Sagardi service sadness but pig head heaven with the Blackhand gang

We were looking forward to Sagardi; the Basque restaurant in Shoreditch, that has scored so many plaudits from people who’ve eaten there — both critics and the common folk — for the quality of their Txuleton meat but also for the other interesting menu items inc. their seasonal vegetables, as well as their tripe and salt cod aka “Grandma’s home cooking”. You can see what I mean below; it sounded hugely exciting.

Having pretty much starved myself all day (a home cooked English breakfast and a lunchtime burger. All I’d had. ALL DAY), we headed there for the eagerly anticipated carnivore nirvana. And the experience sucked. Simple as that. Service was almost non-existent; “patchy” doesn’t begin to cover it and we never did get offered a wine list. The salt cod for Val was all overpowering salt and no cod taste. My rabo de buey was serviceable but not great. We should have paid more attention to the bad end of the reviews on Trip Advisor and elsewhere. My (slightly longer version of this piece) review has been posted at the “Terrible” end of the spectrum. Whereas a quick burger, truffle & cheese fries and an IPA at GBK the next day was both more enjoyable and far better serviced! Alright, enough already, move on Bulow eh? No one died after all. It was a wasted hour of our lives but that’s all; we at least aren’t starving or forced to live rough on the streets.

“The Other Bits” course at Cannon & Cannon, in their offices, snuggled away at the back of Borough Market, on the other hand was the perfect antidote for the previous night’s disappointment.















See this guide below? Those two short, deceptively simple, lines? “Completely debone the head” and “roll the head up & tie it into a kind of ‘Swiss roll’ shape”? That process took me and the 5 others there, the best part of 2 hours to do. Have you any idea how easy it is to make a hole in the skin when clumsily cutting too far, fast or deeply? I now do. And have a renewed respect for the speed and skill shown by professional butchers and chefs. As I said out loud, halfway through, as my knife yet again caused yet more unintended damage to the skin and head meat,  “thank the deity I’m not training to be a surgeon, we’d have mass deaths”.

© Cannon & Cannon 🐖


Ably led by Hugo Jeffreys of Black Hand Food (and his partner in crime, fellow butcher Sam) alongside the estimable Nicky — marketing maven at Cannon & Cannon — who’d setup and organised the space, luckily for me, they all adhere to this philosophy below, which helped me remember that although the result I came up with wasn’t necessarily the prettiest or most professionally executed porchetta di testa ever, it was, still, all entirely edible. And anyway, after all, you have to remember, that it’s the face of a pig, rolled around all the head meat as well as the ears & the tongue extracted from the mouth cavity — it’s never going to win any beauty prizes at Vogue or London Fashion Week…

Punctuated by vignettes from his catering life (ex-sound engineer, chef, baker and now charcuterie expert and butcher), hints about how to sharpen the knife (away from you, a stricture honoured more in the breach than the observance it has to be said), details about the rare breed he uses (Gloucester Old Spot — I’d earlier asked) and useful (and possibly life saving) information for those unsure about how and why to use Prague Powder No1 (sodium nitrite) or No2 when curing, plus timely assistance when any of us found our cutting way blocked by bone or cartilage, most especially when navigating around the eye-balls, a great time was had by all.

The last 40 minutes or so were taken up stuffing a newly washed (it still smells of course) beef bung  with minced pork and our own additions of spices, herbs, tied off in the appropriate manner (double knot, including a small ‘bubble’ filled with the mixture of course) to make cotechino; it looks like nothing so much as a haggis to be honest. Both this and the head ham are now back home, to be cooked later in the week — I’ll add some photographs here as they come out of the fridge and cooking pot.

Three hours after the course started, we were done. Aprons & armoured glove handed back, knives cleaned, work surfaces scrubbed down, the day finished with a beer at the Cannon & Cannon stall in the market where we were walked through sampling their current line-up of amazing charcuterie. A great range of suppliers (inc. Hugo’s Black Hand) produce some of the best cured meats I’ve eaten anywhere. I wound up buying one of everything I think. Think? I bloody well know I did. Not cheap; but oh boy, some great flavours ahead of us.

If you do get the chance, go to this course (or any of the others they run); and even if you don’t, buy their meats. You’ll regret neither choice. I mean doesn’t your mouth immediately start watering looking at this range?

© Cannon & Cannon

And finally? This (lo-res) piece by Peter Lawrence was one of a number on display at the Bankside Gallery, highlighting work by The Society of Wood Engravers. It’s beautiful. And it mentions OXO. I love it. I desire it.

