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In both January and February, especially after a pig has been slaughtered, soup bowls can be seen nestled in the snow of villages all around Hungary, signifying the beginning of kocsonya season. Kocsonya is essentially a massive bone broth which has so much gelatin in it that when it is exposed to the cold it turns into, as the name states in Hungarian, a meat jelly. The first ever recipe on the preparation of aspic, or meat jelly, can be traced back to France. To the best of our knowledge, the recipe was first written down in Europe’s oldest cookbook, Guillaume Tirel’s Viandier, which dates back to 1395.
Translation by Tamás Vaski
The first written records of meat jelly in Hungary date back to 1544, when it was primarily regarded as a dish of the peasantry. The original purpose of the gelatinizing process was to preserve food for a longer period, since back then it was much more difficult to store food that could go bad. Ingredients that were poured over with kocsonya broth lost their access to oxygen, meaning that they could be stored for a few days more.
In Hungary, the Miskolc region is the area where there is a large tradition surrounding the dish. To this day it is unknown whether the expression “blinking like a frog trapped in a Miskolc kocsonya,” is connected to the tradition’s practice. As the legend goes, there was once a wine cellar where bowls of kocsonya had been placed to solidify before being served to guests in the tavern upstairs. A number of frogs had also hidden in the cellar to escape the cold, and one unlucky creature ended up jumping into a bowl and getting stuck. Thanks to a guest starving for some kocsonya and a careless waiter, a blinking and very lively serving of meat jelly saw the light of day. We will never know the truthfulness of such a story, but what we do know is that traditions around kocsonya have been upheld in Miskolc to this day. They hold annual kocsonya festivals, and many places even serve wine kocsonya as well.
Kocsonya – Hungarian Meat Jelly
+head and ear meat (optional)
+textile clothes for sifting
Chop the meat into large chunks, wash it thoroughly, and place it into a large pot with the onions, white carrots, and spices. The vegetables don’t need to be peeled, they are only being cooked for their taste. The skin of an onion, for example, can give a nice color to the entire dish. But all vegetables need to be washed thoroughly. Pour a generous amount of water over all the ingredients. Cook the ingredients for kocsonya on low heat, in water that is just shy of a serious boil, over the course of four hours.
Make sure to skim off the scum and fat from the broth once it has formed! At around the halfway mark, add the peeled carrots as well. Once the broth is cooked, remove the meat and the vegetables, placing the more presentable parts evenly into the bowls into which the broth will be poured. A little bit of fresh parsley and halved boiled eggs can be added into the bowls as well.
Sift the kocsonya broth, then pour it into the bowls in order for it to cover the meat and the vegetables. Large amounts of fat can be removed before the jelly solidifies. It takes roughly 2-3 hours for the dish to gelatinize. It’s important to keep it in a refrigerator, a cellar, or a cold room, but not in the freezer. If it gets too cold, the kocsonya will simply freeze.
Photos and Featured Photo by Péter Csákvári/Hungary Today