The No. 1 reason I started this blog was to
encourage force myself to learn, recreate and preserve my family’s recipes. My dad is Armenian, my mother is Kazakh and I was born in Russia, so our culinary docket is diverse, at times complicated and certainly overflowing.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, and under the watchful eye of my parents, I made my first attempt at Russian holodets — a meat jelly that’s accomplished by simmering cow hooves and shanks for a very, very long time — until the tendons fall off and the broth becomes thick and gelatinous. Did I lose you there? Stick with me, because both the holodets and the soup itself (Armenian khash) is absolutely delicious, and — bonus points! — potentially the world’s best hangover cure.
Khash is a dish that possesses humble beginnings. Traditionally, cows’ feet were the cheapest part of the animal to sell, so lower-class Armenians would purchase it in bulk and boil it down into a filling and nutritious soup. It’s eaten first thing in the morning because it had the sustenance to keep workers full in the fields all day, but over the years, generations have realized it doubles as a hangover cure that can nip that bud at the beginning of the day. Similar to Vietnamese pho, it’s usually topped with generous heapings of sliced onion, herbs, garlic, salt, pepper and vinegar.
Holodets has similarly humble beginnings, but these days you’d be hard-pressed to find a traditional Soviet holiday table without it. When the bones are boiled for an extended period of time, the connective tissue is broken down and that collagen lends itself to the gelatinous nature of holodets — or, meat jelly. And while it’s perhaps the easiest part of the process, the garnishes on top are equally as crucial of a step. Soviet moms, aunts and grandmas basically try to stunt all over each other every New Year’s Eve with the most intricate design.
If you’re now feeling particularly adventurous — or if you’re craving the taste of home! — the recipe is below.
- 10 pounds cow hooves
- Water to cover
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Garnishes of choice: Herbs, garlic, hard-boiled eggs, vinegar, etc.
- Thoroughly rinse and clean cow hooves under cold water.
- Place in large stock pot, cover completely with water and bring to a boil.
- Once foam -- this is fat -- has accumulated at the top of the pot, skim the fat and reduce heat to lowest setting.
- Cover the pot, but only partially (this is important!). Allow bones to boil for as long as possible -- preferably overnight, but at least 10 hours. Skim fat occasionally as necessary.
- Using a slotted spoon, remove bones from the broth and set aside. Strain broth at least twice to remove any small bits.
- Trim any jelly and meat off of the bones until they're completely bare. Throw away bones; return meat and jelly to the broth.
- At this point, you have Armenian khash. You can garnish with anything you like and enjoy it as a soup.
- To make Russian holodets, pour broth mixture into separate bowls. Garnish however you'd like, and refrigerate until mixture has set into a jelly. Enjoy in slices with fresh bread, spicy mustard and a shot of vodka.
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