© Peter Lawrence RE SWE















And finally, finally, a last word for offal. This map, via the Great British Chefs “Foodie White Paper” — well worth a read in full — shows that we’re slowly, finally getting back to starting to use the whole animal, head to tail, as our mums. grans and forebears did.

Banned by the Emperor; never a boaring life eh?

You know how important something must have been — and latterly now is again — to the Japanese diet (and their psyche) if your Emperor decides not to ban pig when prohibiting the eating of most any other meat ¹ as he did in the 7th century CE.

Sus scrofa leucomystax

Blame this ban on the corrosive influence of a religion. Of course.

Big — almost indigestible chunks of Chinese practice — had been introduced into Japan, via Korea and Buddhism, like the virus that it is, rapidly became endemic. So much so, that in 675, Emperor Temmu banned the eating of cattle, of horses, of dogs and monkeys (apparently known for their medicinal uses – of course) and of chickens; breaking this decree meant you could be put to death. (Religion, eh? Always caring and tolerant…)

Prior to this “infection” being introduced into the Nippon body politic, the Japanese had, like almost all nations, hunted or farmed every kind of animal. And since the earliest Yayoi period, wild boars had been domesticated; used both as working farm animals as well as for food. But once Buddhism had become the official religion of the state, attitudes toward meat consumption changed, driven from the very top as the Imperial court now held that both the killing and the eating of meat was distasteful. Temmu chose however not to ban the consumption of wild boar (or indeed of deer), which were hugely important components of the diet of the, still overwhelmingly agrarian, Japanese population. Thus, whilst hunting wild animals was still considered to be acceptable; domesticating animals to chow down on them later was now a big no-no. The domesticated pig quietly started to die out.

Of course, nowadays, pig is by far Japan’s most popular meat; nearly as much pork is consumed as both chicken and beef combined but until quite recently, whether or not meat was officially allowed as part of your diet, depended on whose hands held the reins of power. The bushi, who came to power much later, during the Kamakura Period (1185-1333) and who had managed to almost drown the countryside in conquered human blood now decided that the shedding of animal blood was somehow beneath their dignity; thus another wholesale ban hit meat consumption. There was a hierarchy of what was allowed: the eating of any four-legged animals such as pigs being anathema, eating those two-legged ones such as fowl was seen as slightly more palatable, whilst creatures with no legs — i.e. fish — erred on the side of very nearly acceptable and this sad state of dietary affairs prevailed for almost the next 500 years, right up until the 1868 Meiji Restoration.

Despite this ban, not quite everyone chose to follow these strictures. In the 15th & 16th centuries, during what was known as Sengoku or the “Warring States” period, the warlord leaders of Satsuma — which is now known as Kagoshima Prefecture — quite sensibly saw pigs as a valuable source of sustenance, one too important not to be valued, calling them “walking vegetables”. To this end, they ordered that a herd of pigs accompany all of their troops on their many bloody campaigns. These daily pork rations were credited as the explanation for their apparent superhuman strength, leading to their legendary reputation as fighters, hugely to be feared.


In Ryukyu — now called Okinawa — they never really stopped enthusiastically eating pork, especially after a visit by a group of Chinese officials in the year 1713, who, by demanding so much pork, apparently ‘asking’ to be supplied with 5,000 pigs in a period of less than 8 months, meant that the court was forced to import additional ones from neighbouring Kyushu.

During the Edo period (1603-1868), once again under the catch-all guise of “medical reasons”, both the aristocracy &the  rich merchants managed to get ‘sick note’ dispensations to eat pork. The very last shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, who died in 1913, after vainly attempting to bring back the shogunate, was known to be so fond of pork that he earned himself the title of Tonichisama (“Master No. 1 Pig”). Mind you, I’ve been called a lot worse — I could easily live with that as a nickname.

During his lifetime, during the Meiji period, meat eating was also now being actively encouraged by the central government who, looking fearfully West-wards and noting how the gaijin had a diet heavy in meat, believed that their own people must also be encouraged to eat more meat and dairy products in a (so far, vain, I agree) attempt to raise their children to be as strong and as tall as their newest competitors in America & Europe. To eat meat was thus seen as a patriotic duty and, as pork is always a lot cheaper and quicker to produce than beef, so its consumption increased rapidly.

