I like meat, but I like good quality meat first of all. If I do not have the access to good meat, I simply prefer to cook vegetarian dishes or eat fish.
My childhood occurred in the middle of the seventies and eighties. In communist Poland the food market was regulated of course. Meat, especially good meat, was practically not accessible in state’s owned shops. And in the eighties, during the ever-lasting crisis, I remember my parents and me spending hours in lines to buy meat of poor quality.
After I was born, the first food regulations and ration stamps were introduced in 1976. They concerned sugar supplies. Then in 1981 the Government introduced other numerous limitations: meat, butter, kasha, rice, flour, oil, soap, cigarettes, sweets, alcohol and gasoline were regulated and sold in exchange of ration stamps. But despite those regulations, shops were usually empty and lines in front of them were endless. At the same time the Government was increasing prices of food and other goods.
On the other hand, informal distribution channels existed and it was not especially difficult to buy meat, even on a food market (for example, Kleparz in Kraków), from individuals and farmers. As regards my family, we occasionally had some supplies from the countryside. Two or three families were buying a quarter or a half of a calf and shared its meat. And yet, we used to spend a lot of holidays in the countryside. We boarded at private cantinas maintained by local farmers, where meat was served on a daily basis.
All in all I can say that in our home we did not lack any meat, although to get it required much effort from my parents.
Today, more than 20 years after the change of political system, everything has changed. In general meat is accessible; however paradoxes still exist. The percentage of poor people in Polish society is still high. In some regions of the country it is difficult to buy veal, for example, as it simply is too expensive and people cannot afford it. On the other hand, production of “industrial” chicken developed so much that one can have difficulties finding chicken meat from the countryside. And, in general, you will not easily find meat from ecological farms in Poland. It is not so easy either to buy fresh duck, or goose (as far as I know most of the Polish goose production is exported, for example) - you will rather buy them frozen when you actually can find them in some shops. Further, lamb meat is not so common; during my last visit to Kraków I had an impression that it was easier to get lamb meat from New Zeland than from Poland. Still, even cheaper rabbits are not so easy to find. Moreover, traditional butcher shops tend to disappear.
That’s why since I have been living in France, I really appreciate to have access to such a large variety of meat. And moreover, fortunately, we have here Monsieur Bajon, located rue de l’Abbé-Grégoire, an excellent traditional butcher. He sells meat of excellent quality and you can always order anything you wish. He is not cheap, but not exceptionally expensive by Parisian standards, of course. On the other hand, as I already indicated, I prefer to eat good meat once in a while instead of bad meat every day.
Meat is not the only thing I like from animals. Besides brains, which I do not like, I really enjoy offal such as tripe, veal’s thymus, beef’s tongues, jelly preparations and other nasty things, even a liver!, although it is true that I do not eat them so often.
My favorite dish of that type is homemade jelly from pig trotters and veal.
It is a very old fashioned dish and time consuming to prepare. Jellies are popular in Poland, but those you can find in stores are made with processed gelatin and have a poor taste: they do not have this rich flavor obtained by a long cooking process which naturally retrieves the gelatin from the bones. Moreover, in stores you will rather find jellies with chicken meat produced in huge farms that I find quite tasteless.
In France, people used to eat jellies as well. This kind of preparation seems to be old fashioned, and is not so popular anymore. But some traditional and renowned traiteurs are still famous for them and have a faithful clientele who buys them. For example, I recently had a quick look at Gilles Verot, the famous traditional charcuterie located at the beginning of rue de Notre-Dame-des-Champs.
Giles Verot is well known in Paris, inter alia, thanks to his traditional “fromage de tête”, which simply is a meat jelly made with meat from the head of a pig. In France, Verot was elected champion in this field, and the information is proudly displayed on the front of his shop. For a certain time now, Verot’s charcuterie products can also be found in New York City, in the trendy Bar Boulud on Broadway.
