A good stock is a great foundational recipe to have. There are lots of bone broth recipes out there, but this one made with trotters, or pigs’ feet, is extra-gelatinous. In fact, it’s so gelatinous that you should be able to cut it with a knife when it’s cold. And it has a few other ingredients that give it an edge when it comes to supporting your connective tissues and boosting your metabolism. Not only that, but it tastes great.
Food is medicine
The ingredients in this real food bone broth can help speed up recovery of your connective tissues and metabolism. I didn’t just choose them because they taste really good, although they make this stock delicious. I’ve written about the health-boosting effects of some of the foods and nutrients below. To skip directly to that information, just click the link below.
Stocks and bone broths. Is there a difference?
Stocks, soups and broths have an extremely long history of use, certainly predating bread and beer by many thousands of years. Boiling meat and bones probably even predates the use of pottery, since our early hunter gatherer ancestors may have been able to use animal hides, gut, bladder or bark to make waterproof containers that would endure boiling.
The name “bone broth” is now being used to describe any savoury liquid dish where bones, meat, fish and/or vegetables have been simmered in water. Many cooks in Europe will be more familiar with the term “stock”, while the word “broth” will be more associated with a light soup using stock as an ingredient, but which may also include meat, vegetables and barley or other grains. Broth might have connotations of a comforting meal, often served when a person is ill in order to fortify them. The last few decades have made the terminology a little confusing, since when people talk about “bone broths” they tend to be referring to a good stock, rather than a light, watery soup.
Some ideas about how to use this Trottery Goodness recipe
Stocks and bone broths are incredibly nourishing, but they’re also super tasty. Many people will simply drink a mug of hot, rich bone broth every day. But I like to use it as an ingredient for other meals, like this super rich and tasty beef stew with prunes, oranges, beetroot and chocolate. The best bone broths will elevate a soup, stew, braise or casserole. So, instead of using stock cubes, which are often full of food additives and gluten, why not use a bone broth?
What are trotters?
It’s very simple to find recipes for bone broths and stocks online and in good cookery books, but I’ve found that my favourite is one made with trotters. Trotters are pigs’ feet. Although they used to be very popular, in the last few decades they’ve fallen out of favour. But they’ll always be full of flavour. Pigs’ trotters or feet make the richest, most gelatinous bone broths I’ve ever had, because they are especially rich in connective tissues from all the tiny joints and the thick pig skin. You could use pigs’ ears instead or as well as trotters. And you can add in chicken’s feet and necks, if you have any of those.
Why do I love cooking with trotters?
Using pigs’ trotters creates incredibly rich bone broth from all the skin, tendons and ligaments, but as an added bonus you also get some meat, not just a really high quality bone broth. A little bit of minced cooked trotter meat adds loads of flavour to any meaty dish when added to minced pork, lamb or beef. Dishes like Shepherd’s Pie and Moussaka taste even better with a bit of minced trotter.
My only pet peeve with trotters and a neat way to get around it
The only major drawback when it comes to cooking trotters is that when you have cooked them all up you have to retrieve all the tiny little bones and discard them. This bit is dull and time consuming, but it’s also almost impossible to get every last tiny little bone out. This is really the reason that I usually then pass the trotter meat through a grinder, since none of the really small bones that I miss do not pass through the mincing screen. Another thing you could try would be to swap trotters for pig’s ears. Pig’s ears still have all the connective tissue, but none of the bones, so they’re easier to manage.
You probably need to assess whether or not you need to catch all the tiny bones, but if you have anyone you want to serve the trotters to who might be a choking hazard, like a small child, or someone who does not swallow well, I really think mincing the trotters is safer. But I have also just torn the cooked flesh apart with my fingers into little nuggets as well.
I like using my instant pot to make bone broths, including this Trottery Goodness, but you can also make it on the stove top or in a slow cooker (crock pot).
The magic of connective tissues
A lot of people know that bone broths are great for supporting general health, gut health, and skin, but did you know that in large part it’s because ideally they are made from sources that are rich in connective tissues?
Although tissues like skin, joints, and even bones are made primarily from connective tissues, all of your tissues contain them to some degree. Your heart valves, bile ducts in your liver, nerve sheaths in your brain, spinal cord, autonomic, enteric and peripheral nervous systems, kidney ducts, bladder, gallbladder, blood vessel walls and even your gut wall are all composed primarily from connective tissue.
The interstitium could be the most important organ you've never heard of before!
As recently as March 2018, scientists started to think very differently about the connective tissue just under the skin, called the interstitium. These scientists believe that we’ve really underestimated the importance of the interstitium, and suggested that it’s so important that we need to start thinking of it as a separate new organ!
But what does your interstitium even do?
The interestitium isn’t just isolated to under your skin either. You’ve got interstitium protecting your major organs as well, including your lungs, aorta, gut, liver, heart and kidneys. And the interstitium probably has multiple functions. These functions include helping to protect and nourish your body and organs, allowing communication within your body, the elimination of waste from cells and tissues, and in inflammation. There’s also evidence that when your interstitium starts to malfunction, you’re at higher risk of chronic diseases, like heart disease, cancer and lung diseases.
