Sometimes street food should be made fancy and sometimes fancy food should be sold on the street. The plethora of lobster rolls or steak tartare that you find in London street food nowadays is simply dazzling and nothing says bold like buttermilk fried chicken occurring on a tasting menu served in a Noma style bowl of branches at the London restaurant Clove Club. This pork bonbon recipe, however, is one of those beautiful things which sits in the middle. Both decadently fast food and somehow classy. Quick to finish but requiring a little bit of work to prepare. In fact, they’re so tasty that in our house they’ve replaced stuffing at Christmas – somehow stuffing balls doesn’t sound very appetising though so I’ll stick to pork bonbons!
The basic principle is fairly simple and it’s something I’ve been working on tweaking for about a year. In fact, this recipe is more about a method and approach than a specific recipe. I’ve chosen to flavour smoked ham hocks with cranberries and my favourite, deliciously sweet caramelised onions. But I’ve made moroccan spiced ones before (in fact it’s very similar to the confit duck pastillas I’ve posted before), I’ve made slow cooked beef shin and guinness versions, or oxtail versions with the same filling as the oxtail pies I made recently, you can also slow cook pork belly instead of the ham hocks if you want sweeter, richer and more mellow pork bonbons. It’s really up to you!
The basic steps are:
1.) Slow cook meat to create a rich gelatinous filling (in this case ham hock for shredded pork bonbons) and allow to cool in the liquid. I can’t stress enough how important that is. If you shred the meat whilst still boiling hot (as many unscrupulous recipe recommend) the meat dries out as it cools. Essentially think of hot meat as like a sponge that has been squeezed (this is more true than it sounds, muscle fibres contract squeezing the water out). As it cools the sponge relaxes and it absorbs what’s around it, in this case the flavourful liquid.
2.) Shred the meat whilst warm. When I say allow it to cool above, I don’t mean chuck it in the fridge. When you do the meat will firm up and it won’t shred at all. It should be cool enough that you don’t hurt your hand and warm enough that it still falls apart.
3.) Season well and add whatever “fixins'” you want to. For my pork bonbons it’s onions and cranberries with a few spices but the world’s your oyster (quite literally once when I made beef shin and oyster bonbons – totally delicious by the way). Make sure to add some of the sauce that the meat cooked in to moisten the filling – it should be quite moist but not water logged. Once you get a bit of experience you can tailor how moist you want it, sometimes firm is good.
4.) At this point you can just chuck it in the fridge for a few days before shaping, or if you’ve got the time (and fridge space) shape them now and then throw in the fridge. You can make small little ones or great big giant ones – I like my pork bonbons about the size of a walnut in its shell (or golf ball if that’s more relevant for you).
5.) Once they’ve firmed up in the fridge. Cover them in breadcrumbs by dipping in flour, egg and then breadcrumbs. I like panko breadcrumbs for the extra crunch but you use any. At this point you can freeze them, chuck them in the fridge for 3-5 days.
6.) Fry them in hot oil – about 180-200 degrees until deeply golden all over. There you are, beautiful pork bonbons.
Most recently we ate them at a dinner party with a really refreshing and light fennel and blood orange salad and peppery pea purée made with the ham stock. It was a really light tasting starter full of freshness and vibrancy. The trick to the salad was adding a few peeled hazelnuts – but don’t just roast them, fry them lightly in olive oil. Try it out, you’ll never see hazelnuts the same way!
However, we’ve had these pork bonbons many times before. At Christmas they were even more popular than the roast potatoes, so popular I didn’t even manage to snap a picture before they were wolfed down! At they’re heart they’re very similar to the duck confit scotch eggs (just without the egg) I posted a while back. I think the most successful version though were little miniature belly pork bonbons with a chipotle and smoked garlic mayonnaise eaten whilst watching the Six Nations rugby matches – chicken wings eat your hearts out. (I love you really chicken wings).
Shredded pork bonbons with smoked ham hock
Makes 15 large bonbons.
- 2 smoked ham hocks. (Try and buy the freshest smoked ham hocks you can). If you can’t find ham hocks, then try with pork belly following this recipe to cook the belly
- 2 pigs trotters (these are not strictly necessary but add a great depth and gelatine content to the stock
- 1 head of garlic, peeled
- 3 onions peeled and halved
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon peppercorns
- Additional flavours to add to the filling
- 4 onions worth of caramelised onions
- 1 handful of dried cranberries finely diced
- To cover in breadcrumbs
- 3 eggs
- Plain flour
- 300g panko breadcrumbs
- Oil for deep frying
- Place the hocks and trotters in a large pot with fitted lid and cover with water. Bring to a boil and discard the water. Rinse the hocks and trotters in water and add back to the pot along with the garlic, onion, bay leaves and peppercorns. Cover with water and bring to a light simmer with a lid on. I find it helpful to place a cartouche (circle of greaseproof paper – here’s how to make it) on the top of the meat to help it stay submerged.
- Simmer very lightly for 3-4 hours until fall apart tender. I often place it in a preheated 140 degree oven overnight.
- Allow to cool in the liquid, remove the skin and then shred the meat – remember to follow the tips I outlined above. Throw away the trotters, their work is done.
- Chop the skin (and attached fat) very very finely until it’s almost puréed. Add one third of that mixture to the shredded meat (it looks a little gross but it will dramatically enhance the flavour and moisture). Throw away the rest.
- Add in the onions and cranberries. Let chill in the fridge.
- Form into balls and cover in breadcrumbs. You can chill them after breadcrumbing for 3-5 days. Alternatively they can be frozen breadcrumbed or I actually prefer to freeze them not breadcrumbed and then breadcrumb just before frying after thawing. Breadcrumbs lose a lot of their crunch when fried from frozen.
- Fry in hot oil (180-190 degrees Celsius) for a few minutes until deeply golden all over.