Wednesday, 18 January 2012 20:25

Kholodets (with the stress on the last syllable) is a popular traditional Russian cold dish consisting of meat cooked in small amount of water, chilled until the broth congeals and then served sliced with either sharp mustard or horseradish sauce.

It’s basically meat jelly, but before you say “bleh” and close this page, let me tell you that this dish really impressed one veeeery conservative Italian chef, who would eat only Italian food. At first, I could hardly persuade him to take a little bite and after could hardly stop him from eating it all. He said that its simplicity and clean taste reminded him of Italian cooking.

Well gelatinized broth is as important in kholodets as the meat. You can always add commercial gelatin, but traditionally beef and pork feet and other parts rich in collagen are used to create thick broth that will set after chilling. These parts are not available at regular supermarkets, but Asian stores like Ranch 99 and others always have them in variety and abundance.

My favorite kholodets is made of a combination of beef and pork, but you can use only beef or only pork. You can also add poultry or make kholodets only using poultry, for instance, chicken or turkey. Just make sure to buy lots of wings – this is where you will find lots of collagen.

You will need:

  • 2 lb pork feet, rinsed (usually come cleaned and cut)
  • 2 lb beef feet, rinsed (usually come cleaned and cut)
  • 2 lb pork shoulder (Boston butt or picnic)
  • 2 lb beef chuck
  • About 14-16 cups of cold water
  • 1 large onions, quartered, you may leave skin on for the darker color of broth
  • 1 medium carrot (optional)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 Tbsp black peppercorns
  • Several parsley stems (optional)
  • Salt, to taste
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

Optional garnishes:

  • Parsley leaves, rinsed and pat dried
  • 6-7 quail eggs, hard boiled, peeled and thinly sliced

Rinse the meats and put in a stock pot. Fill with water (it usually just covers the meat by about two inches or so) and slowly bring to a boil. Skim the foam as it forms on the surface. When the stock starts to boil, add the onion, carrot, bay leaves and peppercorns (I put the last two in a tea infuser ball and hang it on the side of the pot). Tie the parsley stems, if using, together with a string, immerse into the stock and tie the upper end to the pot handle. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting so that only slight movement is seen on the surface (this is needed to make the broth glass clear) and cook about 6-7 hours.

 When the kholodets is cooked, you will need to degrease it. If you skip this step, the fat will gather on the surface of chilled kholodets and spoil its beautiful appearance. There are two ways to remove fat from broth, cold and hot. You can put the pot into the refrigerator overnight and let the kholodets set with a layer of fat forming on top. The next day you can scrape the fat off and reheat the kholodets before plating. This method gives the best, though somewhat delayed, results.

Or you can remove the fat from the hot/warm broth. There are several ways to do this. You can skim it with a spoon or a very fine strainer. It is easier to skim if you move the pot to the side of a burner and bring it to a light simmer. The broth will bubble on the side which is directly above the burner and all the fat will gather on the opposite side. Or you can take out the meat and aromatics and strain the broth through a very fine sieve or a strainer lined with a paper towel or coffee filter. For the latter, the broth should be warm rather than hot.

Take out the meat from the broth and let it cool down until comfortable to handle with bare or gloved hands. Cut the meat into small pieces, toss with chopped garlic and put in about ¾-1 inch layer in dishes no less than 1¾-2 inch deep. I prefer to use rectangular, square or oval baking dishes or glass containers.

Strain the broth to a clean pot and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and careful ladle the broth on top of the meat so that it is at least ½ inch above the meat. Cover with a lid, plastic wrap or foil and leave on the counter until the kholodets reaches room temperature. Then transfer to the refrigerator and let set for at least 5-6 hours, better overnight. Slice and serve with mustard, horseradish and, of course, vodka.

Garnishes are not traditional, but they make kholodets look more festive and add to the flavor as well. They also add to the labor. When pouring the broth over the meat, don’t make its layer above the meat too high. Say, about ¼ inch or so. Put into refrigerator and chill until set. Take out and arrange garnishes on top. Pour some more broth (at room temperature) on top, but not too much otherwise the garnishes will start to float. Put the dishes again to the refrigerator and let the broth set around the garnishes. After that, take out and pour in the final portion of the broth. Chill until set.

You can also plate kholodets in individual ramekins. For better presentation, start with garnishes, then put the meat and broth on top. Before serving, dip each bowl in hot water for several seconds and turn upside down over a serving plate and lightly shake to release kholodets.