After the Great Kanto earthquake devastated much of Tokyo and the surrounding area in 1923, people even started to keep their own pigs again in their little back gardens — just as peasants everywhere, since pigs were first domesticated, so many thousands of years ago, have always done — as an emergency food source. Thus, since the beginning of the last century, the seemingly inexorable rise of pork back to the very top of the list of desirable menu items in Japanese kitchens, private and public, hasn’t slowed.

© Alex O, 2014

And yes, OK, OK, the next post will finally get down to the promised nitty gritty of recipes (or maybe Spain, who knows?). But y’all needed this background first. And don’t you feel just a little bit more “learned” now as well? So that’s all good then.


  1. Ishige, Naomichi (2014), History Of Japanese Food, Routledge, pp. 53-54

Belt up! The Siena Cinta; more heritage taste.

Highlighted by my reading of a piece in Aliza Green’s wonderful “The Butcher’s Apprentice”, I came across yet another — heretofore unknown to me — of those great, autochthonous, heritage breeds, the Cinta Senese (named after the white “belt” or “sash” that runs across its shoulders, sides and front legs and traditionally from “Siena”) pigs who even now are allowed (no, actually, are required) to run around as free-ranging animals in those still extensive Tuscany woodlands.

Ambrogio Lorenzetti (the “Buon Governo” or “good governance”) fresco 1337; installed in the Palazzo Comunale in Siena’s Piazza del Campo

The breed, one of only 6 native ones to survive in Italy, is thought to have originally been brought into the country via Phoenician traders — maybe as long ago as 1,500 BCE — and then (as pigs are always eager to do) they mixed with the native wild boar, the cinghiale, that still thrive to this day in the region. This lovely black pig has the sturdy limbs, the long ears to cover and thus protect its eyes from low hanging branches and that long, tough (yet delicate*) snout that we see in those animals that still root around in the woodland.


The traditional herd-book had been established in the early 1930s but this fell into disuse and was discontinued in the 1960s. Up until this time then, it had been a popular pig, tough, self-sufficient, ideal for the traditional small-holding family but slowly, after WWII, eating fashions were being changed and faster growing, cheaper, alternatives took over and, in a similar manner to all our heritage breeds around the world, by the 1990s, it was considered to be on the critical list.

* Despite constant rough use, the snout remains, in the words of one pig observer, “art-gum-eraser tender,” as sensitive and finely tuned as a safecracker’s fingertips. Mark Essig, “Lesser Beasts”.


But then along came the Slow Food movement — which noteworthily originated in Tuscany — and with it, a concrete desire to plan to ensure the survival of these types of species. The herd-book was re-opened in 1997; kept by the Associazione Nazionale Allevatori Suini, the Italian national association of pig breeders. And although the population remains low and is still classified as endangered, since then, thanks to their work, they’ve succeeded in reversing this decline such that by the end of 2012 there were 2543 pigs registered, distributed over some 111 farms. And again, like so many of the heritage breeds, since 2006 it’s protected under EU DOP (“Protected designation of origin”) status.

To keep this classification, they can only be fed using a combination of what they obtain through their own woodland rooting, along with carefully controlled supplements of pelletted cereals — these have to be guaranteed free from all GMOs. Like the pata negra, like the Ossabaw and the Euskal Txeriia, even the old English Huntingdon Black Hog breed, there they get to eat chestnuts and acorns from the cerro or quercus cerris, a Southern European native oak (also known as bitter oak or turkey oak) and wild broad beans [fava beans — shades of Hannibal there…].











The piglets are certified just after birth and are then ear tagged; listing their genetic background which process carries through into the meat which also all carries a plastic band to similarly certify the product’s origin thus giving full traceability, all the way back to the original animal.

They’re butchered at 24 months, by which time they’ll weigh between 120 and 150 kilos [260-330 lbs], whereas ‘ordinary’ pigs reach 150 kilograms after only eight months. This meat then goes on to produce those products typical of Tuscany, including salami, finocchiona (delightfully heavy with fennel), sausages, of course, pork loin, bacon, capocollo (or coppa), lardo di colonnata and, of course, prosciutto — the latter adding at least another two years to the wait for all of this mouth watering delight. You can understand why it was rightly named Slow Food…

And on that note it seems apposite to quote

“If you put good things in it, it’ll taste good”. Business card of baker Caroline Rozgaj Kobe, Sugar Creek, Missouri.

