Cidre Bouché de Normandie

Cider trends have changed dramatically in the UK in the past 10-15 years. When I was a teenager I didn’t like beer, so I only used to drink cider. I quickly developed a taste for the local produce- Weston’s Cider. Still some of my favourite, their cider has a very full apple flavour, as well as quite a full body. The factory was only an hour’s drive away, and the cider was strong stuff at 7-8% alcohol, which meant for many enjoyable evenings. The local supermarket stocked a range of their cider, as well as Somerset cider, French cider and a few specialist ciders, as well as the usual range of Strongbow and the like. Real cider drinking was a pretty niche thing back then, most people would just drink beers, and cider was usually just drunk by guys.

The changes in cider attitudes came in much quicker than I expected. I remember Magners Cider first arriving- a reasonable, crisp, well structured cider, but lacking some of the maturer apple flavours you would get in more traditional brews. Easy to drink, Magners and its contemporaries proved very popular, being seen in many pubs and bars across the country, especially in the summer. Cider drinking started to become fashionable, more popular, and so the cider section of the supermarkets offered more and more choice. But with these ciders came the fruit ciders. Starting with the pear-flavoured Koppaberg (which used to be found in Ikea), in came drinks like the pear or red fruit Jacques- fruity, sweet, low alcohol, and popular with the ladies. They weren’t really ciders, at least from a flavour standpoint, but they were called ciders, perhaps because it was easier to call them that than anything else. Now, these alcoholic fruit juices like Rekorderlig are most of what is left. I went to the supermarket the other day, and the ciders I liked were not to be found, despite plenty of drink on the shelves. Funnily enough, once again, real cider drinking has become a niche thing.

So I’d like to introduce some of my favourite cider, Normandy cider. Normandy has a long history with apples and alcohol, notably producing Calvados, an apple brandy. Of course, Normandy cider being a French product, they have their own process to make it. The cider is made through a special process called keeving:

In keeving (from the French cuvée), calcium chloride and a special enzyme are added to the pressed apple juice, causing protein in the juice to precipitate to the top for removal. This reduces the amount of protein available to the yeast, starving it and therefore causing the cider to finish fermenting while sugar is still available. The result is a sweeter drink at a lower alcohol level but still retaining the full flavour of the apples, without dilution.

This extra flavour, combined with the fact that Normandy cider is usually sparking, makes the cider very special, in my opinion. The texture can be very similar to some champagne, structured, yeasty, and with a full mousse. A wonderful summer drink, bringing an apple-y freshness and maturity.

The one I really like is The Wine Society’s Cidre Bouché de Normandie. It’s not cheap at £5 for 750ml, but it’s definitely worth it- I’ve introduced a few keen cider drinkers to it and all have agreed wholeheartedly. If you want to get a sample of what the region can produce, this is a great place to start. Sainsbury’s do a French sparkling cider, which is reasonable, but nothing special. Otherwise it is pretty tough to find- Tesco have none, and nor do Waitrose (who, admittedly, have a good selection of British cider). Despite this, if you do see the cider around in specialist shops, do give it a go- it’s really worth a try.

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Romanian Food

A Romanian Aubergine salad, with some home-made bread.

I think a great way to find out about a country, or culture, is to look at their cuisine and gastronomical history. Certainly some of the big one-off food events have had a massive effect on societies, like the importing of sugar, chocolate and coffee (I even remember reading an article suggesting that coffee was responsible for the reformation), but these are not so common. Demographic changes in countries are often echoed by changes in cuisine, for example, you can see the immigration in the 1950s from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh by the huge rise in Indian-style cuisine- chicken tikka massala and butter chicken are both dishes that were invented in England. But it’s the traditional cuisine that can give good clues as to the traditional ways of life, and so the cultural values passed on through generations. Ways of preserving meat and fruit, use of spices, and any alcohol produced will all form the basis of the traditional cuisine- the French wine industry starting in Greek and Roman times, British jams and chutneys, or duck confit, for example. So when I visit another country, or have the opportunity to talk food with someone from a different country, I’ll always learn much more than just recipes.

