It may seem odd to be reviewing a recipe but sometimes a dish requires more than a list of ingredients and a method. Generally I always try to follow instructions as closely as possible on the first attempt of a new recipe, only making changes if something is not working properly i.e. burning. Which does sometimes happen. But every cook will tweak recipes as they go and I’m no different. However this recipe is so good that I find very little adjustment is required.
It is one I’d been wanting to try for a while but had never quite been brave enough to attempt – the ingredients alone fill one page of the recipe book and the process takes several hours. However it was the first dish I ever ate a fine dining restaurant (the excellent Trinity in Clapham) and has stayed with me ever since. I saw that it featured in Trinity chef Adam Byatt‘s book ‘How to Eat in’ and I managed to get hold a copy to ogle over. And there it was ‘Pig’s Trotters on toasted Sourdough’. Brilliant. But, as I said, complicated and time consuming. It also features a fair amount of meat and, as my wife is a vegetarian, it was never going to be something that I could present for a normal dinner at home. And it’s a starter anyway so there you go.
However, as she was away for a couple of weeks and I had a good friend coming to stay – one with whom I often cook over-the-top and ambitious dishes – it seemed like a good opportunity to give it a go. And the recipe says that the cooked trotter mix can be kept refrigerated for several days (ideal for making in advance) and also frozen so allowing me to make a full batch and only use what was required for two before storing the rest. Or scoffing it myself. However, in the end I decided to do a half batch as I wasn’t sure I’d get four trotters in my casserole.
As the title suggests, the main component is pig’s trotters which was not something I had ever cooked with but that never stopped me before. It also needs smoked ham hock along with stock vegetables, vinegar, and spices. I had decided to forgo the garnish of crackling – not because I dislike it but purely because as I was only cooking for two it seemed a bit excessive and crackling doesn’t exactly keep well. After ringing various butchers with no avail to enquire about the availability of trotters, I meandered into Brixton where, of course, I was soon in possession of two huge trotters and a good hunk of smoked hock. The recipe says that some trotters need to cleaned and soaked overnight to remove impurities before having any hairs removed but these were ready to go and so no fuss for me. Thankfully.
The cast iron casserole was dug out and my instinct about only doing a half quantity was proved wise – the two trotters I’d bought only just fitted in. Lucky me. I carefully prepared everything – chopped vegetables, measured oil and vinegar, found the right amounts of spice – then, after re-reading the recipe again, I began.
It is here I must tell you that although I said the recipe was complex, the processes involved are actually very straightforward – there are simply several of them. Vegetables and spices are browned in oil then quickly caramelised with honey, vinegar added and then reduced before the meat and stock are added. All very simple. This is where the time factor comes in. The trotters need to be simmered slowly to break down all the gelatinous tissue so the initial cooking-time is five hours with regular basting. Note that the trotters will curl up slightly (as if they are still alive) during this period – this may be slightly alarming the first time you open the lid to baste them. Well, I was alarmed.
After five hours in a low oven, the casserole is removed and the mixture allowed to cool (time factor again) then the meat and skin is separated and diced, the vegetables strained and discarded, before the stock is left to chill in the fridge (again, plan you day carefully to allow for this), skimmed of fat and then reduced. Not complicated stuff – just a series of processes. I didn’t add all of the skin as the recipe suggests, opting for about two thirds as it seemed to be plenty.
While the stock reduces, more onions are fried in a pan and joined by the meat and stirred together before the rich coloured stock is added and everything is reduced to the consistency of a sticky, juicy and chunky pâté. At this point, the mixture can be cooled and stored for future reheating and this is what I did. Although I had a sneak preview first of course.
It was gloriously rich, almost overpoweringly so, but the finished dish features a sharp and creamy Sauce Gribiche and a fried quail’s egg to help counterbalance the richness so I wasn’t worried. The Sauce Gribiche was a recipe I’d used before so I didn’t use the same as Adam although the ingredients and flavours were the similar – hard-boiled egg, oil, vinegar, cornichons and capers, tarragon and parsley. Great with many things not just trotters.