And finally, a reminder that the fascists have always been with us and we need to always keep resisting them. Every day. Everywhere. This pointer to what a little shit he was comes from the National Archives:

“Sir Oswald Mosley charged with causing unnecessary suffering to pigs”

This file relates to a case brought against Sir Oswald Mosley which was eventually dismissed. Mosley wrote to the Lord Chancellor on 10 December 1945 to ask that the magistrate who heard the case should retract what he considered to be unjustified observations made in open court after the case against him was dismissed. The Kingsclere magistrate, Lt Colonel Kingsmill had heard evidence that Mosley’s boar, two fat pigs and 95 store-pigs were emaciated and living in filthy conditions.  The magistrate, in his closing remarks, suggested that although he was dismissing the case, he felt that Mosley should have been aware of the state the pigs were in and taken steps to ensure they were properly fed and housed. Mosley wrote to the Lord Chancellor demanding that the magistrate retract his observations in open court.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

Mangalitsa; pork perfection proven?

“Crisply braised,
A paragon of fat and lean
Drips juicily upon the pit.
Sustainer of the South,
The Pig doth yearn to
Sacrifice and serve.
I eat it lustily,
Sauce-stained and smiling.” Anonymous.

Just before I do more on Spain & Japan (as I earlier promised I would), I’ve been distracted prompted to write another brief reminder of these lovely creatures both by the description of the fat on the Jamón ibérico from the pata negra and by a number of Mangalitsa breeders (& enthusiasts) on Instagram and Twitter.

Among these enthusiasts is Tom Adams of Coombes Head Farm in Cornwall who turns the meat from his Swallow-bellied and Red breeds…

© Coombeshead Farm Hotel Ltd 2016















…into this gorgeous speck…

© Coombeshead Farm Hotel Ltd 2016











© Coombeshead Farm Hotel Ltd 2016

James Villas says — and who am I to disagree — that vegetarians and those that do not eat pork for religious reasons are “haunted instinctively by the sensuous, irresistible enticement”.¹ They’ve a distinctive, strong taste that the French would likely call rassé (by the way, that’s a word that you shouldn’t use in front of your maiden aunt). And if any pig is worthy of the description “a full, sapid flavour” — I love that word —  it’s the Mangalitsa, a beast that is, sadly for them, out of the reach of these religious maniacs. But that’s OK; as I’ve said before, that leaves more for the sensible rest of us.

I’ve written long pieces and eulogies to this animal before, here and here, so when you’ve finished here, you can wander off to get your fix of more in-depth background.

So, today, just a quick recap on these Hungarian pigs (called there, Mangalica, which means “pig with a lot of lard”). I can vouch for that fa(c)t; and you only have to look at that last shot above, to know that, if anything, they’re more well endowed with fat than even their Iberian cousins to whom they’re genetically very similar. And, just like them, Mangalitsa are prized for the fat that it produces, low in (“bad”) saturates and high in (“good”) oleic acid. So much so, that at one time, their meat was reserved for supply only to the Hungarian royal family and later they were traded on the Vienna stock exchange alongside gold. In Budapest now, there’s an annual mangalitza festival held in February which sees Hungarians descend on the city to pay tribute to this special livestock..

First bred in the early part of the 19th century — at the request of Archduke Joseph — their meat remained in high demand right up until the mid-20th century with the country’s new Communist government (not alone here, as so many non-Communist governments around Europe also went down that same road) mandating a move to farming leaner animals that could produce more meat, more rapidly as everyone was now officially ‘poor’. The Mangalitsa pig went into a rapid decline, almost died out, but since then recent efforts have revived its popularity and Hungarian farmers now produce more than 70-80,000 animals a year. This good word has spread to England and the USA, helped in no small measure by early encouragement from chefs such as Thomas Keller at “The French Laundry” and later Atera and Veritas in New York

The important thing as always, to make sure they don’t die out, is to eat them. So here are some ideas on how to use this lovely animal, presented by Rotherham born (but now US resident) Simon Majumdar ²


And finally, a shout-out via some links to the other Mangalitsa breeders from earlier; I’d strongly encourage you to follow them. And obviously (durr!) to buy their meat to encourage them in their endeavours!

“Royal Mangalistsa” from Holland, then Yorkshire Mangalitsa from, well, Yorkshire and lastly (in English, the Welsh, Mynyddmawrherd, hurts my tongue) Welsh Mangalitsa.

And finally, finally, there’s apparently a sludge metal band called Mangalista. Who knew? And who knew that this was even a genre? I’m getting old…


¹ The Bacon Cookbook. (2007) by James Villas

² The Food Network & Iron Chef 2012