One afternoon, my former student supervisor called me into his office. He looked at me and said, “Go home. Go out. I don’t care. It’s Friday and I don’t want you working late today.” That said, he removed what would be considered a dinosaur of a Blackberry today, plastic holster and all, and placed it into his secure file cabinet. As I left, I heard a drawer close, a padlock attached, and a workstation powered down.
Many years later, I’ve been issued a Blackberry for work purposes. And, I find myself thinking back to that incident, especially during the holidays. Especially when my handset, set to vibrate, notifies me of new messages, sometimes vibrating itself across the ledge I set it down on.
Happily this past Christmas, it was just my boss, sending me a snapshot of his first attempt at a dish that carries significant cultural meaning to French Canadians living in Quebec, ragoût de pattes de cochon. I recently returned the favour, forwarding a photo of my latest attempt.
Yes, the tradition we tend to hear about about involves tourtière. If you live anywhere near Quebec, it is often the “du Lac-Saint-Jean” variety, slow-cooked deep-dish meat pies made with potatoes and game meat, never ground, sometimes cubed, sometimes pulled. And, like tourtière, ragoût de pattes de cochon is a dish that likely evolved out of necessity.
It is December, with several long winter months to follow. How do you feed a family when all the prime cuts from your livestock have been either consumed, sold, or, depending on which history books you read, confiscated? There is limited fuel. The cellar is stocked with root vegetables and anything else leftover from the fall harvest. There are pickles and preserves in the pantry.
You make a one pot meal, concentrating what nutrition you can find, especially protein. So, meat pie…meat, root veg, pastry. Or, a rich meat sauce, slowly cooked next to hearth, maybe atop a wood fired stove.
I’ve attempted ragoût de pattes de cochon before, employing a recipe I found that substituted turkey wings for pigs’ feet and what would turn out to be too much “browned” flour, flour roasted in an oven.
Armed with another approach and the understanding that pattes de cochon refer more to pork shanks (so hocks) than trotters, I attempted the dish again. Though, I am told adding pigs’ feet to the initial stock makes the resultant dish even richer, contributing even more gelatin.
Yes, I adore seemingly complex dishes that require significant investments of time to make, but the effort is usually very well rewarded.
What You’ll Need:
- Roast Chicken Stock
- One broiler/fryer chicken or four chicken legs (or 8 drumsticks/thighs)
- 7 cups of water (preferably filtered)
- kosher salt to season
- high smoke point oil to coat like vegetable oil or canola
- 2-3 bay leaves
- 1 tsp of black peppercorns
- 3 whole pork hocks or 6 halves (approximately 3 kg or 6 1/2 lbs)
- Dry Cure
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon (2-3″ stick)
- 1/2 tsp whole cloves
- 2 pinches of nutmeg
- Caramelized Onions
- 2-3 medium onions (one large onion)
- oil to sautee with
- kosher salt to taste
- oil, butter, or lard for searing (lard works best)
- Browned Flour
- 4-6 tbsp of flour
- 2-3 tbsp of rice or corn starch
- 1 cup dry bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 medium onion
- 1 egg
- 0.454 kg (1 lb) of ground pork
- 0.454 kg (1 lb) of ground veal
- 0.454 kg (1 lb) of ground beef
- kosher salt and black pepper to taste
Prep (best started two days before serving):
- Place the chicken and pork hocks on the counter and let them come to room temperature.
- Meanwhile place 2 tsp kosher salt, 1/2 tsp black peppercorns, 2-3″ stick of cinnamon, 1/2 tsp whole cloves, and 2 pinches of nutmeg into a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder and process everything into powder. Set the dry cure aside.
- Thoroughly dry the pork hocks with a tea towel or paper towel.
- Coat the exposed flesh of the pork hocks with the dry cure.
- Place them in a tray, cover with plastic wrap, and place the tray in the fridge. Let the pork hocks dry cure overnight, 6 hours minimum.
- Section the chicken into pieces if not using legs or leg portions.
- Pat dry the chicken and season the skin liberally with kosher salt.
- Coat the chicken with a very thin film of oil.
- Roast the chicken on a tray under a broiler until browned on all sides. Rotate the chicken as it browns. Do not walk away from the oven.
- Place the chicken into a large pot or the crock of a slow cooker that can accommodate both the browned chicken portions and the 7 cups of water. The roasting is similar to searing meat for stew. It adds colour and complex flavour to your long cooked dishes.
- Add 4 of the 7 cups of water to the pot or crock.
