In the South I didn’t encounter a single white person who had ever eaten chitterlings, or pig intestines. “Chittlins? You gotta draw a line somewhere.” I did meet a few blacks who admitted their mamas used to make them, but I didn’t find any enthusiasm for them until I talked to Virginia’s mama. “You got to wash them chittlins good,” she said. “You pour warm water through them, then cold water, then turn them inside out and wash some more. We used to soak em in salt for a day to soften em up, then wash em again and put em in a pot with salt and pepper and two or three pods of red pepper and they gets tender in about an hour. Then we cut em in pieces three or four inches long or tie em in knots and cut where the knot is at. Then we roll em in a little bitty flour and deep-fry em or leave as they is and pour vinegar over em. Then we cook the rice in that chittlin gravy and it get so dry it just fall apart cause I don’t cook no gummy rice.”
If you slaughter your own hogs, there’s no shortage of chittlins. Up North, however, I found that the only way to buy them was in ten-pound frozen blocks, fortunately cleaned. But they still need to be washed thoroughly and turned inside out to remove all particles of fat. The only container big enough in my apartment to hold them was the bathtub, where they defrosted overnight in cold water, then lay in salt water six hours before they were ready for washing and defatting. They looked like a tub of dirty laundry and I cannot deny that my bathtub retained their distinctive odor long after they left tub for pot. Their taste is distinctive as well, chewy and filling, and unlikely to replace potato chips as a national finger food. But for innard lovers like myself, who savor the peculiar textures of tripe or of sausages like andouille made with pig guts, there is a satisfaction to this earthy food as primal as the imitative magic by which you eat guts to get guts.
Ten pounds, however, is a heap of chittlins. Once you have thawed, cleaned, and stewed them, freeze half of them for later use. Five pounds at a time will go a long way.
In a large container, cover chitterlings with cold water and defrost overnight. Clean them under running water and remove all fat particles. Return them to the container and pour in the salt. Cover again with cold water and let sit for 6 hours to soften them. Wash well to remove the brine.
Put chitterlings in a pot for cooking with
Pour 6 cups of the pot liquid into a smaller container for the rice, add the rice, bring to a simmer, stir once, cover pot tightly, and steam 15 minutes. Serve on a platter surrounded by half the chitterlings and pass a bowl of chopped onions along with it.
© 1986 Betty Fussell. All rights reserved.