Memories of Gascony
|Pierre, and former piggy friend|
Although Koffmann closed La Tante Claire in 2004, he's now happily back fronting Koffmanns, which serves well prepared bistro deluxe food and offers an excellent value table d'hote. (I thoroughly recommend it next time you have a family do - we managed to squeeze 18 for Sunday lunch and they were happy to do the cut-price set menu with no silly charges for room hire. For what was effectively a function in a five star Park Lane hotel that was bargainous)
Most importantly though, is that the menu still offers his utterly iconic pigs trotter.
I've had this dish a couple of times. First at La Tante Claire, where I remember it a lip-smackingly rich and meaty plate; wonderfully substantial for a posh restaurant. I had it again at Marco Pierre White's Oak Room - much they same apart from it was enlivened with a shower of finely diced truffles (which, to be honest, didn't add much). I may have also had a variation at Jean-Claude Novelli's Maison Novelli in Clerkenwell (I certainly remember a slab of his Cassoulet Terrine, which was winsome but slightly stodgy).
|The carte from Koffmann's glory days at La Tante Claire. Interesting it cost £28 at the *** Tante Claire back in the day, and costs exactly the same today at his Knightsbridge bistro deluxe.|
The dish itself is a fascinating mashup of rustic bourgeois cuisine and old-school haute. As far as I can tell it was invented by Koffmann himself (you'd be surprised by how many "signature dishes" were subtly swiped from elsewhere), combining the Gascon home cooking of his roots with the technical skills he learned under the Roux Brothers at Le Gavroche and the Waterside Inn.
The recipe itself is readily available. Koffmann has it up on his website here (scroll down the page). It was also published in a number of books including Memories of Gascony, and Richard Bramble's Star Chefs Cookbook. The best version I have is from an in-depth masterclass in trade rag Caterer and Hotelkeeper, which I've reproduced here (click on image for larger version):
The trotter skin itself is a peasant preparation - an old-school exercise in using every part of the beast. It is braised for three hours in a mix of stock and various forms of booze (an haute cuisine touch - I doubt many Gascon mamans have veal stock, brandy, port and madeira lying around) until it reaches a melting softness. This gelatinous texture is one of the unusual features - you sometimes find it in country cooking (a nice warm Tete de veau springs to mind), but is very unusual in high end kitchens (where generally the rule is "if in doubt puree and add more butter").
The trotter is then stuffed - not unprecedented (there's nothing I love more than a good sticky Zampone) - but certainly unorthodox. The stuffing however is straight out of Escoffier - a mousseline made with chicken breast enriched with cream, then studded with morels and chunks of veal sweetbread. It's the sort of thing you expect to find served in vol-au-vent cases, garnished with cocks combs and named after a aristocratic French dissolute.
After that it's quite simple. Wrap the stuffed trotter in foil, steam for fifteen minutes to reheat and serve with a nice bit of demi-glace and some spuds (pureed of course, with plenty of butter - this is a haute cuisine dish after all!).
While time consuming (as this meticulously-documented attempt shows), it isn't actually a massively technical dish (apart from boning the trotters). It's definitely something which could be attempted at home, and nowadays most of the ingredients are readily available (pigs trotters and sweetbreads are the only ones you will need to order ahead). If you want more tips Michel Roux gives a thorough demonstration in this video.
The many lives of the pigs trotter
As I implied at the start, this is a much-imitated dish. Not surprisingly, the recipe comes up in a number of places in addition to Koffmann's own books. Marco Pierre White's White Heat has an early version, and he pays due homage to its creator. In terms of overall method he sticks very closely to the original, apart from braisng his trotters in a much hotter oven (220c rather than 160c). He also he amps up the demi-glace with chicken legs, and adds lemon juice to balance the acidity. In the book he garnishes with morels and onions although as I said, he's not afraid to chuck in the odd truffle or two.
|Marco Pierre White's Braised Pig's Trotter 'Pierre Koffmann' (click for bigger version)|
|J-C Novelli. Brylcream|
Sometimes I also put in Toulouse sausage which has been poached, skinned, diced and then fried. I might even add some suateed wild mushrooms and foie gras or some confit ox tongue or Morteaux sausage. On another day I might add some pork from a pot au feu.I have no arguments with any of that!
|Novelli's Pigs Trotters 'Suivre Mon Humeur' (click for bigger version)|
Finally there is one other variation, which is probably less known.
In 1998 when La Tante Claire relocated from Chelsea to the Berkeley Hotel, Gordon Ramsay moved into its old site (where he holds three Michelin stars to this day). When he relaunched, Ramsay included a little hommage to Koffmann on his menu, with a starter of crispy pigs trotter and served with quails eggs and shaved truffle.
Happily the recipe is included in his 2000 volume A Chef For All Seasons. Although he doesn't credit him, the dish is recognisably Koffmann's. The trotters are braised, trimmed and stuffed with chicken mousseline, shredded gammon and sweetbreads. However rather than presented whole they are then chilled and sliced into medallions which are pan-fried at service.
It's a more obviously cheffy presentation - not only because of the truffle but also by opting to crisp up the trotter rather than having a more challenging gelatinous texture. However I can say from first-hand experience it is still absolutely delicious - as he says in the book, its basically a very posh bacon and eggs.
What's not to like?
|Gordon Ramsay's tarted-up pigs trotter dish (click for... oh well you know the drill)|
Afterword - a few comments on the books mentioned
Memories of Gascony by Pierre Koffmann: I've blogged about this one before so I'll keep it brief. Childhood memories and French country cooking, with knobs on.
The Star Chefs Cookbook by Richard Bramble: A series of pen-pictures of leading UK starred chefs (circa 1998) including Koffmann, Nico, MPW and their protegees. I don't normally recommend compilation books but the portraits are useful and include a lot of insightful information. Also most chefs feature their signature dishes so its a good way of getting hold of a bunch of signature dishes in one hit. Finally a number of chefs appear who hadn't written much elsewhere, e.g. Martin Blunos of Lettonie (who's signature scrambled duck egg with caviar is included), Aaron Patterson of Hambleton Hall and Philip Howard of The Square (until he published his recent cookbook this was the only place I knew which had his lamb and shallot puree recipe).
White Heat by Marco Pierre White: Another one I've written about before. In a nutshell, seminal, gripping but oh so very 1980s.
Your Place or Mine by Jean-Christophe Novelli: Chefbook from a restauranteur who briefly made it big in the 1990s before the recession did it in for his over-leveraged restaurant empire. Opening the book to research this post I'm actually surprised how well it has aged. It remains an accessible place for tarted-up French food; his most common schtick is to reimagine a traditional dish in a new form (e.g. his Cassoulet Terrine). Another interesting artifice is to take one basic ingredient (e.g. braised lamb shank, piperade, confit duck) and give two or three different recipes of varying levels of cheffiness and difficulty.
A Chef for All Seasons by Gordon Ramsay: One of Ramsay's better books, from when he was still working with amanuensis Roz Denny and before he started writing crappy TV tie-ins. In essence it documents the food at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay while he was gunning for his third star; a number of the recipes (e.g. the pigs trotter dish, the sauteed foie gras with peach chutney, the tarte tatin) I happily remember from that time. The best bit though isn't actually the recipes, its the introductory essays which detail what the restaurant gets up to in each season. Another book which has aged well.