Some dishes are forever linked with their creator, or simply the chef who made them famous. Heston Blumenthal gets snail porridge, triple cooked chips, nitro poached tea and anything that involves an iPod. Raymond Blanc is known for his tomato risotto, Wylie Dufresne for his Chicken Balls and Ferran Adria for all manner of smokes, foams and spheres. What jumps into the mind of a serious gourmand when you say the name Pierre Koffman? Pigs trotter.
This dish is a masterclass in french cooking, taking excellent (and often underused) ingredients and creating something really wonderful. The premise is misleadingly simple – bone out a pigs trotter, braise it, stuff it with a chicken mousse loaded with morels and sweetbreads and serve with a rich sauce. Sounds good right!?
The first challenge is getting the ingredients – pigs trotters are ‘relatively’ common thanks to their use in sauces (as a natural source of gelatin) but they still need some tracking down. Thankfully Allen’s of Mayfair had a couple.
The next item on the list is veal sweetbread – like most offal these should be as fresh as possible, very few butchers carry them but they are delicious. Contrary to popular belief, they’re not brains or testicles, but rather the thymus gland. They need to be lightly poached before having the membranes removed. Allen’s came up trumps again, but they only had the lambs variety (bovine/ovine – what’s a ‘b’ between friends!?) If you’ve never tried them – I urge you to give it a go, they are incredibly tasty. Little balls of savoury goodness, just dust them with a little flour and pan fry, the results are magical.
Next up is the morel mushrooms. These generally appear from March to May and are a wonderful sign of spring – sadly i’m still in the depths of winter and the only place that could offer me some was Selfridges. Don’t ask about the price.
The final piece was veal stock – Knorr sadly don’t make veal stock cubes so I threw together my own using Modernist Cuisine at Home’s recipe, it’s very fast and the result is thick and tasty.
Boning out a pigs trotter is a culinary kilimanjaro. I’m quite happy gutting fish and skinning plaice but this is a whole new ball game. As we’re stuffing the trotters it’s very important not to puncture the skin. You have to carefully work the tip of your knife around the bones and thick sinews – it’s a real work out! The first trotter took thirty minutes, the second one was done in fifteen. Monsieur Koffman used to be able to do it in under a minute.
Once everything’s prepped the actual cooking is very easy – braise the trotter with some mirepoix, veal stock and port for a couple of hours. Meanwhile whip up a quick chicken mousse and fry off the morels and sweetbreads before mixing them through the mousse. Then simply stuff the trotters, roll in foil and chill in the fridge. When you’re ready to serve them simply pop them in the steamer and enjoy!
What does it taste like? Amazing. I served it with some simple olive oil mashed potato. The pork is achingly tender, the chicken mousse is smooth and subtle, the morels are rich and nutty and the sweetbreads add a meaty, savoury note. The sauce – made from reducing the cooking stock – is very rich and smooth. It’s a magnificent dish, easily one of the nicest i’ve ever tried. It’s sophisticated, balanced and honest.
When I do it again, i’ll order larger trotters so there’s more room for stuffing. I’ll also make sure I braise them at a much lower temperature so there’s less splitting. The only way I could improve on the dish is to copy the garnish Koffman uses in his restaurant – thin slices of pork crackling. A little crunch would be wonderful. Apple/parsnip crisps would accomplish the same goal.
Technically it’s been a great challenge, but the rewards are well worth it – if you fancy taking it on i’d really encourage you – get everything ordered well in advance, book out a whole day and invite some friends round for dinner. They’ll be stunned.