of view. Either way, you will either love it or you won't even try it, depending on where you stand on the "odd meat-parts" divide of carnivorous dining. If you happen to fall on the other side of the divide, that's okay — more for the rest of us! *smile*

This is a dish that my mother did not make at home when we were growing up. I'm not sure why, because she enjoyed eating it whenever she came across it, I just don't remember seeing her make it. Ashitibichi is considerably more time-consuming to make than oden-style
Kombu, so that may be one reason. For this recipe I had to consult my trusty, well-worn copy of "Okinawan Cookery and Culture" produced by the Okinawan women's group of Hawaii called Hui O Laulima. (Here is another version prepared by Pomai at Tasty Island — he may not be Okinawan, but he's a fan, too!)

As with many Okinawan specialties, ashitibichi features kombu, or kelp, as well as pork. The type of kombu needed for this dish is the long dried strips which may be labelled "nishime kombu," "hayani kombu" or "ma kombu" — any one of these will work with this preparation. Preparing the kombu before it is added to the soup takes a bit of prep work and is not intuitive to anyone not accustomed to using kombu, so here's a quick guideline.

PREPARING KOMBU KNOTS

First, soak the dried kombu in cold water, using a container large enough that you don't have to bend the dried strips — bending the strips can cause them to snap and cut your kombu before you can knot it. Soak for 30-40 minutes, or until the strips become pliable. Don't soak too long (2 or more hours) or the kombu will start to become mushy and unworkable.

Reserve 2 cups of the soaking water. (You can use excess kombu water as the foundation for a vegetarian stock or to cook dried beans — the kombu water is said to make the beans easier to digest, I haven't tried this yet but will. I also water planted vegetables and shrubs with this mineral-rich water, if I don't have an immediate use for it in the kitchen.)


Knot each strip of kombu 4-5 times, depending on the length of the vegetable. If you leave about 5 inches, or one fist-length (see photo above), between the knots, you will leave just enough room to cut between them and leave an adequate "tail" on either side of the knot. The kombu will continue to expand as it cooks and if you cut too close to the knot, it will unravel as the vegetable cooks and become an unattractive blob of seaweed. Beware the Blob — leave a tail on both sides of the knot!


ASHITIBICHI, OKINAWAN PIG'S FEET SOUP
(Mrs. Yukihide Kohatsu's and Mrs. Fumiko Miyasato's recipes in "Okinawan Cookery and Culture" were the starting points for this version, although the method is my own. Photo here is from the 2007 Okinawan Heritage Festival in Kapiolani Park, Oahu)

Begin at least one day before you plan to serve, since broth is cooled overnight.

For the Broth
3.5-4 lbs/1.6-1.8kg pig's feet, whole or sliced lengthwise
2 large fingers of ginger, scrubbed well and sliced lengthwise (leave skin on)
Enough water to cover meat by 1-2 inches

Place meat and ginger in large (6 qt/L, or larger) crockpot. Set on HIGH setting for 2 hours. Skim top of broth to remove impurities as they rise to surface.

After 2 hours, set to LOW and allow to simmer for 5 hours for sliced feet, 6-7 hours for whole trotters. Meat should be tender and move around the joints easily.

Remove meat to separate container for cooling and storage. Discard ginger, and strain broth. Cool completely and store overnight separately from meat.

To Finish Soup:
2-3 strips of dried kombu strips, soaked and knotted (see Preparing Kombu, above)
2 cups reserved kombu soaking water above
2-3 TBL
awamori or sake
1 medium
daikon, peeled and cut crosswise into 2-inch thick slices
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch thick slices
8-10 dried
shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated
1 packet
dashinomoto, dried powdered fish stock
1-2 TBL sea salt
2 TBL soy sauce

If desired, remove fat layer from broth. Place broth in large soup pot or Dutch oven, and bring to hard boil over high heat. Add reserved kombu water and return to boil.

Add kombu knots, awamori or sake, and daikon, and bring to boil. Once broth is bubbling, lower heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Add cooked meat, carrots, rehydrated shiitake, dashi packet, salt and soy sauce. Continue simmering for another 30-45 minutes.

Test kombu knots: if a pointed chopstick easily pierces the center of the knots, the soup is ready. If kombu is not ready, remove carrots and daikon if you don't want these vegetables to get too mushy, and continue simmering additional 20-30 minutes. Different brands and grades of kombu will cook slower or faster, so cooking times will vary, and are dictated on when the kombu reaches the desired consistency. Consistency of the cooked kombu is also a matter of personal preference — texture can range from slightly firm (
al dente) to meltingly tender. I prefer the latter, but that's just me.

Serve in individual bowls, with a separate bowl of rice, pickles, and a dipping dish of grated ginger or hot mustard. Maa-san!



Happy Birthday, Mom...


More Okinawan dishes on this site:
Kombu, Rafute, Abura Miso, Yakisoba, Okayu with Yomogi

More dishes with Kelp and other Sea Vegetables:
Kombu, Hijiki no Nimono, Namasu, Crispy Nori-Wrapped Walu & Shrimp with Papaya Coulis, Curry-Glazed Cod with Wasabi-Sea Salad Soba, and Kajiki with Pomegranate Ogo