It’s not difficult to get Eastern European rye bread or a jar of Polish sauerkraut in the UK nowadays, with most supermarkets having separate sections set up to feed the needs. It is much trickier, however, to come across ingredients for special dishes that are usually frowned upon in the UK. And I am not talking about kangaroo testicles or creepy crawlies here (I wouldn’t touch those with a barge), but a simple dish involving pork.
When a colleague of mine recently waved a smart phone under my nose with a photo showing a notice board at his local pet store ‘Pig’s Ears for Sale’, I thought to myself: right, it’s time to bring some real food into office, for lunch.
Lithuanians have always loved a nice rich meal made of various pork cuts, not just bacon, ham and cutlet. When growing up in Lithuania I have been exposed to (and fed with) pig tongue, liver, kidney, pig’s head, trotters, ears, tail, intestines (a key ingredient for Vėdarai) and many other things that my mom wouldn’t go too deep into explaining. However, the main method of handling a slaughtered pig in any village was to use every single usable thing, and waste nothing.
So munching on pig’s ears or going through a plate of cooked tongue with mayonnaise was a treat. Don’t get me wrong, the better cuts were also just as nice, but the bits that the pig didn’t have plenty of (i.e. tail) were an extreme delicacy.
Going back to what I can get in the UK, I must say it isn’t much. Only a year or so ago I noticed the upcoming trend in using alternative/cheaper cuts in cooking. The credit crunch has forced many supermarkets to look into possibilities of stocking pig’s cheeks and feet, and the media has started giving some positive press coverage.
The following quotes sound like music to my ears:
Kenny Roberts of Elite Meats in Lincoln: “The customers (…) are not grannies rediscovering their youths, but the young-to-middle aged. Some are even boiling up trotters to make gelatine. And oxtail is definitely fashionable again, as is haggis.”
The Argus: “In a bizarre turn around, the credit-crunch cuts are actually becoming fashionable. Trendy La Fourchette, a French restaurant on Western Road, Brighton, is selling ’stuffed pork feet’ for £14.50 per dish.”
Adrian Jones, chef at the Salisbury gastropub in Fulham: “People used to turn their noses up at pigs’ trotters, and asparagus used to be a poor man’s food, but now it’s a rich man’s food.”
Where I got the supplies:
I’ve been using Farmer’s Choice for meat, poultry and fish supplies for a while now, and imagine my happy shriek as I discovered they sell pigs trotters! At £2.05 a kilo, I got two packs (3 trotters in each) and went hunting for the traditional Lithuanian Šaltiena recipe. After consulting the internet and my mom, I came up with what seemed like the best choice.
My Pigs Trotters and Chicken Jelly / Aspic Recipe
3 pigs trotters
2 free range chicken thighs, with bone
2 sticks of celery cut in halves
2 carrots, peeled, halved
1 onion, peeled but not sliced
3 bay leaves
Some rosemary, grated nutmeg, salt, pepper
Other spices that happen to look lonely on the spice rack
I filled a large cooking pot with cold water and brought it to boil. Added the trotters, let it come to the boil again and boiled for 5 minutes, skimming the froth and discarding it.
I then poured the contents into the colander and filled the pot with fresh water. Added the trotters when it was boiling, added all the spices and vegetables, and cooked for 2 hours on low heat. I then added the chicken and cooked for another hour.
When trotters started to fall apart, and the chicken was fully cooked, I removed all meat from trotters, removed bones, sliced the chicken into fine pieces, chopped everything and put it all aside.
I then took out two pieces of carrot and sliced it into tiny pieces for decorating the dish. The liquid had to be sieved several times to get rid of all impurities.
My favourite shape of this dish is a tiny bowl, so I used Chinese soup bowls for chilling the aspic. I placed a few pieces of carrot in each bowl, then added the meat, and poured the smooth hot liquid. Left to cool, and then moved the bowls to the fridge to stand.
The fat that forms at the top should be scraped off and discarded. For some reason my broth wasn’t that fatty, so there was not much to scrape off, however I remember my gran’s šaltiena could have a layer of up to 1 cm of fat.
This is a great cold snack or lunch option, and is traditionally served with horseradish and vinegar. Rye bread is also lovely, so are hot boiled potatoes.
I know what I am having for lunch tomorrow!