It was the third time in less than a week that I was removing a pot of trotters from the oven. This time I had followed almost every step exactly and I was quietly confident that this would be a success. I donned my pink marigold and tentatively reached into the pot, barely able to look as I carefully pulled up one of the three trotters that had made it to this stage. The prized skin on this ‘little hand’ as the Spanish refer to it had split, revealing the unsightly bones and cartilage beneath as if trying to escape from their soft casing. I sighed. I had said this would be the last time I attempted the trotters for as important as it is to never give up or stop trying, one must also know their limits and know when to stop and after three attempts trotters and I seemingly weren’t destined to work together.
Nevertheless, I am posting this failure for what is a blog but to tell a story, to start a discussion or to share information. Some of you may have seen my start with a pig’s head, with which I was delighted at the end result and lack of complications. Like the head, trotters were a novelty to me, I had barely read anything on them before I bought 6 on special offer at the market. Upon closer inspection I was shocked at the lack of meat on them, it was just bone and cartilage! So after a bit of reading it dawned that the skin is what is wanted here. I searched for a Spanish style preparation for them but nothing really appealed to me so I went for the most distinguished trotter recipe of them all. Koffman’s stuffed pig trotter’s filed under ‘difficult recipes for masterchefs’ and made famous by Marco Pierre White at his restaurant Harvey’s, it is very 80’s and very, very French. This video gives such an insight into a young and aspiring Marco Pierre White (and a timid Gordon Ramsay) as well as going briefly through the recipe in a professional kitchen whereas this blog excellently details the recipe stage-by-stage.
I decided to prepare the trotters in a similar way, just changing the filling. Less French (sweetbreads, morels, chicken mousse); more Spanish (black pudding, apple, serrano ham). I was actually happy with the filling as the black pudding called Morcilla de Burgos here is wonderfully soft, well-flavoured and spiced, whilst some finely chopped caramelised apple cut through it. Plus with my deadline fast approaching for cooking through a pig, I wanted to kill two birds with one stone. I also didn’t use veal stock as suggested. This undoubtedly affected the final colour and taste of the trotter, possibly even the texture but I can’t confirm that. I instead used a chicken stock I had already made, making a veal stock required another 3 days of labour in a kitchen that also functions as a sauna at the moment.
I obviously won’t put the recipe for this but I will score it like last time:
Porkiness: I really was not a big fan of the texture of the trotter. After a 3 hour braise in alcohol and stock it was soft and silky in texture but it just felt too fatty in the mouth. There isn’t much to be said for the flavour which is largely affected by the braising liquids, so a veal stock braise would be beneficial, but I can think of far better uses for such a fine stock. The saviour was the sauce which I followed from MPW in the video linked above, adding some of the gelatinous stock that remained after cooking it produced a rich, smooth, almost syrupy like ‘jus’ which went beautifully with the mustard pomme purée I served alongside. 4/10
Inconvenience: After two attempts this dish had become more than an inconvenience and my patience was non-existent. This is a 3-day dish for any normal person and if done like Koffman not a cheap one with ingredients that could be difficult to resource. I can almost imagine the young chefs in MPW’s kitchen festering hate for their boss as they hacked their way through the thirtieth trotter of the day. You need seriously sharp knives to initially prepare the trotters or a very nice butcher; this video outlines de-boning. Despite claiming about 5 minutes per trotter my attempt was one hour for 3. Next time I’d pay a restaurant to do the work. 10/10
Gratification: I imagined that the pain and frustration of making this dish would be forgotten if I had bitten into one of the best dishes in my life. But as I sat moving what felt like (and essentially is) very soft fat around my mouth all I could think about was why did I bother. For there are far simpler preparations with crispy skins which sound far more appealing as I write this. Perhaps I had just bitten off more than I could chew this time. 3/10
It is a shame that I can’t praise pig’s trotters in the same way as their heads. In a way I also feel like I haven’t exhibited and have let down the unpopular black pudding. Anyone that has eaten this outside of a greasy spoon can perhaps join me and appreciate its complex flavours and uses so I will try to revisit them shortly. In the meantime any suggestions of offal preparations would be greatly appreciated.