The platter of tiny feet

I don’t apologise for the pun although it actually isn’t mine — I wish it were. The first time I can find that it was used in a culinary context was from this piece: a wonderful illustrated masterclass guide to Pierre Hoffmann’s pigs trotters.

Pierre Koffmann's pigs trotters Pierre Koffmann’s pigs trotters

This piece, including his original recipe, comes from The Caterer, all the way back in 2000. It’s not been improved upon…

Pierre Koffmann’s stuffed pig’s trotter, pied de cochon farci aux morilles, has become a genuine classic recipe. In its original form it stands the test of time, but it’s also versatile enough to have inspired interpretations by some of the best chefs around. Marco Pierre White, Raymond Blanc and Jean-Christophe Novelli have all evolved their own versions starting from La Tante Claire’s.

Koffmann’s French approach to boning, stuffing and cooking pigs’ feet differs from the Italian zampone. They take both the hock and the foot to produce something akin to a large cooked sausage, but he uses the skin to obtain a gelatinous texture which has absorbed the concentrated flavours of a braising liquid. It’s an envelope containing the lightest of mousselines binding sweetbreads and morels.

On the plate, its impact derives from its simplicity. It’s not particularly difficult to prepare. Until you start totting up the cost of the Madeira, port and brandy it requires, it doesn’t even seem too expensive. What sets it apart from so many chefs’ creations that enjoy a season’s success before vanishing, never to be heard of again, is that the components combine so well together.

The principle of boning out, braising and stuffing the trotter hasn’t evolved as much as it might. It represents an unexploited vein of opportunity for chefs. David Everitt-Matthias, of Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham, turns the pig skin into cannelloni. Martin Blunos, of Lettonie in Bath, chops up the braised skin and puts it in raviolis. French bistros once covered trotters with egg and breadcrumbs, then fried them. Once you acquire the basic skill, the technique can be applied ad infinitum.

Other chefs have copied Koffmann’s recipe since its introduction almost two decades ago. It’s nearly always those of his peers who respect him most who have done so – the ones with two or three stars.

Boning 

With practice, this takes only a minute or so, but can be fiddly at the outset. Order the longer, hind trotters.

Lay the trotter on a work surface so that the hoof is lying flat on the board. Make a slit from the middle of the hoof to the cut end of the trotter. This exposes the metatarsal [foot] bones.

Starting at the cut end of the trotter, work the skin loose from around the bone without damaging the skin. The skin is still attached to the hoof.

Sever foot bones from the hoof. Cut through the cartilages on either side of the foot to expose the joint.

Take a cloth and grasp the hoof. Hold it so that the skin is pulled back from the joint.

Cut through the joint and remove the foot bone. The flap of skin is left attached to the hoof.

Before braising, singe away any traces of hair and bristles on the skin with a blowtorch.

Braising

Heat the oil in a large pan. Sauté the onion and carrot over a high flame until thoroughly caramelised. Add the celery and garlic. Pour over the port, Madeira, brandy and wine. Boil long enough to evaporate the alcohol (about five minutes). Add the stock, bay leaves, thyme and seasoning. Return to the boil. Put the trotters in the pan, cover, transfer to a low oven at 160ºC/gas mark 3 and leave to braise for three hours.

Take out of the oven. Transfer to the range and boil until the liquid has reduced and the trotters are a dark mahogany colour.

Take them out of the liquid and leave to cool.

Variations

Marco Pierre White’s homage to Pierre Koffmann’s recipe is very similar except that he fries the sweetbreads in olive oil until crisp and uses a little less mousseline. As part of the garnish he adds mushrooms to the sauce.

Jean-Christophe Novelli has probably tried more variations on the pig’s trotter theme than any other chef, but his most celebrated one includes a mixture of beef daube and black pudding folded into the mousseline.

David Everitt-Matthias braises the trotter minus the hoof and stuffs it with nettles, cèpes and snails.

The Australian food-writer and restaurateur Stephanie Alexander has a recipe for red cooked pigs’ trotters which uses a Chinese lacquer-like glaze.

The typical French provincial pied de cochon isn’t boned, but fastened to a strip of wood to keep it straight, then braised, covered in breadcrumbs and fried.

Pierre Koffmann

It’s hard to think of Pierre Koffmann as a Roux baby. Almost a quarter of a century [now closer to 40!] has passed since the one-time Waterside Inn chef left to open La Tante Claire in London’s Chelsea. During that time, while others were learning how to woo the media, he was at the “piano”, cooking the best cuisine bourgeoise in England.

In the process, he earned three Michelin stars, before losing one after moving from the cramped dining room and tiny kitchen in Royal Hospital Road to the Berkeley in 1998. Whereas Nico Ladenis and Marco Pierre White, his co-trois-étoiles, chose to hand back accolades so that they could retire at the highest level, he has continued to cook many of the dishes that earned him his reputation without any noticeable decline in standards.

His influence on British cooking has been almost as crucial as Albert and Michel Roux’s. Chefs like White and Raymond Blanc looked to him for guidance. It’s largely thanks to him that restaurant bread has improved, sauces have greater depth and concentration of flavour, and raw materials are chosen with more care.

Although specific dishes have outlasted food fashions as diverse as nouvelle cuisine and modern fusion, Koffmann has always been among the most creative chefs, because he works within his classic French repertoire. What he puts on his menu works – always.

About Salute The Pig

Charcuterie, smoking, curing, brining and all things porcine. Brought to you from deepest, darkest Cambs, England by Chris Bulow. In the smoker or in the kitchen….

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