So on a day when we had already made Dark Chocolate and Orange Eclairs and Rhubarb and Custard Sweets, we had some Romanian food to finish off the day: an aubergine salad (salată de vinete) and meatballs (chiftele) with mashed potato. The meatballs were flavoured strongly with dill, something you might not see in British cuisine, but it proved a intriguing combination. The aubergine salad was a bit like guacamole with aubergine instead of avocado, but piqued with onion- it reminded me a little of steak tartare in texture. Interestingly, though, both the aubergine salad and the meatballs are meant to have come from a Turkish influence, when the Ottomans ruled Romania, until 1878. The honey and nut combination found in baklava has also found its way into Romanian desserts.

Romanian wine is also of interest. Despite having a long history of viticulture, and being the world’s 9th biggest wine producer, they are seen perhaps by the rest of the world as an “up-and-coming” wine region. Whilst we didn’t have a Romanian bottle with the meal, I have had The Wine Society’s Prince Ştirbey Novac Sec, 2009 as part of an off-the-beaten-track tasting, which I enjoyed. Their reds particularly have a lot of potential and value for money, so look out for them where available.

So: an enjoyable day’s cooking, and a chance to learn and sample some of a foreign culture, and a great meal. Now all I have to do is find some great English food to return the favour…

Romanian Meatballs, Oregano Mash and Courgette

Aubergine salad (Salată de vinete)

Ingredients (makes a starter, with bread, for four):
2 medium aubergines
1 onion
~2tbsp mayonnaise
salt, pepper

Recipe:
1. Roast the aubergines for 1h-1h20min at 200°C. They should be turned every 20 minutes to ensure even cooking.
2. Drain the aubergines. After they cool down a bit, peel the skin off and let them drain by putting them on a tilted chopping board. They should drain for at least one hour. This bit is very important, to get all the bitter juice out.
3. Make the salad. Finely chop the eggplants and onion and mix them with mayonnaise, salt, and pepper to taste.

Romanian meatballs with Oregano Mashed Potato (Chiftele)

Ingredients (serves 4):
For the meatballs:
500g pork mince (you can also used mixed meats, for example, 250g pork and 250g beef)
1 onion
1 carrot
1 potato
1 egg
1 thick slice of bread
50ml milk
1tbsp dill
50g flour
200ml oil (for frying)
salt, pepper

For the mash:
6 medium-large potatoes
2tsp oregano
30g butter
50ml milk
salt and pepper

1. Make the meat mix. Chop the onion, grate the carrot and potato and add the dill. Soak the bread in the milk, then drain the bread and break into small pieces. Mix the meat well with all the chopped ingredients, egg, salt and pepper.
2. Form the meatballs. Traditionally in Romania they are a bit flat, not perfectly round. It is helpful to have your hands a bit wet while doing this, as the mixture can become quite sticky. Roll the meatballs in the flour.
3. Make the mash. Peel the potatoes, and chop them in half so that all the pieces are approximately the same size. Cook the potatoes for around 30 minutes until cooked, a knife should slide into a potato easily. Drain, then add the butter, milk, oregano and mash until homogeneous. Season to taste.
4. Cook the meatballs. Heat some oil in a heavy based pan to a medium temperature- the oil should be such that it reaches up to half the height of the meatballs- and add the meatballs. Cook for about ten minutes until done, then turn them on the other side once done. Cover the meatballs until ready to serve.

