In praise of the pig. tout est bon, dans le cochon.
The French have a saying that goes tout est bon, dans le cochon. (This is according to Jeffrey Steingarten, who also claims that it also goes dans le cochon, tout est bon, but I am not sure about this as neither my French nor my memory is particularly strong). Pretty much every other culture in existence holds this same line of thought, with the glaring exception of America (although now virtually every restaurant I've been to in the last year has offered pork belly in some form). The idea is that every part of the pig is good to eat (except perhaps the eyeballs). Waste not, want not.
I remember reading the Little House on the Prairie books when I was little; there is a description of a pig killing in Little House in the Big Woods that always fascinated me. Pa would slaughter the pig, carving it up into hams and ribs and bacon; Ma would make headcheese out of, well, the head, and sausage out of everything else, which would be rolled up into balls and left in the attic to freeze. Laura and her sisters would get to eat the pig's tail, roasted over a fire. It's not something I've ever seen on any menu, but I can imagine how it would taste, all crisp skin and fatty meat.
When I was growing up, we'd eat pig's ears, sliced thin, with the chewy skin against crunchy cartilage, sprinkled with chopped scallions and drizzled with soy sauce and sesame oil. There were braised pig's feet in soy sauce and rice wine (in Mexico on a school trip, G. and I would eat pickled pig's feet in Guadalajara, the specialty of the region, tender and tangy with vinegar, while our other seventh-and-eighth-grade classmates gagged with horror). In Chinese cooking pork is often cooked with ginger and soy sauce and wine, sometimes with spices like star anise.
You could have chops and ribs and bacon (ah, bacon...I'll save that for another time), but there is so much more to the pig. What about cheeks, juicy and tender and gelatinous, spicy with black pepper and fragrant with herbs (the Italian way), or gently braised in sherry until unctuously, intensely flavored (the Spanish way). Or pork belly, Shanghainese-style, in a glossy salty-sweet, syrupy dark sauce that had the deep flavor of soy sauce and wine and the dark caramel flavor from that yellow rock sugar you find in Chinese kitchens. Pretty much any part of the animal can be braised until rich and tender, falling apart on the plate; knuckles, shanks, feet, shoulders, ribs.
I remember eating, a long time ago, deep-fried pig intestines sliced into rings, almost like calamari. (It should come as no surprise that this was in a Chinese restaurant). The slices were arranged in parallel lines across an oval platter on a bed of shredded cabbage, and as you bit down on a piece the crisp exterior would give way to the rich layer of fat inside. Crrrrruunch. How anyone could bypass any part of the pig is beyond me.
C'est vrai. Tout est bon, dans le cochon.