In Santiago, Chile, across the street from La Vega Central is La Vega Chica, a collection of eateries where market vendors and customers converge. So said Anthony Bourdain in the Chile episode of No Reservations. At an eatery known as Carmen’s, he was served with caldo pata which he described as cow foot, vegetables and cilantro cooked in hearty broth. I don’t know if it was a rerun or if it was the first time that the episode was aired on TLC the other night but one look at the caldo pata and I knew we would have it soon at home. It’s quite a story how that came to be.
If you’ve cooked cow hooves before, you’ll know that they require a long cooking time. Four to five hours, until the skins and ligaments are sticky and gelatinous. Despite the long cooking time, however, caldo pata is a very simple dish that requires very simple preparation. Basically, just boiled cow hooves. But what really puts this soup together are the very tender cow hooves and what you add to the cooking liquid to create a superb broth.
- 4 three-inch thick slices of cow hooves
1 whole onion, cut into halves
1 whole garlic
4 celery stalks, cut into halves
3 large carrots
a large bunch of cilantro, rinsed well
lots of freshly milled black pepper
leafy green vegetables (cabbage, spinach… your choice)
fried crisp onion slices
- Place the cow hooves in a large heavy pot. Cover with water, bring to the boil and cook for about ten minutes.
Throw out the water. Rinse out the pot. Rinse the cow hooves.
Replace the cow hooves in the pot and cover with fresh water. Add two of the carrots, the onion, garlic and celery stalks.
Cut the cilantro to separate the root ends from the tender stalks and leaves. Add the root ends to the pot (reserve the leafy ends). Season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer for four to five hours or until the cow hooves are very, very tender. If the liquid evaporates too much during cooking, replenish with water but don’t add too much as you want a reduced liquid for the broth with all the concentrated flavors.
When the cow hooves are done, fish out the celery stalks, onion, garlic and carrots. Peel the remaining carrot and cut into sticks. Add to the pot. Adjust the seasonings.
Depending on what greens you’re using, you may add them now or during the last few minutes of cooking time, depending on the length of cooking time they require.
Cover the pot once more and cook for another ten to 15 minutes or until the carrots are tender. If using spinach, add them at the last minute.
To serve, place a while cow hoof in a bowl. Ladle the broth over it along with some of the carrot sticks and greens. Chop up the cilantro leaves and sprinkle over the caldo pata. Garnish with fried crisp onion slices and serve very hot.
Cooking time (duration): 4 to 5 hours
Number of servings (yield): 4
Meal type: soup