At the other end of the meat case at H Mart where I found the oxtails was a lovely display of pig’s feet. If I’m going on a braising jag, I thought, I might as well go all the way. I had a recipe in mind, so I left with a bagful of animal extremities.
In Beyond Nose to Tail: More Omnivorous Recipes for the Adventurous Cook, Fergus Henderson provides a “Recipe for a Healthy Jar of Trotter Gear (Unctuous Potential)” with this description:
Alluded to in the previous book, but not fully fledged, it now has a name and a place in every kitchen. This unctuous, giving gastronomic tool will become all chefs’ and cooks’ friend, finding untold uses in the kitchen. No fridge should be without its jar of Trotter Gear.
The recipe call for six trotters – just the feet – but I began with four feet that included the first joint as well, technically the trotters and hocks.
After familiarizing myself with porcine appendage anatomy by separating the feet from the hocks, I blanched them in boiling water for five minutes, then drained them to remove a considerable amount of scum that rose to the top.
I returned the meat to the pot and added two onions, two leeks, two carrots, two celery stalks, a head of garlic, a thyme bundle, and a handful of peppercorns. I followed the vegetables with half a bottle of Madeira and enough (homemade) chicken stock to cover. I brought the pot to a simmer.
After three hours in a “gentle oven” (I thought I’d have to guess a temperature, but there’s a conversion table at the back of the book. Gentle oven = 325 °F.), the meat was “totally giving.”
I removed the trotters from the pot and let them cool down, then strained the vegetables out of the cooking liquid and set it aside.
While they were still warm, I picked all of the meat, fat, and skin off the bones, tearing everything into small chunks. When I was done I had a bowl full of bones (left) anjd a bowl full of the good stuff (right).
Although Henderson calls for mixing the meat back into the liquid and storing it in a jar in the fridge, I opted to portion the meat into plastic containers and cover it with the liquid. I cooled the containers down in the fridge before moving them to the Belm Research Kitchen Deep Storage Facility.
There was so much gelatin in this concoction that it solidified as soon as it reached room temperature. No surprise there, I was rendering animal feet in a collagen-enriched stock. As Fergus describes it:
You now have Trotter Gear, nuduals of giving, wobbly trotter captured in a splendid jelly. One can sense its potential even now.
Potential indeed. There’s a pheasant pie I’m thinking about…