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How to Cook Chitterlings

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Cooked pork intestines, also known as chitterlings or chitlins have a smelly reputation. Despite their strong aroma, legions of loyal chitlin fanatics pig out on this delicacy every day. In fact, Shauna Anderson, the renowned Chitlin Queen, boasts over 10,000 customers on her Hand Cleaned Pork Chitterlings website. The secret to any delicious chitterling recipe is meticulous cleaning. Even prepackaged double and triple washed chitterlings must be carefully re-examined before they can be cooked. For the novice, learning how to clean chitterlings is the most important technique in learning how to cook chitterlings like a pro.

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Services website links a number of bacterial contaminants to the intestinal tracts of animals. The February 2001 edition of Georgia’s Epidemiology Report traced an outbreak of salmonella and Yersinia enterocolitica in young children to poor chitterling cleaning practices. Armed with detailed cleaning and cooking instructions, even a beginner can take comfort in serving up a safe and tasty pot of chitlins. One word of caution to chitterling aficionados with delicate stomachs – an acknowledged oxymoron – steer clear of chitterling cleaning duties. Instead, feel free to use this article to cross examine your current and future chitlin suppliers.

A ten pound bucket of frozen chitterlings is as dense as a whole frozen turkey, so proper defrosting may take a few days.  Since bacteria thrive in warm and moist environments, thawing chitlins with hot water or at room temperature are not safe options. The Virginia Health Department suggests wrapping buckets of raw chitterlings before placing them in the refrigerator to thaw. You can further minimize food safety risks by setting the bucket of frozen chitterlings in a baking pan on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator. After they have thawed, gather the following basic chitlin cleaning supplies. You will need: a two compartment sink with a spray nozzle, drain plug stoppers, plenty of clean water, a sharp knife, clean dish cloths and detergent, and chlorine bleach solution of 1 tablespoon bleach to a gallon of water. Remember to clean, rinse and sanitize both sinks before you start to clean your chitterlings.

Cleaning chitterlings also requires a strong back and legs as it takes a long time to examine every individual piece. Wash chitterlings either late at night or during the day when children are not present to minimize accidental food poisoning. Clearing kitchen counter tops is another useful safety tip. Remove dish racks, dishes, utensils, storage canisters and sponges to avoid cross contamination with raw chitterlings. Bare counter tops also simplify the cleaning and sanitizing process after chitterlings are cooked.

Pour the thawed raw chitterlings in the first sink and use cold water from the spray nozzle to wash away any liquid. Leave the plug stopper ajar to keep chitterlings from clogging the drain. Reserve the bucket and lid for trash disposal. Secure the drain stopper and cover the chitlins in cold water. Carefully inspect both sides of each chitterling. Your goal is to remove excess fat and other debris: hair, dirt, corn, hay, and yes, poop. For chitlins that are littered with excess 'baggage,' simply cut away the soiled areas with a knife.  Another easy cleaning method is to use your clean and short fingernails to grasp and remove the thin inner lining from the chitterlings. Unless you have a cut or wound on your hands or fingers, it is easier to accomplish this task without gloves. Throw any debris in your empty chitlin bucket. As the chitterlings are cleansed of any visible waste, transfer them one by one to a second sink of cold water. Cleaned chitlins in the second sink should have a smooth and slippery texture.  Thoroughly wash the first sink and the drain stopper with hot soapy water and follow with a good rinse.  Secure the stopper in place.  Briefly re-examine each chitterling in the second sink before returning them one by one to the first sink. Once all the chitterlings are re-checked, drain the second sink and place any remaining waste in the reserved chitterling bucket. Close the bucket and throw it away.

Loosen the stopper and rinse the chitterlings again with cold water.  Secure the stopper and fill the first sink with cold water. Vigorously cleanse the chitterlings in the water for several minutes. Drain the sink one last time, leaving the stopper slightly ajar. Use the kitchen sink spray nozzle for a final five minute rinse. The chitlins are now squeaky clean. Place them in a stock pot and cook them over low heat for three to five hours. A large crock pot set on low also does a nice job of parboiling chitterlings overnight. Add a few potatoes and an onion to reduce the odor.  At this point you are free to clean and sanitize the sinks and counter tops. Toss any cleaning cloths in the washing machine. Add chlorine bleach when laundering these cloths.

Remove the parboiled chitterlings from the pot and discard the cooking liquid, potatoes and onion. Rinse and chop them into two or three inch pieces. Slowly sauté the chitlins for another one to two hours in a pan with diced onions, celery, garlic, salt and pepper until tender. Perfectly cooked chitterlings are very tender. Be aware that chitterlings shrink dramatically when cooked. A ten pound bucket will only produce between one and two pounds of edible product. Some experienced cooks maximize their yield by cleaning and cooking multiple buckets of chitterlings at once. Portions of chitlins can then be frozen for later use. Other cooks stretch chitterlings by cooking them with cleaned and chopped hog maws or tripe, the stomach linings from pigs and cows, respectively.

Pork chitterlings are often served as part of the traditional southern New Year’s Day meal with collard greens, black eyed peas and rice. Pork is eaten as a symbol of health, collard greens signify desired wealth, and the black eyed peas represent good luck in the coming year. Regardless of regional culinary traditions, chitterlings taste great any time of year. Hot sauce and vinegar are the most popular condiments for chitlins.

No matter which cooking method you use, take the time to thoroughly clean your chitterlings. Then, turn your attention to cleaning and sanitizing your sink, counter tops, stove, pots and cleaning cloths. That infamous aroma is the only thing that should linger after your chitterlings are served.

A number of colorful Youtube videos touch on the subject of cleaning and cooking chitterlings. The ‘Lucas Christmas Chitlins’ video provides a step by step glimpse of the chitterling cooking process that any visual learner will appreciate.  Simply use the previously suggested cooking method to guarantee that every pot of chitterlings is flavorful and well-seasoned.

Lucas Christmas Chitlins Youtube video

Other resources for chitterling, hog maws and tripe related recipes:

You Gotta Love Those Chitterlings and Hog Maws

Fried Chitterlings (Chitlins) and Hog Maws

How to Cook Tripe

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