Tag Archives: nose-to-tail

Nose-to-Tail #2: Trotters

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.

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Nose-to-Tail: Pig’s Head Croquetas

To celebrate my last month in Spain, I, like many before me will be cooking my way through a pig. I need not repeat the wise words of Mr. Henderson and co in stressing the importance of knowing where our food comes from. That the plastic-wrapped cuts of meat so easily placed in our shopping baskets do actually come from a living, breathing animal. So what better place to start this journey than in the land where a cured hind leg can fetch €1000; where care is taken over a well-fed animal; a simply prepared cut is juicy and flavoursome; and each body part is displayed proudly at every butcher.

Of course, I will aim for a Spanish preparation of each meal and I will score each dish on my personal P.I.G scale:

Porkiness  – flavour/taste/texture

Inconvenience – labour involved/difficulty

Gratification – value/satisfaction derived

scores from 1-10. 1 being low, 10 high. 

Credit where credit is due for this recipe is taken and only slightly adapted from a truly inspiring source. The British Larder consistently produces some of the most original dishes I see and share it over the web. Not only are they generous but a quick read of their ethos is insightful and heartfelt. I endeavour to eat at the restaurant on my return.

Croquetas are a sublime creation and a staple tapas throughout Spain, and almost every country seems to have their own versions. It was my first attempt and I was delighted to be able to incorporate them into this month. I could have served them on their own but I wanted  some freshness and acidity to cut through their richness so I served it with baby Red Chard and crispy Tatsoi leaves with a mustard vinaigrette and some pickled red onions which lent their own tartness and a beautiful colour to the dish. I also used the ears to make crispy ‘scratchings’ which I dusted with sweet paprika to add another element to the dish.

So before the recipe the all important PIG scores:

Porkiness: The tough gelatinous meat in the head needs a long cook , so after 4 hours cooking in stock melt-in-the-mouth meat was falling off the bone upon touch. I found the flavour lovely and subtle, but the texture is the real winner here. 10/10

Inconvenience: Unless your butcher delivers you will  be lugging at least 6 kilos of head home. It’s big. I didn’t have a pot big enough for all the snout to fit (how ironic my first dish misses the nose), and then you have to try and lift this slippery, flaky mass out of a pot filled with stock. But it took no more than 15 minutes to prep for cooking then to remove the meat (unless you live with a medic who wants to give a lesson in anatomy). However, much more inconvenience was found by my two vegetarian flatmates. fairly inconvenient 7/10

Gratification: The realisation of what I was dealing with only dawned when shaving off any remaining hairs then the head adopted a more human aspect. The pores in the soft, subtle skin; the beard-like growth; and a mouth and eyes which seemed to subtly smile. Cue vivid flashbacks of Animal Farm. But then at the same time I was proud to be putting this beautiful head to good use and it not being ground up into cheap sausages. Any simple prep and long cook would leave you with a wonderful meat. It’s also inexpensive, I scooped out around 800g  meat including the tongue and paid €5. It’s not something I will cook very often but I was truly satisfied with my experience and the resulting meal and am keen to try other recipes. Satisfied in more than ways than one: 9/10

Pig’s Head Croquetas with Crispy Ears, Pickled Red Onions, Baby Leaves and Mustard Vinaigrette

makes 25 croquetas

1 whole pig’s head

1 stick celery, cut into 4 even size pieces

1 carrot, cut into 4 even size pieces

2 bay leaves

2 sprigs thyme

2 sprigs rosemary

1 onion, quartered

Once any remaining hair are removed from the pig with a razor, place it alongside the other ingredients in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring this to the boil, removing impurities that rise to the surface. Reduce to a simmer and leave for 3 1/2 hours, topping up with water to make sure it is covered at all times. Let cool in the stock for 1 hour more and then remove from pot carefully.

Flake off the meat and set aside. I also finely chopped the tongue into this mixture, but be sure to cut the rough edged from it first and use the centre.

To prepare the croquetas:

3 medium waxy potatoes, peeled and cut in equal sized pieces

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1/2 teaspoon ras-el-hanout

meat from pig’s head

Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

4 tablespoons chopped soft herbs (chives, tarragon, parsley)

50ml milk

100g cornstarch

Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, salt well and add potatoes, cooking until soft and falling apart. Drain and when cool enough to handle press through a ricer or sieve.

Meanwhile gently fry the onion until translucent then add the garlic, ras-el-hanout and season, cooking for a further 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the meat and herbs stirring until well combined.

Add the pomme puree to the mix and stir again to combine continuing whilst adding the milk and cornstarch.

You should end up with a mix that is difficult to stir, if not, add a little more cornstarch. Refrigerate this mix until cool – around 2 hours.

Roll into individual croquetas and refrigerate these again on a plate

To cook the croquetas:

1 egg, beaten

4 tablespoons plain flour

150g breadcrumbs

Heat preferred deep-frying oil to 160C

Line up 3 plates, one with the flour, one with egg, and the other with the breadcrumbs. Panée them by rolling each one first in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs.

Deep fry in batches until golden all over and leave to drain on kitchen towel. Meanwhile dress the salad and arrange with the onions on plates. Serve

For the crispy ears (optional):

I removed the ears after they had cooked with the head, sliced thinly and allowed to dry on paper towel an hour. Dust with flour and cook in the same oil as the croquetas for 4 minutes until crispy. Drain then season with paprika and salt.

Serve this as a starter or serve more croquetas as a main meal or tapas. I did this over two days, refrigerating the flaked meat overnight before preparing the rest the next day.