Sunday, December 25, 2016

The story of the Christmas Feet Stew (and a recipe)

Ragoût de pattes, or as it's known in our house, Feet Stew, has become one of my favorite holiday dishes. It is a very traditional Quebec dish for this time of year and the first time I had it was one of the first Christmases I spent at my boyfriend's parents' house. My family not being from Quebec, I hadn't really experienced any of the Quebec Christmas traditions yet, so when his mother handed me a plate of 'ragoût de pattes', I smiled and took it and then leaned over to my boyfriend and whispered "Did she just say this was feet stew?!?" In French, 'pattes' generally refers to an animal's feet or paws... so I translated the name of the dish literally. In culinary terms, however, 'pattes' would more accurately translate to hocks or shanks, so 'ragoût de pattes' is actually a pork hock stew with meatballs. 

I tried it and found it was delicious, but of course all I could think was: 

And so the tradition of Feet Stew was born ;) I have since learned the recipe and make a batch of it every year in the winter and it is absolutely delicious. Below is the recipe I have cobbled together... I had to take some liberties as the first source was the boyfriend's grandmother's recipe which was rather vague, being one of those "pinch of this" and "handful of that" kind of recipes. Combined with a few other versions of the recipe and my own trial and error, I have arrived at my version of: 

Christmas Feet Stew
(or Ragoût de pattes de cochon)

4 large pork hocks, fresh or frozen and thawed
1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped with the skin left on
4 bay leaves
2 tbsp dried savory and dried thyme
1 tsp each ground cloves and ground cinnamon
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
2 slices dry/stale bread, crust removed
Enough milk to moisten the bread, approximately 1/4 cup
2 lb ground pork
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp each ground cloves and cinnamon
salt and pepper to taste (approx 1 to 2 tsp of each)
1/4 cup flour
1 egg, beaten 
Boiled potatoes to serve

In a large pot put the hocks, onion and spices and cover with water. Bring to a simmer and let cook until meat falls off the bones, usually about 60-90 minutes. Remove the hocks to a cutting board or platter and using a fork, remove the meat and set aside. Strain the liquid, throwing out the solids and reserve the broth. This step can be done in advance and the meat and broth kept in the fridge. 

Pour the milk over the dry bread and allow it to soak up all of the liquid; use a fork to mash up the bread to a loose paste. Add it to a bowl along with the ground pork, onion, garlic, spices, salt and pepper, flour and the beaten egg. Mix thoroughly and form into bite-size meatballs. Using the same pot that you cooked the hocks in, brown the meatballs (in batches if needed) and set aside.

In the same pot, add in the 2 tbsp butter and melt over medium heat, add the 2 tbsp flour and stir to form a paste. Keep stirring until the flour is golden brown then whisk in the reserved broth. Whisk briskly until all flour clumps are gone, then add in the pork hock meat and the meatballs, bring it up to a boil then reduce down to a simmer and cook for 30-45 minutes. At this point you can adjust the seasoning to taste, and you can adjust the thickness of the sauce by adding flour to thicken or liquid to thin. Serve with boiled or mashed potatoes.

Notes: Sometimes my broth comes out a bit lacking in flavor so I add a little beef or chicken bouillon to punch it up a little. If you find the flavor or the finished stew a little flat but don't want to add salt, I sometimes add a dash of sherry or apple cider vinegar at the end to brighten it up. The above recipe serves 4 to 6 and freezes and reheats very well. 

Whether your day involves feet stew or not, I wish you a very happy holiday and all the best in the new year! :)