Saturday, February 19, 2011

Classics: Ragout de Pattes (avec des boulettes)

In keeping with the "you ate _what_?!?!" theme started with the lard post, I figured I'd add this one to the pot, figuratively speaking.

A few Christmases ago, B's mom made a traditional Quebecois dish for dinner. I'd learned just enough French by then to pick up on the important word in the name... "pattes". If you don't know it already, let me give you a hint. Your pet cat has pattes... your pet dog has pattes. Your pet hamster has pattes. Your pet snake does not. "Pattes" generally refers to paws or feet of animals. In the case of this dish, the pattes of pigs, or ham hocks. So Ragout de Pattes avec boulettes is quite simply Feet Stew. With meatballs. And it's really good. Though I must admit it sounds much more elegant in French.

I had a little trouble with it the first year as I couldn't stop accusing B's mom of having fed me feet, but I had to admit it was really tasty. Now that's the only thing I go for at the Christmas dinner each year. However every time I can't keep myself from proclaiming it "tastes like feet". Joking aside, this really is a delicious dish. For some I know ham hocks may be an unusual ingredient, but give it a try, especially now in the winter months. It is rich, satisfying and you can freak your friends out by offering them some feet stew ;)

Ragout de Pattes (avec des boulettes)
2 pork hocks
2 yellow onions, chopped with skin on
3 ribs of celery
2-3 bay leaves
1 tbsp dried savory
1 tbsp dried thyme
pinch ground cloves
pinch ground cinnamon
cold water to cover
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
Boulettes:
1 lb ground pork
1 tsp garlic powder
pinch each of ground cloves, ground cinnamon, savory and thyme
1 slice of bread, crumbled
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup flour
*secret ingredient: apple cider vinegar

Throw first 8 ingredients in a large stock pot and cover with cold water. Place on high heat and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and let cook for 2-3 hours. While the hocks are cooking, prepare the meatballs (boulettes) by mixing all ingredients together and rolling into balls. I chose to make mine small (about the diameter of a quarter) so they would cook quickly and would be bite-sized in the stew. Brown the meatballs in a skillet over medium heat but do not overcook, it is ok if they are still a bit pink in the middle. Set aside.
Once the hocks are cooked through and meat is tender, remove the meat from the bone and gristle and set aside with the boulettes. Strain the resulting stock. Rinse out the stock pot and return to the stove on medium heat. Add the butter and allow to melt, then add the flour and whisk well to combine. Should be smooth and free of all lumps. Continue cooking and whisking constantly until mixture begins to brown. You can leave it light in color or let it darken, as you prefer. The darker the color the stronger the taste and darker the color of the finished stew. Be careful not to let it burn. Once at the desired color, start adding the stock by ladle-fulls, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Add meatballs and pork into the mix and continue stirring (you want to switch to a wooden spoon at this point), adding stock a little at a time until stew is on the thin side. Bring heat down to a gentle simmer and allow to cook, stirring occasionally, for at least 30 minutes, longer if possible. The meat will be moist and fall-apart tender and the sauce will thicken... you can add more stock or flour to achieve the right thickness (I had a good 2 cups of stock left, so don't feel the need to use it all; the leftovers can be saved/frozen for another dish). Test for seasoning and adjust as needed. At the end of the cooking, i threw in a splash of apple cider vinegar and found it made a huge difference, brightening up the flavors and cutting a bit of the heaviness of the dish.
Serve with mashed potatoes. Freezes well, so go ahead and make a big batch ;)

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