Book Review: Relish- The Extraordinary Life of a Victorian Celebrity Chef

How French food flourished since the 18th century, the development of some of history’s greatest chefs, and how these ideas were brought to Britain are exciting topics. Relish- The Extraordinary Life of a Victorian Celebrity Chef discusses the life of Alexis Soyer, who was born in Meaux-en-Brie in France, but came to fame for his culinary skills in England. After working for some of the upper class of Britain, he came to work for the Reform Club in London, where he began to build his reputation. He established many entrepreneurial and charitable projects, including looking to modernise and improve the quality of food in soup kitchens, publishing several cookbooks aiming to make cooking more accessible for the masses, and creating a culinary experience house for The Great Exhibition. He worked with manufacturers to develop new type of gas cookers for the domestic kitchen, the earliest forms of what we have today, and created portable versions of these gas cookers for the troops in the Crimean War, where he went to pioneer their use and assist the army. Not without the celebrity that his position afforded, he had various love affairs and variable personal relationships which add spice to the history. These relationships, and his considerable contribution to gastronomy, make his life a truly interesting one to read about.

Relish is a well written book, especially well researched, and easy to read- perhaps not surprising, since the subject matter itself can easily keep interest. There is good insight into culture and society at the time, particularly into the limitations of cooking equipment and how culinary teams worked, and the view on The Great Exhibition from a chef’s perspective is very interesting. You don’t need to know much about culinary history to appreciate it either. A thoroughly enjoyable read, well recommended. 8/10.

Making Rhubarb and Custard Sweets

Rhubarb and Custard Sweets, ironically, contain neither rhubarb nor custard. Their history is based on a rhubarb and vanilla custard pudding that was popular, then when candy making became popular due to the importing of sugar, this pudding was made into a hard sweet. Ever since they have been popular- they’ve always been my favourite sweet (and believe me I ate many of them as a child)- and you’ll find these in most traditional British sweet shops. So, if rhubarb and custards don’t have rhubarb or custard, what do they have?

Tartaric acid, possibly better known as E334, is one of the key ingredients in rhubarb and custard sweets. You won’t find it in supermarkets, but is is easy to get hold of online. It occurs naturally in some fruits, particularly bananas and grapes, the latter suggesting why tartaric acid is one of the main acids in wine. You may have notice small crystals on the corks of wine bottles from time to time- these are tartrate crystals forming, totally harmless and not a fault with the wine. So what does tartaric acid do? Basically, I would say it is ‘pure sour’. I dipped my finger into the tub to taste a little bit before making the sweets- my goodness!- even worse than the acid from pinot grigio, if that is possible. I imagine the tartaric acid is used in many other sour sweets as well, as the taste was quite familiar. A lot of fun to have tried a little of the acid, and key taste in the sweets, but a little will clearly go a long way in making the rhubarb and custards.

On to the sweet-making process. In some sense, making hard candy like this is similar to making nougat (my post there has a few more details on the process). You start off with a sugar syrup, heat it up until the water concentration decreases to the level which will give you the texture you want, then cool it. The cooling process itself is quite interesting. Often the candy is aerated, to help stability and create a chewier candy- this video is a nice example. In nougat, the air comes in the meringue, but with sweets, it is usually pulling, or working the sugar that provides this aeration and change in texture. This aeration makes the key difference in texture between the ‘rhubarb’ and the ‘custard’. Both start from the same syrup, but the custard is the part which is aerated, giving it a very different texture than the harder, brittler rhubarb part. Interestingly as well:

When the high-boiled sweet is cooled, it is in a glassy state or it is a liquid with extremely high viscosity and non-crystalline in nature. The high viscosity of the doctoring agent [liquid glucose here] slows or stops the migration of sucrose molecules and thus interferes with the process of recrystallization. Although highboiled sweets appear solid, they are, in fact, supercooled, non-crystalline liquids, which are so far below their softening or melting point that they assume solid properties without crystallizing.

So how well would these processes work in the domestic kitchen? Well, making the sugar syrup itself is no problem, but when I tried it, manipulating the syrup was more tricky. First of all it will be no surprise to hear it was very very sticky, so moving it from place to place, especially when it was spread out over a large surface, was no easy task. But most of the difficulty came in keeping it easy to aerate. To work the candy at home, you pull and twist the ball of warm sugar. For this, you’ve got a balance- either the sugar is hot, and easy to aerate, but hard to handle with your hands, or cold, and hard to aerate as it is tough to work, but easier to handle. Either way, I got a whole load of blisters trying to aerate it, and I’m not sure whether it was the heat, the toughness, or both. It is easy to see why they industrialised this.

