Gelatin made from bone broth is one of the essential ingredients in my kitchen. I make mine using pork. Having raised pigs for years I’ve learned to appreciate the way pork gelatin enriches so many things. It adds body and hearty flavor to ragu, stews, anything braised. I use it to make my favorite head cheese and our Tuscan capofreddo (see my post), I add it to meat pies and pour it over a terrine or pâté as it cools. After deglazing with wine and maybe some vin santo or elderflower cordial  a spoonful of gelatin finishes the quick pan jus I make for a duck breast or a venison loin. Pork gelatin brings everything together and I shamelessly add it not just to pork but to chicken, duck, goose, pheasant, rabbit, hare, wild boar and venison.

Making pork gelatin really is no trouble. 

Have your butcher split the feet, you could also use the meatier pork hocks or a mixture of both. Cover with cold water and add some aromatics. Simmer slowly for many hours skimming and adding more water as needed until the pigs feet are very tender. Strain and cool the stock which should gel as it cools.

Below are a couple of old family recipes I use. Both produce pork gelatin but you can easily find lots more online. Here and here for starters or scroll to the end of this post for mine. Some suggest cooking the trotters in stock instead of water. For me that’s gilding the lily but suit yourself. And there’s one more thing, gelatin enriched stock not only adds richness and flavor, it’s also really good for you

pickled pigs feet recipe

In many European cultures pig’s feet were simmered with a few aromatics. The gelatainous cooking liquid was strained and reserved to make aspics or jellies and the cooked feet were preserved in vinegar to eat later. I inherited this recipe from my mother and I’m pretty sure she got it from hers.  I’ll admit I’m not very fond of a pickled pig’s foot. I make this for the gelatinous cooking liquid, pork gelatin.

Bill McKenna's recipe for Head Cheese

This is the recipe my father (Bill) used to make his delicious head cheese.  You can see it is pretty similar to my grandmother’s recipe.  The difference is instead of pickling the foot the meat is removed and added to the cooking liquid to make head cheese. How easy is that? I also add lots of minced parsley,  a little carrot and some lemon or orange zest.

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It appears Bill got his recipe for head cheese from Dot Howe.  I found both in a recipe book my mother kept. A google search reveals Dot Howe apparently sold her head cheese in the farmer’s market in Fredericton, New Brunswick where it was very popular. Maybe she still does? I have no idea when this clipping was published or in what paper. But I am sure it is more than 20 years ago,  probably much more. 

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The ingredients

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Have your butcher split the pig’s feet and cover them with cold water and the aromatics. I cook mine in a pressure cooker which is not only faster it produces a nice clear gelatin.

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Bring the pressure to high and then reduce it to low. Cook at low pressure for about 45 minutes before removing  from the heat. Let the pressure release naturally. The meat should be falling from the bone.
Remove the feet and the aromatics and strain the liquid through a fine sieve. Chill until the fat rises to the surface and the gelatin sets. Scrape off the fat and reserve. This is nice lard you can use this for baking or cooking. Reheat the gelatin, strain through a fine meshed sieve again and transfer to your chosen container or mold.  You can pickle the feet or pick the meat off them and make head cheese.

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For a darker, richer pork gelatin you can roast the pigs feet first in a hot oven (200 C) until they are dark and crispy. Strain off the fat and proceed as described above.

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The finished gelatin, made in the pressure cooker. It is really delicious!

Making pork gelatin

We made this batch on top of the stove, no pressure cooker. You can see it is cloudy.  Not as pretty but just as good. 

I freeze it in silpat molds

I freeze pork gelatin in silpat molds to add later to soup. stew, ragu and braises. I use it to make head cheese and other savory gelatins and to make a quick jus for pan roasted meats…….

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To make head cheese I’ll melt the gelatin and combine it with some chopped meat from the pigs’  feet, some carrots, parsley and lemon or orange  zest.

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I pour it  into  individual silpat molds, then chill to set

And here it is ready for service

Voila!  Head cheese ready for service

lunch after the market was some salumi, cheese and gelatina

Pork gelatin in one form or another is a speciality in many different cuisines.  Here is a salumi plate we enjoyed last year in Siracusa, Sicily with some salumi, cheese and gelatina

 Brutto Senese

And an important message from Brutto Senese….If you plan to make your own pork gelatin choose organic, naturally raised pork. That’s all for now folks!

Pork Gelatin
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Ingredients
  1. 4 pigs feet (split)
  2. 1 onion (quartered)
  3. 1 bay leaf
  4. 1 sage leaf
  5. ½ tsp peppercorns
Instructions
  1. Add all the ingredients to a pan. They should fit snugly.
  2. Add just enough cold water to cover.
  3. Simmer for several hours until the meat is falling from the bone and the cartilage is soft and gelatinous.
  4. Strain, reserving the feet if you wish to pickle them or make head cheese.
  5. Chill the liquid until it sets and then scrape the fat off. This is excellent lard you can use for baking or cooking.
  6. Use immediately or freeze in silpat molds or ice cube trays.
Notes
  1. If using a pressure cooker: Bring the pressure to high and then reduce it to low. Let it cook at low pressure for about 45 minutes and then remove it from the heat and let the pressure release naturally. The meat should be falling from the bone and the cartilage soft and gelatinous.
Adapted from or inspired by Dot Howe, Bill McKenna and Cora Hyatt
Adapted from or inspired by Dot Howe, Bill McKenna and Cora Hyatt
Susan McKenna Grant https://www.susanmckennagrant.com/
Posted By: Lynee December 23rd, 2014 @ 5:51 am

Can you slow cook meats in pork gelatin, until tender, in the oven?

Posted By: lapetraia January 2nd, 2015 @ 11:46 am

Hi Lynee,

Thanks for your comment. I almost always add a cube of pork gelatin to slow cooked braises, either stove top or in the oven but always along with other liquids – like stock, water or wine. It adds richness. I wouldn’t recommend using it on its own though,especially if the meat you are cooking has bones or cartilage as they will also release their own collagen as they cook making your liquid richer. If you did want to try it I’d recommend using a low oven temperature (below the boiling point) so the gelatin does not evaporate or reduce in the oven and become too dense.

Posted By: George Bendall March 23rd, 2015 @ 4:52 am

Love pig trotters and reading about gelatine I found all these new yummy recipes to try. We have always eaten them but never new of any other recipes so thanks a lot.

Posted By: Debra in Texas September 19th, 2016 @ 7:47 pm

Having just made up three lovely terrines of Cajun head cheese, I wondered about using up all this delicious leftover gelatin-rich stock. Into silicone molds it goes. Thank you! 🙂

Posted By: lapetraia September 22nd, 2016 @ 1:55 pm

Cajun head cheese sounds yummy!

Posted By: Joanne December 16th, 2017 @ 5:36 pm

Can head cheese be frozen?
Making some for my mom, she’s in a care home and eats so little I need to store it somehow.
Thank you in advance.

Posted By: lapetraia December 19th, 2017 @ 7:34 am

Hi Joanne,
Sorry to hear about your mom. I freeze my pork gelatin in ice cube trays or small silpat molds to add to everything including smoothies, soups, pasta dishes and stews. I use it almost daily in something. So no problem freezing the gelatin or the head cheese (as long as you haven’t added any raw veg to it like parsley or carrots etc)…

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