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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