One Saturday, when a friend was over to do some cooking, we decided to have a go at making rhubarb and custards. Despite the above difficulties, we were very pleased with the results, the sweets tasting very much like the ones bought from the store, and the real vanilla adding a nice touch. The texture was good as well, very hard and sticky as they cooled. The rhubarb strand and the custard strand had no problem sticking together and staying that way. A lot of fun to have made, but given the state of my hands afterwards, I might stick to the bought version next time!

Rhubarb and Custard Sweets

The recipe here is based on one from The Home-Made Sweet Shop. You’ll need some kit for this- a pastry scraper being the main one, it will be very useful in handling the hot sugar syrup. The book suggests using a marble slab to put the sugar syrup on, but I used a baking tray covered with a silicone baking sheet. I would imagine that regular baking paper wouldn’t work here, likely tearing at several points. A sugar thermometer is also key. This recipe will make a jar’s worth of rhubarb and custards- mine filled a small coffee jar, apart from the, er, casualties along the way.

Ingredients:
450g caster sugar
150ml water
1.5ml cream of tartar
15ml liquid glucose
2tsp tartaric acid
1 vanilla pod
pink food colouring

Recipe:
1. Make the sugar syrup.
Prepare an ice/water bath- big enough to put a saucepan in. Add the sugar, water, cream of tartar and liquid glucose into a pan and heat gently until the sugar is dissolved. Turn up the heat, and boil until the soft crack stage, 143°C. Add the tartaric acid, stir in, and place the pan into your ice/water bath. Pour the half syrup onto a marble slab/non-stick baking tray, then put the saucepan with the other half in back onto a low heat on the hob (just to keep the syrup liquid).
2. Work the sugar syrup. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod, and pour over the sugar syrup on the marble slab/non-stick baking tray. Using the pastry scraper, fold the edges into the centre of the sugar syrup. Preheat the oven to 120°C. When cool enough to handle, lift the syrup off the marble slab/non-stick baking tray, and work it into a cylindrical shape. Take the ends of the syrup strand, pull them together to form a ‘U’ shape, twist the two strands together, and work into a cylindrical shape again. Continue this for around 15-20 minutes, placing the strand into the oven if it gets too tough. When you are done, put the strand back in the oven until you need it.

The yellow strand. It was long.

3. Assemble the sweets. Working quickly, pour the rest of the sugar syrup onto the marble slab/non-stick baking tray. Add 2-3 drops pink food colouring, and, when the syrup is cool enough, shape into a long cylindrical strand. This syrup will be quite gloopy, so you might want to leave it to cool a bit more than you think you need to. Take the yellow syrup from the oven, and shape into a cylindrical strand of the same length as the pink strand. Tease the two strands together. Oil some scissors and cut the strands into the right sized pieces. Dust with caster sugar.

Dark Chocolate and Orange Eclairs

Eclairs, to me, are just cool. The ultimate tea-time treat, delicate, chocolatey, airy, creamy delights. When, as a kid, my family used to buy selections of pastries, I would always go for the eclair, despite there being bigger, creamier pastries available- something about their size and self-contained-ness always appealed to me. They seem designed specifically with afternoon tea in mind- light and pretty, and if you’ve made them yourself, it shows you’ve put a bit of effort in for the occasion. Mastering their construction was something I had long meant to figure out how to do, but somehow I’d never got around to it.

