In his bestselling cookbook Nose to Tail Eating, celebrated British chef Fergus Henderson says, "if you're going to kill the animal it seems only polite to use the whole thing”. But beyond the odd steak and kidney pie or chicken liver pate, New Zealanders tend to shy away from unfamiliar meat...bits.
But a few weeks ago, I noticed a venison, bacon and pig trotter pie on the menu at Siostra, a neighbourhood restaurant in Auckland’s Grey Lynn. I liked the sound of that pie which is basically a very fancy meat pie, with bacon added, and then a third type of meat in there, for good measure
On Instagram, chef David Bach had also posted a photo of a large, intriguing jar of “trotter gear”: large chunks of pig’s trotter meat floating languidly in a mushroom-brown liquid. It didn’t look gross. It looked like it would be full-flavoured and slightly sticky, like gravy. Suddenly, pig’s trotters seemed very edible. (And let’s be honest: we’ve all probably eaten a few random animal parts in a meat pie at some point.)
Bach says he followed Henderson’s trotter gear recipe, which the New York Times has described as “project cooking at its most exciting and slightly ridiculous”. Basically, you blanch or scald the trotters clean, simmer them in chicken stock, wine and mirepoix for a few hours, until they go wobbly, then shred the meat off the bones and stir the skin, meat and fat back through the strained stock. “You use it to give dishes more body and flavour wherever it’s needed,” Bach says. “I thought I could use it to contrast with the incredible leanness of venison.”
If you’re keen to work some pig’s trotters into your home cooking, Bach suggests looking out for trotters at Chinese supermarkets. (Pig’s trotters are found in lots of world cuisines, including Chinese).
“Trotter fat will rise to the top of the jar and act as a preserving seal, so theoretically it will keep for a long time,” Bach says. “You could easily make a jar of trotter gear and leave it in your fridge and add a couple of spoons to anything you’re doing. You could toss it in anything slow-cooked, like casseroles, if you’re using leaner cuts of meat. Or soups -- if you were making a minestrone and wanted to give it a lot more body. Or you could throw it through bolognese sauces. It works really well when you put it through vegetarian things like curried lentils or creamy borlotti beans, where you’re using water to make the sauce. You can add a lot of flavour that way.”
And you can and should tailor your trotter gear to your palate. “If you were going to make trotter gear that you were going to use in a lot of Asian cooking, you would throw in some cloves, star anise, cinnamon. Or if you were going to keep it in European food, put in bay leaf, rosemary, thyme, things like that,” Bach suggests. “Go crazy.”