Who should focus on supporting their interstitium?
I hope you’ll agree that supporting the interstitium, which is very connective-tissue rich, should be a goal of anyone, but particularly if you’re suffering from chronic ill health. If you suffer from diseases that affect your connective tissues, like gadolinium toxicity, hypermobility disorders such as Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and Marfans, or you’ve been exposed to fluoroquinolone antibiotics, like ciproxin, or you have an inflammatory connective tissue disorder, like rheumatoid arthritis or SLE, then supporting your interstitium and other connective tissues becomes even more of a priority.
If you're feeling overwhelmed and aren't sure where to start with improving your health, why not get in touch?
If you feel you could use some specialist advice and coaching to help you manage a chronic illness, get in touch with me here. I focus on people with gadolinium toxicity as well as hypermobility and connective tissue disorders, like Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. You can find out more about gadolinium toxicity and gadolinium deposition disorder here and about my journey with it here.
Some other important nutrients in Trottery Goodness
A large part of the appeal, and the apparent healing properties, of a good bone broth or stock derive from stocks that are a rich source of some amino acids like glycine, proline, serine and hydroxyproline, found in high concentrations in collagen. Gelatin, pig’s skin and pig’s ears are among the top sources of glycine, serine and proline in the USDA Food Composition Database. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body, and the main protein found in connective tissue.
Serine is turning out to be a real brain-boosting nutrient, even though it's not supposed to be essential in the diet
Several studies show improvements in brain health (including dementia and ALS) in people (and other primates) on a diet that’s high in the amino acid serine. They include this study on women in Ōgimi village in Okinawa (Island of Pork). Interestingly, older women over 80 years of age preferred pork to younger ones. Dried pork skins and gelatin contain even more serine than pork or even tofu, according to the USDA Food Database.
The seldom discussed animal dietary fibres
Connective tissue also contains some mucopolysaccharides (very long carbohydrates somewhat similar to plant fibres), and elements like silicon and boron, which are also believed to be important for maintaining good health. Although all organs contain connective tissues, the bones, joints, tendons, ligaments and skin are particularly rich.
A note on gelatine - the hallmark of a particularly nutritious bone broth
Gelatine is the rich, translucent gel that you strive to make when you are making bone broths. It is formed when you heat collagen and, although it forms a liquid when heated, it becomes more gel-like when cooled in a refrigerator. A really great gelatine can be sliced.
Processed gelatine was the basis for jelly (jello), which is still popular with children today when sweetened and coloured and served with ice cream. Jelly is also a popular hospital dessert, and perhaps this is less of a surprise, now that you know that jelly was originally derived from unflavoured very good quality bone broth.
It probably didn’t do any harm that it didn’t have a particularly strong odour for people complaining of nausea, and was very soft and easy to digest for people with oral or gastrointestinal pain or upset, and didn’t take much effort to eat for people who were very fatigued due to illness. Modern jelly is not quite the same nutrient dense food that it once was with sugar, non-nutritive (artificial) sweeteners, colourings and flavouring agents added, and it may not even contain any actual gelatine.
Astragalus: a superfood you can add to your bone broths
Recently, I’ve started adding dried slices of a root vegetable called astragalus, or radix astragali as it’s also known as, to my Trottery Goodness and other recipes. Astragalus is often referred to as a medicinal herb. But it’s also one of the most popular vegetables in east Asian cuisine.
While astragalus doesn’t really taste of much, it packs a real wallop in terms of its health benefits. Astragalus root is very high in prebiotic fibres In fact, it’s so fibrous that you’ll just boil it up in your stock or soup and then fish it out before serving, since the astragalus strips will retain the texture of an old boot.
But removing it after you’ve cooked it doesn’t mean that astragalus doesn’t substantially boost the nutritive content of your meals. By releasing some of its fibres and other nutrients into the cooking liquid, you’ll find that the beneficial effects of astragalus are passed into the liquid.
Astragalus is great for your connective tissues
The metabolism-boosting effects of astragalus
Another animal study suggests that you can use compounds from astragalus to improve your insulin sensitivity, help to combat metabolic syndrome and manage your weight. There are also studies showing that astragalus can help to manage high blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and reduce fatigue in stroke patients. I’ve written about what keeps your metabolism ticking over, what can drag it down, and some other ways you can boost it in this post about mitochondria.
Astragalus and your immune system
This bone broth should help improve your gut microbiome
While you might not be as excited about what microbes you can find in rat poop as I am, please believe me when I say that lots of scientists are trying to work out how to increase the amounts of these particular probiotic microbes (Akkermansia) in the gut, because they haven’t been able to integrate them into commercial probiotics that can be sold. And Akkermansia is consistently associated with better metabolic health and weight management in studies.
Quality of life of cancer patients boosted by astragalus
When scientists injected astragalus extract into cancer patients, they were able to improve their quality of life by reducing pain, nausea, vomiting and fatigue and enhancing appetite and sleep. This is just a sample of the research that’s been done on the beneficial effects of astragalus.
