To Boil Calves Feet

The Good Housewife’s Jewel page 24

Dawson, Thomas. The Good Houswife’s Jewel. 2002. Lewes, East Sussex: Southover, 1996. Print. 1870962125

take a pint of white wine and a small quantity of water and small raisins and whole mace. Boil them together in a lttle verjuice, yolks of eggs mingled with them, and a peice of sweet butter. So serve them upon bread, sliced.


two thick slices of bakery bread on a plate, with a layer of chopped stewed meat, and liberally sauced with a yellow egg based sauce showing specks of raisin
definitely not finger food

While there are no instructions for the actual cooking of the feet in question, I have my preferred methods (slow braise, a lid, no salt or acid until the meat is tender, as it can be toughened by either).  Then again, I have no feet right now. I do have an oxtail, which is something of a scarce item in our freezer.   Though the tail cannot be sliced for an elegant service as the meat of a foot could, it has similar enough textural qualities as to be a fine substitution.

a plate with a packet of ox tail, surrounded by the spices, bottles, and butter needed for the dish. Not shown are the eggs.
Eggs are off camera

I set the tail to simmering on the lowest heat, and in a smaller pot, made the sauce separately.

While the meat was somewhat unappealing to look upon, the longer it cooked, the more unctuous it got. It smells lovely.

When the meat was completely cooked and soft, I removed it from the bone and minced it, knowing I could not get elegant slices.

I then placed it on the toasts to wait for the sauce and held it in a warming oven.

The only quantity given for this recipe is that pint of white wine. This leads to all of the other decisions for balance.


Recipe: To Boil Calve’s Feet


  • 1 calf’s foot or oxtail, simmered in water til tender, and sliced or otherwise prepared for service
  • slices of bread on which to serve the meat and sauce
  • 1 pint white wine
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 oz raisins
  • 1 teaspoon whole blade mace, intact (to be removed later)
  • up to ½ cup of verjus (taste as you go, it can go too sharp quickly)
  • allow to cool, then in a pan, blend
  • 3 egg yolks and 3 oz warmed butter
  • salt to taste


  1. when the butter and egg yolks are gently warmed, stir in the wine mixture, off the heat. Be gentle, or the eggs will curdle.
  2. Folding the butter and eggs into the liquid creates an oily mass, and cooling the liquid then slowly beating the yolk in then adding the butter does similarly.
  3. Use your best judgement.


– a less well regarded food

– the sauce is unlikely to work in bulk, and is challenging even in small quantities

– the acid balance can be difficult, wine depending

+ sumptuous without being greasy

+ deep flavor

+ gives a side product of a lovely beef broth

+ Sophisticated enough for a nice appetiser.


Remember this is not a hollandaise… but all of the requirements for a hollandaise are there. The techniques required to make the creamy velvety sauce were not delineated until much later. There’s a fair amount of history available online and in books for emulsified sauces should you wish to find more information.

Because I did not wish to have a grease slick, I did stir the wine blend in to the butter, rather than pouring the butter overtop of the wine. I then folded in the egg yolks and warmed the sauce while stirring, It sure looks like a hollandaise.

a sautee pan filled with egg-yellow sauce with specks of raisin showing, and a little froth on top.
Runnier than a custard, the sauce uses wine and verjus where modern cooks would think to use lemon.

This also permitted me to taste the sauce as I built it to prevent adding too much acid and damaging the balance of flavors.

Now I had to decide whether I was going to follow the implication in the instructions and simmer the meat in the blended sauce, or read it the other way as an overlaid sauce.

Being that the meat I chose is quite unctuous and tender, and that the bread is rather stiff, I opted to pour the completed sauce overtop and serve the dish as sops.

It cannot be stressed enough that the success of this dish relies on a lower acid white wine, as too much acid will unbalance the dish. A highly gelatinous meat is also helpful to the quality and enjoyment of it, as fatty meat would lend a greasiness which cannot balance the egg-yolk sauce.

If you don’t wish to fuss about with wine specifics, go easy on the verjus and taste critically as you add the eggs and butter to the sauce, in order to bring the flavors into a bright, creamy balance.



6 Replies to “To Boil Calves Feet”

  1. took me a while to re-find this site but stumbled here again by complete accident
    must say I have yet to try a dish of calves feet as I haven’t been able to get any since wishing to go beyond just using feet for gelatine.
    As for the sauce, I find these are indeed best treated as a custard… for the verjuice, I find it easier to judge the right amount but then mine might not be quite as acid as most vinegar 🙂

    1. One of the neat but also annoying things about verjus is that it is not stable, it gets milder over time. So mine was a choice of either the super sharp stuff I just made, or the very mild from last year.
      According to a note I read, (when I find it again I will note it in the Notes page,) Verjus is best in January or February, neither too sharp nor too mild.

      If you need me to get you calves’ feet, I can acquire them for you, it’s almost cold enough to ship such things with ice packs.
      I find them either at Chinese or Kosher markets.

      Thanks for your note of confidence on the sauce, the failures pretty much forced my hand. I was trying everything that was not a custard, because of course we have no explicit directions to make one, and every attempt to do a simpler preparation made an unappetising horror.

  2. Next time I make it to the city, I’m going to check out some of the Chinese markets, we have some pretty decent ones around but when I was there, wasn’t looking for those specifically. Thanks for the heads up on that one!
    As for the verjuice, I never thought about it much as I freeze the stuff I make and what I’ve been using over the past year is from sour apples and was not overly strong when I froze it… (flat in baggies so I can easily break off how much I need)

    1. I usually freeze mine in ice cube trays. I left a bottle out to see how it did over the year, and do not suggest the experiment.
      Maybe it would be better in a large barrel, but it was not a positive experience.
      If you can’t get feet, let me know and I will try to get some to you when you need them.

  3. Thinking it would require a certain amount of processing to keep well, but unsure of the quality without utilizing another preservative such as sugar or salt, which of course would ruin it. I’m guessing it got pretty nasty 😛
    awesome! thanks 🙂

    1. Just… bland. Dark in color, and water-like. More disappointing than offensive, but of course if the fruit one uses has yeasts or other bloom, it could get to the point of upsetting.

      Thank you!

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