Pickled pig lips are unknown in most of the U.S. -- unimagined even -- but jars of the porky delicacy adorn stores and bars throughout Cajun country, the French-flavored area of south Louisiana where no resource, especially pork, goes to waste. The epitome of the acquired taste, the gelatinous snack cleanses the palate and momentarily clears the head during a session at the bar.
Taste and Texture
Stored in pint, quart or gallon jars and preserved in a vinegar brine tinted with red No. 40 dye, pickled pig lips might initially resemble medical research specimens. Opening the jar compounds the problem, releasing a faintly unpleasant odor of sour vinegar and butchered pork.
Cut in heart-shaped medallions, the lips have a spongy, gristly texture. The overwhelming taste is of vinegar and salt with bacon notes. Hot sauce in the brine rounds out any edges.
Because they are preserved in brine, pig lips are uncooked, unlike pickled pig snouts or ears. The jars do not need refrigeration.
Lips 'n' Chips
There are remarkably few variations on how to consume pig lips. Whereas other pickled pig parts might be eaten straight out the jar or added to slow-cook stews for seasoning, this is not the case for pig lips.
Eating from the jar is perfectly safe, but not altogether palatable. The purists' solution to the lips' texture is to crush a bag of potato chips and to throw in a lip, tossing the pack until the chips coat the lip and give it some crunch. Regional tradition dictates that the chips should be Zapp's Cajun Crawtators, because the fierce spice in the chips balances the brine in the lips.
Closely associated with parts of south Louisiana and Mississippi, pickled pig lips tap into two Southern traditions, preserving meat by pickling, and finding a culinary use for every pork product except the squeak. Even fans of pig tail, foot and ears, however, would acknowledge that pig lips occupy a particularly narrow niche.
The dominant brand of pig lips is Farm Fresh Food Suppliers, which grew from a small New Orleans wholesaler of pickled pig extremities in 1933 to a nationwide, Department of Agriculture-approved supplier.
While there are few sales of pig lips in stores outside the New Orleans region, online sales satisfy the wider demand.