Zhenjiang Yao Rou (Salted Pork Trotter Jelly)

zhenjiang yao rou

Zhenjiang Yao Rou (镇江肴肉), also known as Crystal Yao Rou or Crystal Trotter, is a traditional and renowned dish hailing from the Zhenjiang region in Jiangsu, China. This delicacy is characterized by its pristine white skin, translucent and crystal-clear appearance, tender and succulent lean meat, and a delightful fragrance that is not overpowering. Sliced into pieces, it reveals a fine and dense structure, showcasing its four distinctive features of being fragrant, crispy, fresh, and tender, making it both appetizing and visually appealing. When paired with shredded ginger and aromatic vinegar, Zhenjiang Yao Rou acquires an even more unique and flavorful profile.

The origins of this culinary treasure can be traced back over three centuries. Legend has it that in the bustling streets of Zhenjiang’s Juhai, there existed a husband-and-wife-operated inn. One day, the innkeeper purchased four pig trotters, intending to consume them after a few days. Fearing spoilage in the hot weather, he decided to preserve them with salt. Unbeknownst to him, his wife mistakenly used a packet of saltpeter (a substance used in fireworks) instead of ordinary salt. It was only the next day, when the wife intended to use the saltpeter for making firecrackers for her father, that she realized the error. Upon inspecting the preserved trotters in the brine, they were astonished to find that not only had the meat not deteriorated, but it had become firm, with a rosy hue, and the trotter skin displayed a pristine white color.

To eliminate the nitrate’s taste, the trotters were soaked multiple times in clear water and blanched in boiling water. The innkeeper and his wife, thinking they had ruined the trotters, were surprised when an irresistible aroma wafted from the pot after boiling for over an hour.

That day, Zhang Guolao, one of the Eight Immortals in Chinese mythology, happened to pass by the inn and was enticed by the delightful fragrance. Transforming into an old man with white hair, he knocked on the door. As soon as the door opened, the aroma wafted onto the street, attracting a crowd of curious onlookers. When questioned about the dish, the innkeeper’s wife candidly admitted that the trotters had been mistakenly preserved with saltpeter and were unfit for consumption. Zhang Guolao, unfazed, declared that he didn’t intend to eat it as a dish but rather with tea. He promptly purchased all four trotters and proceeded to enjoy them with tea in the inn. The captivating taste had him devouring three and a half trotters before leaving. Once he departed, the remaining half trotter was tasted by the innkeeper and others, all of whom found it exceptionally delicious.

From that day forward, the inn started making “nitrate-preserved meat,” which soon gained fame near and far. Later, considering that the term “nitrate meat” lacked elegance, it was renamed “Yao Rou” (Trotter Meat). Since then, Yao Rou has gained widespread acclaim both within China and beyond, becoming a culinary gem that stands the test of time.

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