I had got some quail’s eggs from the local butcher and, once the toast (my own sourdough of course) was on, the trotters reheating, we carefully cracked them into the pan and cooked for about one and a half minutes. The dish was assembled and looked, well, pretty damned impressive I must say. Almost professional standard in my own rather humble opinion. And it tasted utterly amazing with the richness being perfectly balanced out by the Gribiche and quail’s egg. A truly wonderful starter and one of the best dishes I have ever cooked.
So in conclusion, should you try this recipe out for yourself? Yes. Absolutely. Don’t be put off by the size of the ingredients list and the time involved – other things can be done while the trotters simmer and the advance preparation make it perfect if you’re planning a special dinner. Or just a greedy night in. Is it as good as the one in the restaurant? Well, that’s a matter of opinion isn’t it?
If you want to try it, here is the version that I used – it makes enough as a starter for 4-6 people.
- 2 shank pig’s trotters (check with the butcher if they need cleaning and soaking)
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 carrot
- 1/4 head of garlic
- 2 large white onions
- 1 stick celery
- 1 small leek
- 100ml vegetable oil
- 1/2 star anise
- 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
- 2 tsp honey
- 25ml red wine vinegar
- 500g smoked ham hock
- 1 litre Chicken Stock
- 2 quail’s eggs
For the Sauce Gribiche
- 1 large egg
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 100ml extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp red wine vinegar
- 5 cornichons – finely chopped
- 1 tsp capers – rinsed, dried, and finely chopped
- Handful each of parsley and tarragon leaves, finely chopped
Preheat your oven to Gas Mark 3/170⁰c.
Peel and roughly chop the carrots, garlic cloves, and one of the onions. Trim and roughly chop the celery and leek. Peel and finely dice the remaining onion and keep separate (to add to the cooked trotter mix later).
Heat half the oil in a large cast iron casserole and colour the roughly chopped vegetables with the spices over a high heat. Onceed brown, stir in the honey and boil for a few minutes and caramelise lightly, then add the vinegar and boil for a further 2 minutes until reduced by half.
Drain the trotters and place on top of the vegetable mix with the ham hock. Pour in the stock, put the lid on the pan and bring to the boil, before transferring to the oven and cook for 5 hours, basting the trotters from time to time and turning them over at hourly intervals (and not being too freaked out by the movements of the toes!)
Remove the casserole from the oven and leave to cool, then lift out the trotters and ham hock and set aside. Tip the contents of the pan into a fine sieve set over a bowl and let the stock strain through. Chill the stock in the fridge so that the fat rises and sets on the top.
Carefully remove the meat and skin from the trotters, then dice both the meat and skin and place in a bowl. Separate the meat from the skin and bones of the hock. Dice the meat and add to the bowl.
While you wait for the stock to chill you can make the Sauce Gribiche (or whenever you need it to serve) by placing the egg in a pan of boiling water and simmering for 7-10 mins until hard boiled. Remove and run under cold water until cool then peel the egg and separate the white from the yolk (which should be a solid ball), reserving the white for later. Mash the yolk with the mustard in a bowl until you have a smooth paste.
Slowly dribble in the oil (as if making mayonnaise) and mix the paste – it will look like it has split or turned into a horrific mess at first but keep mixing until it turns into a smooth, silky mixture.
Chop the egg white into small cubes and stir in to the yolk-mix, along with the chopped capers and cornichons, then finally add the chopped herbs. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary and keep refrigerated until required.
Skim the fat off the chilled stock, then transfer the stock to a pan and reduce by half over a high heat.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a frying pan until hot and fry the diced onions until caramelised. Mix with the diced meats, and stir in the reduced sauce. Season and keep warm until ready to serve – or cool and store in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 10 days.
Toast some sourdough bread and carefully fry the quail’s eggs for no more than one and a half minutes (any longer and you won’t get a runny yolk) then assemble your dish by spooning a generous amount of the trotter mix onto the toast, top with the fried egg and garnish with a dollop of Sauce Gribiche and a scattering of parsley.
Feel very pleased with yourself.
I’d like to thank Adam for not only creating this brilliant recipe but also giving me encouragement via Twitter as I made it!