Kholodets or jellied meat. Three act drama

It's hard to imagine New Year's dinner in Russia without it. It's not too hard to make kholodets, but it does take a while, preparation can take up to three days. In our times, you can enjoy this kind of luxury only in the run-up to New Year's.

Kholodets is a dish made from meat broth that has been cooled until it becomes gelatinous with bits of meat inside it.

Many people, even in Russia, think that kholodets, jellied meat, and aspic are the same. That's not quite true. Aspic eschews shredded meat for whole chunks of meat or fish covered in a gelatinous broth formed from using either gelatin or agar-agar. As for jellied meat and kholodets, the necessary consistency is achieved only by using the right parts of the animal (use the ears, shank, the tail, it's all good).

As culinary connoisseurs can attest, jellied meat is an element of Russian cuisine that results from boiling beef shank, a cow head, etc. (This is even mentioned in the Domostroy, a 16th century set of Russian household rules). Kholodets, on the other hand, is a Ukrainian dish made from pig parts. These days, things are a lot less rigid. If you take us, for example, we poured beef shank broth on boiled pork and everything came out great. You can experiment at your leisure and accept that kholodets and jellied meat are more or less the same thing since the process is identical.

It is thought that jellied meat was initially food for servants and it's not surprising. It wasn't cooked especially for lords; it was made up of chunks that congealed in murky, grayish broth. A sort of waste by-product from cooking that was perfectly edible, but far from first class dining. With time, people learned how to brighten the broth, to strain it, and to color it with lemon zest or saffron. They started to punctuate the chopped meat with bright splashes of carrots, lemons, and parsley leaves.

And thus, jellied meats were given a new life on the holiday feast table. Kholodets was more than just food for special occasions, though. It was an inextricable part of Soviet feasts, just like the salads Olivier, Mimosa, and Herring Under A Fur Coat. It became—and undeservedly so—a sign of overindulging philistinism, a minor joy in a totalitarian era. But it wasn't a luxury. In fact, it wasn't so much a sign of prosperity as it was of good prudence and, most importantly, a housewife's culinary know-how. After all, it was considered a wee bit tougher to make kholodets than to chop up a whole bucket of ingredients for Olivier.

How do we make it?

1 beef shank (1.8 kg),
1 kilogram of pork
4 carrots
4 onions
One quarter of celery root
Bay leaves
Black peppercorns

1) Our dish's key ingredient is beef shank. You can use other cuts, too, the important thing is that they contain as many connective tissues and collagen as possible. We're going to boil this for a good long time to get a thick broth that will congeal well when it cools.

We'll first need to make a broth from the shank. Then we'll try to cut it to make it fit in the pot. We'll pour 6 liters in and wait for it to come to a boil. We'll lower the heat, remove any foam, add a couple of carrots, 2 onions, and a quarter of celery root, the bay leaf, cardomom, peppercorns, and cloves for seasoning.

Let them boil for about 8 hours, if possible.

2) After waiting a full night, 8 or 9 hours, the broth is ready. Now we have to remove the vegetables from it. The broth will be the basis for the jelly, but we'll leave it alone for now.

3) Instead, we'll boil the meat for the meat part of the dish. We also throw in some vegetables, spices, and a little over a kilogram of pork. This meat should be pretty well salted.

4) We place the meat that we boiled in a container like this. It should be so well boiled that it falls apart in your hands. Now take it apart and shred it.

5) Now we should pour in some broth and let it cool.

6) Our kholodets has spent the night in the refrigerator and has completely congealed, turning into something like this. You can serve small portions of it with either mustard or horseradish. Bon appetit!

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