So one Saturday, when a friend was coming over to do some cooking, I thought it would be fun to finally try making some eclairs. I knew they wouldn’t be particularly easy, requiring one or two specialist bits of equipment (see recipe), and parts of the method would be quite fiddly. The basic recipe I’ve started from is based on one from BBC Good Food, but I thought I would give the eclairs an orange twist, by making the custard filling into an orange custard filling. Also, I thought it would be fun to switch to plain chocolate for the top of the eclairs, to pair with the new orange flavour in an interesting way. I wouldn’t use high cocoa plain chocolate here- otherwise the eclair will become too bitter- but something with a bit more cocoa than milk chocolate is nice. Putting your own stamp on a recipe is half the fun of cooking, but you could try many different combinations like passionfruit and dark chocolate, lemon and white chocolate, or mint and dark chocolate, for a few suggestions.

My first time making eclairs was also my first experience making choux pastry. Choux pastry produces a very different end product than puff pastry, for example, making profiteroles or gougeres. In that sense I knew what to expect in the end product- that fluffy, light, airy texture- but had no idea how to make it, or what might happen in the cooking process. What really got me was how thin and sloppy the pastry became after adding the eggs. Piping it onto the baking sheets was like piping a thick sauce, I just ended up with long, thin pools of pastry. Putting them in the oven, I knew something special needed to happen, otherwise I would have to start again, perhaps with a different recipe. But special it was. According to Wikipedia, “Instead of a raising agent it employs high moisture content to create steam during cooking to puff the pastry”, and indeed.in the oven the pastry rose a huge amount, forming eclair shapes, and had a nice hollow inside, a bit like pitta bread. They were easy to pipe cream filling into, had the texture you would expect, and made me wonder what I ever worried about.

A very enjoyable afternoon- a great time with a friend, new cooking techniques explored, and learning how to make eclairs (which I will definitely do again). Oh, and the dozen or so eclairs left over…

Dark Chocolate and Orange Eclairs

There are a few bits of kit which are key here. You’ll need a piping bag with a 1cm nozzle to pipe the choux pastry onto the baking sheets- having two baking sheets would be helpful here, as the piping procedure is quite messy and you’ll want to work quickly. Similarly, you’ll need another piping bag- I found a piping syringe useful here- to get the cream into the choux buns. I used another piping syringe for the drizzed icing, but I imagine that a spoon or knife would work fine too. To paint the chocolate onto the tops, you’ll also need a pastry brush.

Ingredients (makes around 20):
For the choux pastry:
140g flour
pinch caster sugar
125ml milk
100g butter
4 eggs

For the orange custard filling:
300ml milk
50g caster sugar
2 egg yolks
1 vanilla pod
4tsp plain flour
4tsp cornflour
600ml double cream
500ml orange juice

For the topping:
50g plain chocolate
40g icing sugar
Red food colouring
Yellow food colouring

Recipe:
1. Make the custard filling. Scrape the vanilla pods into a pan, then pour the milk on top, to spread out the seeds. Add the vanilla pods to the pan as well.  Slowly bring to a boil. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until creamy, then stir in the flour and cornflour, whisking until a smooth paste. Remove the vanilla pods, and add the paste to the hot milk, whisking constantly. Cook over a high heat for about 5 minutes until thick, whisking constantly. Don’t worry if it goes a little lumpy, just keep whisking. Pour onto a dinner plate, cover with clingfilm, and chill. Boil the orange juice down until it reaches 50ml. Whip the cream until it reaches firm peaks. Once the custard has chilled, whisk with the orange juice until smooth, then fold into the whipped cream. Chill until you need it later.

2. Make the choux pastry. Heat the oven to 200°C. Sift the flour, sugar and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Put the milk, butter and 125ml water in a pan, and heat gently until the butter melts completely. Bring slowly to a boil, and immediately take off the heat and add the flour mix. Stir with a wooden spoon until the dough is smooth and homogeneous. Spread the pastry onto a dinner plate to cool. Once cool (so that you don’t cook the eggs at all when you add them), stir in the eggs one by one.

