Wednesday, 8 July 2009

The beauty of pig trotters

Arent’ they fun?! A test to an omnivore kinda dish, I say. Yes, not only did I buy these pink creatures quite on purpose (the all organic tootsies of a - hopefully! - happy piggy), but cleaned them, boiled them until no more, dismantle them and put them all together into a glorious Soviet grandmotherly dish of kholodets, or pork in aspic, or ham and chicken terrine.

The name Kholodets stems from a Russian word meaning cold, frozen or chilled. The dish basically consists of shredded boiled meat (which can be anything from chicken to rabbit to beef), jellified by the means of a pork stock, made out of pig trotters (the bones and other tissue in the feet make the liquid go jelly-like when chilled. In fact – read closely, my vegetarian friend - all jelly like treats are made with at least some use of a pig essence). I believe the must have it roots in the Fresh obsession with everything jellied in the 18-19 centuries (and as everyone knows Russians were bonkers about the Fresh in those far away days). The wobbly and transparent texture must have signified something bizarrely sophisticated and - yes - fun.

I'd been dreaming of re-creating this dish of my childhood for years, battling the seeming impossibility of sourcing the named tootsies from local butchers. Kholodets could in the past be found in any canteen or restaurant throughout the Communist kingdom - in different shapes and disguises; but I always remember the long evenings at home, in our kitchen, when my mum would slowly go through buckets of just-boiled meat, carefully separating the edible tasty bits from not so. Her utilizing all the possible plates, cups, bowls and saucers in our house to make the little individual portions of kholodets - a bit of meat on the bottom of a plate, some crushed garlic, then goes the stock and in the fridge for 12-24 hours. My mum almost always used chicken meat and put lots of garlic, so the result was incredibly tender, delicate and flavoursome at the same time. We ate out little kholodets (ki?) out of the bowls where it’d been chilling, with some nose-bitingly Russian mustard or grated horseradish and, of course, black Russian rye bread.

Well, I repeated the experiment the other night, freakily enjoying the sweet and meaty smell of chicken and trotters boiling my kitchen away for good 4 hours (take the trotters and bony joints of chicken, add cold water, a few spoons of vinegar, onion, carrots, lots f salt and spices - basically chuck the ‘left overs procedure’). And this is the initial result:

I felt like a villain – a wonderful, life-affirming feeling!

My kholodets was more of a fresh terrine - an ample amount of meat in each bowl (with added parsley, cracked pepper and garlic, which I mistakenly omitted) and only enough stock to cover the filling (no more than a cm or so).

Voila! (sorry about the amateur-ish photo)

Have your pig trotter concossion with some pickled cucumbers (mine were very spicy with lots of chillies), a lovely fresh salad, soughdour (home-made in my case, but this may be optional) and - an absolute requirement which was refused to me in my years of pioneer youth - a shot of very, very cold vodka.
Na zdaravye, tovarishi.

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