Lock, stock and one boiling trotter: embarking on an offal odyssey

Food

Offal is cheap, nutritious, less wasteful and, if done properly, can be absolutely delicious. As a society we have shifted away from the cheaper cuts, instead favouring much more expensive but more photogenic foods. However, as Britain oozes towards Brexit like a snail towards a hungry Frenchman, it appears that we may have to once again embrace livers and lights, anuses and eyelids. In this country when we do serve offal it is usually submerged in gravy, which is delicious, but a bit 1950s post-War austerity.

Despite being regarded as rationing food, in some ways offal has become fashionable once again, with sweetbreads (AKA tasty glands) featuring upon many an expensive menu, though people still turn their noses up at other pieces of offal. I intend to jump upon the meaty bandwagon (not a euphemism) and show that offal is not just something you bung into a pot and boil for three hours. In order to do this, my first offal recipe involves boiling a pig’s foot in a pot for three hours in order to create a sublime stock.

Stock is an integral component of risottos, soups and sauces, and I use stock cubes because they’re convenient. However, the impulsive purchase of a large stockpot over the summer motivated me to attempt to make my own stock, which I could then freeze and use to bathe myself in at a later date, like the offal-adoring freak of nature I am. I used fairly standard ingredients: three chicken carcasses (£1 from the Covered Market), two leeks which had been split down the middle and washed to remove any dirt trapped within, two onions cut in half with the root trimmed (though don’t bother peeling them), two washed sticks of celery snapped in half and three small carrots, washed and halved. These are the sorts of things you may well have lying around, though the omission of one or two of them doesn’t really matter, nor do the quantities. However, this recipe would not have been truly offal (yes, I will be using that line frequently) if I had not included the cut beloved by greedy chefs and reviled by my mother: the mighty trotter. Upon this offal I shall build my stock.

For 75p, it really was a bargain, though I can understand why people would be put off. The toes have hairs on them, the nails protrude menacingly. It also smells of a farmyard, and by that I mean that it smells exactly how you would expect a pig’s foot, which spent most of its time when attached to the pig walking through mud and excrement, to smell. However, you have to look beyond its appearance and accept that having it in your kitchen may make you look like a psychopath – you must consider its composition. The foot is a mine of gelatine, or, to be precise, of my favourite fibrous protein, collagen, which when boiled becomes gelatine. What the trotter adds to the stock is viscosity, making it silkier and stickier, whereas the chicken carcasses add most of the flavour.

The toes have hairs on them, the nails protrude menacingly. It also smells of a farmyard, and by that I mean that it smells exactly how you would expect a pig’s foot, which spent most of its time when attached to the pig walking through mud and excrement, to smell.

Once you have prepared your vegeables, preheat an oven (it doesn’t have to be your own oven, anyone’s will do) to 200°C and start beating your meat with a cleaver (or a heavy knife, or a rolling pin, or a book). This step may seem to just be an excuse for me to use a cleaver, and that is partially true, but it also creates surface area, which equals more Maillard reactions (the browning of roasted things), which equals more flavour. Obviously, once you’ve finished whacking the bones with various utensils, clean everything thoroughly, and wipe your work surface down.

Put the vegetables and meat into a roasting tin and then into the oven for approximately twenty minutes, but with no seasoning. This will give you adequate time to question your life choices and whether you should be doing some actual work. Once nicely browned, place everything in the largest saucepan you have and cover with cold water – do not put the water in first, Archimedes did not bathe in vain so that your stockpot would overflow. Place a lid on and bring up to the boil. This may be a good time to confess that I put too much water in, meaning that it took longer to heat up, and that my electricity bill is now rather high, so I would suggest for the quantities ingredients I used, perhaps four or five litres of water, though adjust for your own quantities.

This next step is especially optional, as is the whole recipe really, but the bottom of the roasting tin will have some brown residue at the bottom, or ‘fond’, which you can deglaze by putting the tin onto a high heat and pouring in some liquid. It could be water, it could be beer, though I used a glass of very cheap white wine which was so undrinkable that I, a man who will eat the jelly from a pig’s toes, could not stomach it. Scrape up the fond and pour into the stockpot. Once your terrifying concoction is bubbling away, only partially cover the pot with a lid, and let simmer for the duration of the film Gladiator, and a bit more (about three hours). If you have an extractor fan, turn it on, unless you want meaty steam condensing on your walls, which is what happened to me.

The only sound which breaks the tranquillity is that of bubbling stock, and also a party downstairs, but they haven’t invited you because you spend your evenings boiling offal so that you can write a sarcastic article.

You may be worried about the pig hairs and pig toenails being boiled, but you really shouldn’t, as the keratin released will be good for your hair (I made that up). You may see some scum defy the stock-hierarchy and rise to the top, but it’s very easy to skim off and discard. It’s important to check on the pot just to make sure that it isn’t boiling over, or that all of the water hasn’t evaporated. At no point during the cooking should you add any salt, as the loss of water over the course of the three hours means that you could end up with meaty brine, rather than stock. In fact, I wouldn’t season the stock itself at all, as the amount of salt I would add depends upon what dish I’m using it in. 

Three hours have passed. It’s one in the morning. Gladiator was excellent, and you may watch it again that night. The only sound which breaks the tranquillity is that of bubbling stock, and also a party downstairs, but they haven’t invited you because you spend your evenings boiling offal so that you can write a sarcastic article. Turn the heat off, ignore how much boiling something for that long has added to your bills, place a lid on the pot and allow to cool down. The following morning I returned to see whether the gelatine had transformed my stock into meat jelly (that recipe will be coming later in the term, I bet you’re excited), but it had not.

Now came the tasting, and it was pretty good: the roasting stage had made the flavour a bit more, well, roasted, and it had a nice texture, so overall, I was pleased, particularly given that I had largely guessed the quantities. I then ladled the stock through a sieve into a container for freezing. The beauty of this stock, if you can call some boiled bones beautiful, is that the trotter really makes a difference to the finished product, though the predominant flavour is chicken. When you need some just break a lump from the iceberg, melt in a pan, and add to soups, broths, or a roast, seeming as we are edging closer to winter and find ourselves hurtling towards the gravy. 

Image credit: Louis Thomas