I have tried this famous fromage de tête, as I love meats in jelly. It surprised me. Well, I found that both the meat (which was of good quality) and the jelly were actually quite salty, much more than I am used to. The texture was nice, firm as I like it, the presentation excellent. It was good… but all in all I must admit that I prefer the rustic jelly that my Mum prepares. The experiment with Verot’s famous fromage de tête brings me to the conclusion that despite our culinary experiments and good sentiments for foreign culinary traditions, we are very strongly attached to our individual tastes from childhood.
My mum masters the preparation of an excellent jelly made from pigs trotters cooked for hours with spices and veal meat. She does not use any extra gelatin, as the pigs trotters have a lot of natural one. Her recipe is full of meat, spices, with a slight garlic aftertaste, and has a funny texture that I like. It is firm enough but not too hard. Simply delicious. I am sharing here with you this recipe:
Veal in Pig’s Trotter Jelly
2 kg raw, non salted pig’s trotters (around 4 pieces), cut into halves
600 g good quality veal for stew
3 bay leaves
10 grains black pepper
10 grains allspice
1 small leek (around 150 g), only the white part, washed
1 medium carrot, peeled and washed
1 medium parsley root or parsnip, peeled and washed
¼ medium celery root (around 150 g), peeled and washed
1 big onion, peeled, cut into halves and slightly grilled (on
gas stove or on a frying pan)
8 large garlic cloves, peeled and mashed in a mortar
3-4 tablespoons chopped parsley
Large saucepan (5 liter capacity)
2 large bowls, around 2 liter capacity
Boil 2 liters of water, place pig’s trotters in a large saucepan and parboil them for 2 minutes.
Strain and throw the water away.
In the same saucepan, bring to a boil around 3 liters of water.
Add pig’s trotters.
They should be completely covered by water.
Add spices: pepper, bay leaves, allspice and onion.
Cook under cover over a very low flame for around 4 to 5 hours.
By the end of cooking, the trotters should to go into pieces.
After 3 hours of cooking, add veal meat cut into two equal slices.
Bring to a boil and lower the flame.
The meat has to be slightly covered by the broth (if necessary, add a bit of boiling water to cover it).
Cook nearly completely covered (leave a small space to evaporate the eventual excess of broth).
It is really important to control the amount of broth: if there is too much of it, you risk that the jelly will not set well; on the contrary, if the broth evaporates too much, you will not have enough broth and the jelly will be too hard.
After 4 hours of cooking, add vegetables: leek, carrot, parsley, celery and half of the garlic cloves.
Cook between 40 minutes and one hour, over a low flame and nearly completely covered, checking occasionally the volume of the broth and its thickness.
5 minutes before the end of cooking (the broth should be thick and the veal should be really soft), add remaining garlic; season with salt and pepper. Then turn the heat off and put aside.
Prepare two strainers: one, big to separate the meat and vegetable from the broth and the second one (the best is a chinois) to strain the broth and remove smaller solids.
Using the larger strainer, strain the broth. Only throw away the vegetables and put the rest aside, to cool down a bit. Reserve the broth!
Strain the broth again using the chinois. Throw away all leftovers. Put the broth aside. The purpose of the second straining is to ensure that the jelly with have a nice color and will remain transparent.
Then prepare the meat: cut the veal into very thin and small pieces, along fibers.
As regards pigs trotters, remove all bones and throw them away. Throw away the skin and the greasy parts as well. If there is any meat, add it to the veal meat. And if you like cartilage, you can add little bits of it cut into tiny pieces.
Depending how you want to serve the jelly, you can either distribute the meat equally into several tiny bowls or between 2 large bowls only. Whichever method you choose, always distribute equal quantities of meat into each bowl and pour an equal amount of broth over it. Mix delicately.
Once the liquid has cooled down, cover the bowls with a plastic film and place them in a fridge overnight, so the jelly can set.
On the next day, remove the bowls from the fridge and remove the excess of fat from the surface of the jelly (provided that you do not like it).
Before serving, unmold the jelly from the bowl and serve it cut into slices (once the jelly is solid it is rather easy to unmold and slice).
I serve this dish with quarters of fresh lemon, sprinkled with some fresh, chopped parsley. You can also serve it with a good wine or cider vinegar.
Consume within 3 days because jellies cannot be kept for a long time.