We just got our first snowfall and with that thoughts quickly turned towards soups, stews and pot roasts. When preparing these cold weather classics it’s always a good idea to have a batch of beef or chicken stock on hand, and a well-stocked freezer (see what I did there?) will have a couple litres at least of each. A good stock differs from broth in that broth is typically a liquid that meat has been cooked in, whereas stock is a more flavourful, complex and nutritious, made from simmering the butchered bones, cartilage, and connective tissues along with whatever meat is on the bones, usually for a number of hours. These compounds dissolve during the lengthy simmering process into gelatin and it is this component that makes a stock luxurious, shimmering and smooth when liquid and a savoury jelly when cold.
But even the most well-stocked freezers empty from time to time, and you may find yourself in a pinch, having to rely on store bought broth, or you are making a quick gravy, and, in either case you need a little something to ramp it up.
Believe it or not, one of the best ingredients to have handy in your freezer or refrigerator is homemade gelatin, and arguably the best source to make your gelatin is pig’s feet. Popping a prepared cube of gelatin in the pot of soup, or melting one into a saucepan while you are deglazing will elevate your dish from the mundane to the sublime.
“Gelatin is nothing more than a processed version of the structural protein collagen found in many animals, and in humans. Collagen makes up almost one-third of all the protein in the human body. Collagen is a fibrous protein that strengthens the body’s connective tissues, allowing them to be elastic so they can stretch without breaking. As you get older, your body makes less collagen, and individual collagen fibers become increasingly cross-linked with each other. You might experience this as stiff joints from less flexible tendons, or wrinkles due to loss of skin elasticity. Gelatin can come from the collagen in cow or pig bones, hides and connective tissues.”- diynatural
Not only does gelatin enhance your sauces, soups and gravies, but it is also super good for you and an amazing source of protein; a one ounce serving of clear processed gelatin has seven grams of protein and 30 calories. Gelatin contains no cholesterol, fat, sodium, nor does it contain any carbohydrates, minerals or vitamins. That being said, if you make gelatin at home, and add flavourings and leave in trace amounts of fat and meat, it will most likely posses some of that vitamin and mineral content.
To make gelatin from pigs feet, clean two pig’s feet by running under cold water and scraping.Place pig’s feet in a pot and just cover with water. Add aromatics like bay leaf, garlic or onion if you want a savoury gelatin. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a low simmer, skimming any bubbles. Keep on low heat all afternoon, up to five hours, adding water as needed. As the pigs feet break up, you can remove the bones and cartilage and break them into smaller pieces, returning them to the pot; the longer you let this simmer and the more it breaks up, the more collagen is released and your gelatin will be firmer and more concentrated.
After cooking, when the bones are pretty much cleaned and dislocated and most of the tissue has been dissolved, strain the liquid through a colander or strainer and discard the solids. There may be some meat here which you can save but most of the meat is on the hocks, not the feet. Strain the liquid again through cheesecloth. A 750 ml yogurt container works well. When it solidifies/gels, the fat will have risen to the top and can be easily removed. Save this for other applications, including making your own lard for savoury pastries like tourtiere.
The gelatin will keep in the fridge for a couple weeks. You can also freeze the gelatin: pour the liquid gelatin into silicon ice-cube moulds and freeze. You can leave them in the moulds or pop them out and place in a ziplock bag, just grab one when you need it for headcheese, aspics, charcuterie, terrines and pâtês.
Note that gelatin-even the store bought, brand name products like Jello- is made from animal products, so is not suitable for vegan and vegetarian diets. In our next post we will have a look at Agar and other vegan alternatives.