Kocsonya. The mere mention of this savory gelatinous dish takes Hungarian food-lovers back to their childhood memories and Hungarian Christmas dinners past. If your grandmother made this dish for the holidays (or Sunday lunches during wintertime), you either loved it or hated it. But there’s no denying the lingering memory of this shimmering meat jelly.
Ambivelent attitudes towards kocsonya have a lot to do with 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 varieties. 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 in it at intervals. 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 landmarks, cultural traditions, and even gastronomic delights 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) Recipe
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 products and place 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, remove the undesirable fat from the top and separate the meat and vegetables from the broth. The vegetables will no longer be needed.
- Remove all of the bones and gristle from the meat. While the broth cools, portion out the ingredients into bowls/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 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.