If you think cool, meat-based jelly might not make the best wintertime treat, you probably haven’t tried kholodets. One peek inside this transparent mound of aspic reveals its hearty core: minced pork, vegetables, peppercorn, and egg. Add a dollop of horseradish or hot mustard, chase with a shot of vodka, and try not to feel instantly warmed.
The dish has long been a winter treat in Eastern Europe. Its name comes from the Russian for “cold,” hearkening back to the days before refrigeration when the gelatin required the seasonal chill to set. While the jelly, which often takes the form of Bundts, cups, or loaves, may resemble the Jell-O salads once popular in United States, kholodets do not use packaged gelatin. Instead, cooks boil pig trotters or other animal parts with lots of connective tissue (think chicken legs or beef tails) to provide the jelly-like consistency. A traditional trick for knowing if your mixture is ready? Spread it across your mouth. If your lips get momentarily stuck together, your broth is now an aspic.
But getting to that perfect texture takes time: Making kholodets typically takes about six hours. For this reason, most cooks reserve it for special occasions. In Russia, the dish is a beloved New Year’s Eve treat.