Differences in nutritive value between factory farmed and pastured animal foods
There are definitely obvious ethical and environmental reasons to prefer pastured meats to factory farmed (concentrated animal feeding operations) animals (I’ve written about them here), but what about from a health perspective?
Animals make vitamin D the same way that we do: by spending time outdoors in the sun. Outdoor animals have better vitamin D stores in their fat, especially in late spring, summer and autumn.
Animals which feed on weeds, grass, grubs, and (in the case of chicken and pigs) other small animals, have a slightly different nutrient content because of this. The difference is really in the omega fats, with pastured animals eating a variety of foods having higher omega 3 fats due to their diet being higher in omega 3s. They are what they eat. They may also have slightly higher vitamin E.
Limit your toxin exposure from industrial agriculture and ultra processed food
Toxin levels depend on exposures in their diet and environment (they are a lot like people in this way as well). Grain based feeds are likely to be GMO, which tends to mean increased glyphosate exposure. Glyphosate is derived from the amino acid glycine, and so it tends to mimic glycine, and bioaccumulates in collagen. Glyphosate is not identical to glycine, and so cannot mimic the functions of glycine completely. There are emerging concerns that glyphosate acts as a mild antagonist of glycine in the body. However, the exposures from glyphosate present in bone broth made from even CAFO animals tends to be far lower than the exposure you get from eating the grains directly.
CAFO animals are commonly fed antibiotics in their feed as well, which contributes to the spread of antibiotic resistance. If a facility has old lead water pipes, or leaded paint exposed when contemporary paint chips or is gnawed off by the animals, or is in an industrialised area where there is lead present in the dirt, then lead can also be present.
So if you have the options and can afford it, as a general guide good quality organic pastured meat is best, factory farmed is worst quality, and everything else is largely somewhere in between.
Don't add too much salt to stock... but not because salt is unhealthy
A quick note about salt and stock. Don’t be tempted to add salt to your stock, and not because of some misplaced fear of sodium.
Your stock/bone broth will usually be used as a base to make other dishes, like braised vegetables, sauces, soups and casseroles. A a result you will likely use it as the liquid medium to gently cook something else.
In practice this means that you will likely be cooking something for quite a long time on the stovetop or in the oven, and that a proportion of the liquid will evaporate, concentrating the remaining ingredients, and creating a richer dish with more depth of flavour. It will also concentrate the salt so, while you may have started out with a perfectly seasoned stock with just the right amount of saltiness before you started using the stock as an ingredient, what you can end up being left with is something slightly more salty than the dead sea.
I have added just a hint of salty fish sauce in this recipe, but it is not enough to really impart much saltiness because it is so dilute by the time you add the water and cider. So just leave this as the only added salt, and when you are using this or any other stock as an ingredient, add the amount of salt that is called for by the recipe and/or salt according to taste preferences.
- 2 trotters (pigs’ feet) or 3-4 pig’s ears
- A handful of chicken necks and feet (optional)
- 2 onions, quartered (if organic you can leave the skins on and just remove the roots)
- 1 head of garlic, peeled
- 1 leek, washed and cut into 3 pieces
- 1-2 carrots, washed and cut into a few big chunks
- 1 celery rib, washed and cut into a few big chunks
- 1″ ginger, thickly sliced
- 1 bay leaf
- 5 cloves
- 1/4 tsp whole peppercorns
- A few sprigs of thyme and parsley
- 3 slices dried astragalus root (radix astragali)
- 1 tsp fish sauce
- 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 piece seaweed (kelp or dulse or nori/laver)
- 1 bottle (about 500ml) apple or pear cider
First clean the trotters.
Place the trotters (or ears) in a large stockpot, cover with water, bring to the boil and boil for 10 minutes. A lot of scum will form. Discard the scummy water, rinse the trotters.
You are now ready to make the stock. Put trotters (or ears) and the remaining ingredients into the Instant Pot, or the slow cooker, or back into the stock pot. Fill up with water to the maximum mark, making sure that all the ingredients are covered.
- If you are using an Instant Pot or other pressure cooker, cook on high for 90 minutes and allow the pressure to release.
- If you are using a slow cooker, cook on low for about 14 hours.
- If you are using a stock pot on the hob, cook for at least 3 hours, and do not allow the trotters to dry out, checking on them occasionally and topping up with water as necessary.
Allow to cool somewhat (never put really hot liquid into really cold glass or pottery, unless you enjoy cleaning up broken glass/ceramics and spilled stock). It can still be warm to the touch, but not boiling.
Discard the aromatics and chicken necks. Lift the trotters into a large bowl or container and pick out all the tiny bones and discard all of them. You can use a skewer or knitting needle to make sure you get the marrow out of the longer bones. You can either shred the trotter meat with the 2 forks or your fingers, or you can feed it through a meat grinder (which is the option I recommend).
Store in a box in the fridge or use immediately in a recipe.
You will probably get about 1 lb of trotter meat from 2 trotters.
Strain the stock through a sieve into a large glass jar like a kilner, and store in the fridge until ready to use. You might get around 3 L of stock.
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