3. Pipe and cook the buns. Cut two large sheets of baking paper. On each, draw two sets of lines with a 10cm gap- these are your piping lines. Put the choux pastry into a piping bag with 1cm nozzle, and pipe eclair shapes in between the guidelines- working quickly here will help you. Place the buns into the oven, for 25 minutes, immediately turning the oven down to 180°C. Put the cooked buns onto a cooling rack until chilled.

4. Assemble the eclairs. Put the custard cream into a piping syringe, and stick the syringe into one end of the choux bun. Pipe the cream into the bun- you might need to use multiple piping points to get cream into the entire bun. Melt some chocolate in the microwave, keeping an eye on it to make sure that it doesn’t burn. Brush the melted chocolate onto the top of the eclairs. Mix the icing sugar with 5ml of water and a drop of the red food colouring. Mix, then keep adding the yellow food colouring and mixing until it achieves the orange colour you want. Drizzle over the eclairs, and chill until you want to eat them.

Food and Wine Pairings II: Wines for a Wedding

Picking wines for a wedding is an interesting problem. Instead of picking what might be the ‘best’ wine; you’re looking to pick the best value-for-money wine, or the wine that works best with the food. What’s more- you want everybody to like the wine- so if the wine isn’t easy to drink, it’s not the wine you want. There are other things to think about as well, like whether or not their are facilities to refrigerate the whites, the glasses you’ll be drinking out of, and, of course, the budget you have. So when I was asked to pick some wines for a wedding I’m going to this summer, it sounded like a fun challenge, but a different challenge than I normally have with wine.

When I got sent the wedding menu, I had a few ideas of what would work, and picked up of a couple of bottles I liked. But when the main people in the wedding tried them, they weren’t particularly keen, for whatever reason. So with the opportunties to meet up and try wines diminishing, I decided that I would cook the meal they would eat on the day, get four whites and four reds that I thought could work, and try them out together with the food. We went for a ‘blind’ tasting- not to try and guess the wines- but to make sure there were no biases of choice towards which wine worked the best. We planned the meal for a Saturday lunchtime, so that those involved could drive here and have enough time to sober up to drive back.

The wines I sourced were from The Wine Society– their wines are great value for money, so this would be where we could get the most for the budget. The whites wines I picked were a German Ruppetsburg, a Chilean Zarcillo Gewürztraminer, a white Bordeaux, and a Cortese from Piedmont in Italy. The reds, a similar variety, were a Beaujolais (France), a Chilean Zarcillo Pinot Noir, a Pays d’Oc from near the Languedoc in France, and a great value Bricco Rosso from Italy. Quite a range, but hopefully they would bring out different characteristics in the food.

First Course: Melon

We only had the white wines with the melon (as the reds would have all been a pairing disaster). The melon, along with the orange and grapefruit slices, provided a nice fresh, juicy, delicate flavour with some acidity. As such, the two more acidic wines- the sauvignon dominated Bordeaux and the Cortese- created a dish with too much acidity to be pleasant. The gewurztraminer, I thought, was a little to cloying for the delicate melon flavour, not allowing it to develop properly. The Ruppetsburg, though, complemented the melon well with floral notes, low alcohol, and only a little acidity.

Winner: Ruppetsburg

Second Course: Chicken with a white wine sauce and asparagus

The chicken with white wine sauce posed a little more challenge with the fat in the sauce and meat. The asparagus, though, would provide an astrigency which can be quite punishing with a too acidic wine- which is what happened to the Bordeaux, the herbaciousness of the sauvignon blanc in it not helping things. Interestingly the Ruppetsburg seemed not to have enough body to hold up to the chicken, and the Piedmont, while it was fine, didn’t really add much to the flavours in the meal. The sweetness and body of the gewurztraminer worked well with the sauce and proved popular, especially among the women.

Winner: Gewurztraminer

Overall, we decided on the Gewurztraminer for the white. It wasn’t my choice- I voted for the Ruppetsburg- but it was a good value, easy drinking, very accessible wine, which I imagine a lot of people will like. What was interesting was the amount of variation in preference of the whites- we almost had all different variations of our first and second favourite whites. I guess you are never going to get wines everybody likes, but just how different the attitudes towards each were was surprising.

