Kocsonya. The mere mention of this savory gelatinous dish takes Hungarian food-lovers back to childhood memories of winter meals or Christmas dinners. If your grandmother made this dish for the holidays (or winter Sunday lunches), you either loved it or hated it. There’s pretty much no middle-ground, and there’s no denying the lingering memory of this shimmering meat jelly.
Dismissive attitudes towards kocsonya have lots to do with the ingredients used to make it. Traditionally, pork trotters, ears, snouts, and other undesirable pork part which most people wouldn’t dream of eating are slow-cooked together with vegetables and spices, creating a thick broth which is poured into a mold and left to cool into a firm, yet wobbling, aspic jelly. To lighten and diversify the taste, other meat (beef, chicken, and even fish) is also used these days, but pork definitely dominates the home-made versions. Depending on the cook, there may be just enough aspic to hold the solid ingredients together, or the aspic may predominate, with the juicy parts left suspended intermittently. Either way, it’s always served as the main meal or as part of the main meal, presented simply with a sprinkling of sweet paprika and plenty of white bread.
As with most cultural and culinary traditions in Hungary, kocsonya has a fun (if somewhat offbeat) story surrounding its origin. Legend holds that a bowl of kocsonya was cooling in a wine cellar in Miskolc, when a small frog mistook it for a small pond and got solidified in the jelly. The dish was later served to an unexpecting guest, who despite the shock didn’t lose his sense of humor and proclaimed, “my dear waitress, this kocsonya is blinking!”, which henceforth became the nationwide saying, “it blinks like the frog in the Miskolc kocsonya.” And for those of you wondering, the story has a happy ending as the kocsonya was reheated and the frog leaped away, while the guest received a new bowl of kocsonya (that presumably only had pig trotters and ears, no frog legs).
Kocsonya (Meat Jelly/Aspic)
- 3-4 pig trotters (feet), sliced in half
- 2 ham hocks/pork knuckles, cut into smaller pieces
- 300 grams fresh pork rind
- 2 Carrots, peeled
- 2 Onions, peeled
- Garlic (depending on taste, from 3 cloves to 2 heads), peeled
- 8-10 Whole peppercorns
- 2 pork ears (around 500 grams), optional
- Salt to taste
- Carefully trim and clean the meat and place all pieces in a large pot with all of the other ingredients (except for the salt). Pour just enough cold water to cover everything. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to low.
- Slowly simmer for 4-5 hours until all of the meat is tender, making sure to add water to replace the water that evaporates. All of the ingredients must be covered throughout the long cooking process. Add salt after about 2 hours.
- When done, skim the fat from the top and separate the meat and vegetables from the broth. You can discard the vegetables.
- Remove all of the bones and gristle from the meat.
- While the broth cools, portion out the ingredients into smaller bowls or molds. Once the broth is cool (but not solidified, after about 20-30 minutes), strain it through a cloth and pour it over the meat.
- Cover the mold/bowls with aluminum foil and let them stand overnight outside (if it's cold) or in the fridge.
- Serve the kocsonya cold with sweet paprika (optionally with tomato, parsley, and half a boiled egg) and thick slices of bread.