- Use the remaining 3 cups of water to deglaze the roasting tray. Add a cm (1/2″) of water to the pan and place it back under the broiler for 3-5 minutes. Remove the pan and water and carefully scrape at the bits left behind by browning the chicken portions.
- Add the deglazing liquid (and any remaining water), bay leaves, and black peppercorns to the pot or crock.
- Bring the contents of the pot to a simmer on medium heat.
- Then, lower the heat to low and simmer gently for 4-6 hours.
- If using a slow cooker, cook on low for 6 hours.
- Let the resultant stock cool.
- Strain the liquid and discard the solids.
- To defat, either skim with a spoon or simply place the stock, covered, in the fridge overnight. The fat will rise to the top and form a solid disk you can easily remove.
More Prep (best started the day before serving):
- Reheat the defatted roast chicken stock and bring it to a simmer for 5 minutes.
- Taste for seasoning. Adjust, dilute, or reduce as necessary. Just make sure you have at 6 cups of liquid remaining!
- Slice or “French” the onion.
- Caramelize the onion in a metal-bottomed pan on medium-low heat. This will take 20-30 minutes.
- Once well coloured, add the onions and chicken stock to a large pot or crock of a slow cooker that can also accommodate the pork hocks. The onions will add colour and caramel sweetness.
- Remove the pork hocks from the fridge.
- Wipe off the cure with either a tea towel or paper towels.
- Sear the cured ends of the pork hocks in a metal bottomed pan set to medium heat with oil, butter, or lard. Work in batches as necessary. Because the exposed flesh of the pork hocks have been cured, they will colour quickly. You want them to develop a crust, but not burn.
- Place the seared hocks in the pot or crock with the caramelized onions and chicken stock.
- Bring the contents of the pot to a simmer on medium heat.
- Then lower the heat to low and simmer gently for 2-4 hours. Essentially, we are braising the pork hocks until the meat falls off the bone.
- If using a slow cooker, cook on low for 4 hours.
- Strain the liquid and reserve the pork hocks and stock separately.
- Again, to defat the stock, either skim with a spoon or place it, covered, in the fridge overnight. The fat will rise to the top and form a solid disk you can remove. If you employ the latter method, cover the pock hocks and place them in the fridge as well.
- Prepare meatballs with the breadcrumbs, milk, onion, egg, and ground meat as per the Joel Robuchon method: 1) mix the breadcrumbs (soaked in milk for 30 minutes), onion (finely chopped and sauteed in melted butter), egg, and ground meat together; 2) form meatballs; 3) brown the meatballs in melted butter or lard (with a tsp of oil to raise the smoke point) in a metal bottomed pan set to low heat until coloured on each side.
- Set the meatballs aside.
- Preheat an oven to 350F with the rack set to the middle rungs.
- Reheat what is now a double stock in a metal bottomed pot set to medium heat and bring it to a simmer for 5 minutes.
- Reheat the pork hocks either directly in the stock or employ a pot with a steamer attachment. “Steam” the pork hocks back to tenderness in the steamer inset while the double stock is simmering.
- Sprinkle the flour on a baking tray and roast in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour. It will brown. Do NOT let it burn. The intention for this very traditional ingredient is to cook out the “floury” taste.
- Remove the meat from the pork hocks, discarding the skin, bone, and sinews. Either chop or pull the morsels.
- Sift together the browned flour and starch. The starch contributes a different thickening component that will keep the gravy from hardening as quickly as it cools. There is a reason most flour thickened gravy recipes recommend serving “thinner” than desired. The gravy will thicken to the appropriate consistency at the table. Adding refined starch is another safeguard.
- Thicken the double stock to a desired consistency with the flour mixture over low heat, stirring often. You do not have to use all of the browned flour.
- Bring the mixture to a simmer.
- Add the meatballs to the mixture to reheat.
If you need to store your chopped or pulled pork hock meat, put it into a container and ladle over the stock. Contained this way, the meat will keep another day in the fridge.
[Also known as head cheese.]
Sliced, the “pork hock brawn” dissolves very nicely in the stock.
Serve hot with boiled potatoes and carrots and a side of braised red cabbage and/or slivered brussel sprouts sauteed in bacon drippings.
The bright cabbage and earthy brussel sprouts offer a contrast to the luscious velvety gravy, rich in lip smacking gelatin and tasting of slow cooked meat and nuttiness from the browned flour. Paired with the meatballs, ragoût de pattes de cochon is an extravagant feast, made from very lowly ingredients.
Tags: Charcutepalooza, Christmas, crock pot, offal, pork hock, ragout de pattes de cochons, slow cooked