Pudding: Blueberry Cheesecake

We ended up having the reds with the pudding, as that would be the best pairing (and as the whites took a while to get through). This time, though, there was a lot of consensus- the Languedoc wine winning out on everyone’s rating- soft, fruity, and well balanced. I liked the Bricco Rosso more than others, but given it’s structure and complexity, it would have worked poorly in the context. Also soft and fruity, the Beaujolais was popular too. The pinot noir, though, was very closed and oaky, quite disappointing.

Winner: Languedoc

Overall, a lot of fun to do, and a nice way for those involved to make sure they’ll have wines they like. It was very interesting to see the variation in people’s wine choices- same wine with the same food- really showing how you won’t always get the right wine for everybody. And of course, it was a lot of fun finishing off the leftovers.

Cooking Pigs’ Trotters

In science, it’s sometimes said that negative results are still results. You might do an experiment that you think should work, and if it doesn’t, there is still much to learn from why it went wrong, and why what you thought should happen didn’t happen. You better understand the problem you are trying to solve, and, as a result, what you try next time hopefully will work better.

In cooking, you’re going to have less desirable results from time to time as well. I know I’ve had sauces and custards which I’ve overcooked, causing the egg to scramble, which is game over for the sauce. I’ve tried to make beef wellington with entirely the wrong joint of meat, which was quite unpleasant to eat, being fatty and veiny. Foams I’ve made haven’t stabilised, just becoming a watery mess. I could go on and on. It’s disheartening when something you have put time and effort into doesn’t turn out as you would like, especially if you have guests, and it can put you off attempting a new recipe in the future as opposed to something tried and tested. You can only take solace in the fact that it happens to everyone, learn something from it, and try again.

When a friend and I bought some pig trotters from Borough Market in London recently, we didn’t know how they would turn out. I’d had pig trotter terrine before at Le Pied du Cochon in Paris, which was very nice, and I’m not unfamiliar with cooking non-standard cuts of pork, so didn’t feel particularly daunted about cooking the trotters. Pigs’ trotters are often used in making terrines as they have a high gelatin content, which indicated to us that there would not be too much meat on each trotter either. But the trotters we bought were only £1 each, and really quite large, at least 500g per trotter, so we decided not to get two trotters each, despite this. But we felt good about how the meal would turn out, splashing out on a nice bottle of wine, some girolles (mushrooms) for a sauce, new potatoes, and some white asparagus that we found.

Given the trotters were about 30cm long, we didn’t have a pan big enough pan to boil them in stock, as we’d planned to, so we filled a roasting tray with stock instead, half submerging the trotters in stock. In cooking we then turned regularly instead, to make sure the cooking was homogeneous, which worked well as a substitute method. They were then softened for a few hours, and served. The first thing we learned was that the trotters changed shape dramatically- presumably the main tendon in the trotter shortens to pull the foot in- giving the trotters close to an ‘L’ shape, so next time I would cut the tendons before cooking to prevent this, and give a more aesthetically pleasing trotter (if that is possible). The second thing we found was how soft and fatty the trotter was. Not pleasant to eat straight away with the method we had cooked it, but if we’d decided to roast it or fry it a little after boiling it, the fat would have crisped up nicely and been very tasty. Lastly we saw our fears confirmed- there really wasn’t very much meat on each one, not really enough for a portion each- so we were glad there were plenty potatoes around. Combine these with the fact that I let the sauce thicken too much, and the mushroomy flavour wasn’t as present at it could have been, meant the results of the meal were underwhelming.

What we had was definitely edible, but hardly what we had envisioned. Fortunately the pudding was great, the wine was great, and the company was great. Clearly though, there was a lot to learn from the experience, and hopefully, when I attempt trotters next time, they’ll be memorable in a different way.

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