Salute The Pig http://salutethepig.com ...the countless joys of porcine delights Sun, 19 Feb 2017 18:40:35 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 58232573 Sagardi service sadness but pig head heaven with the Blackhand gang http://salutethepig.com/sadness-at-sagardi-service-but-pig-head-heaven-with-the-blackhand-gang/ http://salutethepig.com/sadness-at-sagardi-service-but-pig-head-heaven-with-the-blackhand-gang/#respond Sun, 19 Feb 2017 17:41:31 +0000 http://salutethepig.com/?p=5740 Continue reading]]> 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.

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Women butchers via Butchr… http://salutethepig.com/women-butchers-via-butchr/ http://salutethepig.com/women-butchers-via-butchr/#respond Mon, 13 Feb 2017 14:48:57 +0000 http://salutethepig.com/?p=5728 Continue reading]]> Just a “heads up”, short post, to point out that the fine team at Butchr (aka The Meat Professionals Network) are carrying on adding to and updating the list I started last year of female butchers in the UK — and all credit to them for ensuring that this ongoing lack of suitable publicity carries on being highlighted.

Today is Jess Leliuga

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Banned by the Emperor; never a boaring life eh? http://salutethepig.com/banned-by-the-emperor-never-a-boaring-life-eh/ http://salutethepig.com/banned-by-the-emperor-never-a-boaring-life-eh/#respond Sun, 12 Feb 2017 02:41:46 +0000 http://salutethepig.com/?p=5709 Continue reading]]> 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.

References:

  1. Ishige, Naomichi (2014), History Of Japanese Food, Routledge, pp. 53-54
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Belt up! The Siena Cinta; more heritage taste. http://salutethepig.com/belt-up-the-siena-cinta-more-heritage-taste/ http://salutethepig.com/belt-up-the-siena-cinta-more-heritage-taste/#respond Sat, 11 Feb 2017 16:24:24 +0000 http://salutethepig.com/?p=5677 Continue reading]]> 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.

© Renieri PROSCIUTTO TOSCANO DOP RENIERI

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…

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Mangalitsa; pork perfection proven? http://salutethepig.com/pork-perfection/ http://salutethepig.com/pork-perfection/#respond Thu, 09 Feb 2017 16:00:16 +0000 http://salutethepig.com/?p=5435 Continue reading]]>

“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…

Ref:

¹ The Bacon Cookbook. (2007) by James Villas

² The Food Network & Iron Chef 2012

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Chasing down Kagoshima Kurobuta かごしま黒豚, sharp ‘blue steel’ knives; gampi washi & Satsuma pottery http://salutethepig.com/chasing-down-kagoshima-kurobuta-%e3%81%8b%e3%81%94%e3%81%97%e3%81%be%e9%bb%92%e8%b1%9a-sharp-blue-steel-knives-gampi-washi-satsuma-pottery/ http://salutethepig.com/chasing-down-kagoshima-kurobuta-%e3%81%8b%e3%81%94%e3%81%97%e3%81%be%e9%bb%92%e8%b1%9a-sharp-blue-steel-knives-gampi-washi-satsuma-pottery/#respond Wed, 08 Feb 2017 15:06:05 +0000 http://salutethepig.com/?p=5643 Continue reading]]> OK, it probably doesn’t take a genius to figure out, even with just these few words as your only clues, what country we’re planning to be in, sometime in 2017…

Yup; we’re off to 日本国, Nippon, also known as Toyoashihara no mizuho no kuni (豊葦原の瑞穂の国) or the “Country of Lush Ears of Bountiful Reed Plain(s)”. You can be damn sure that a (non Google) translate app is going to be front & centre on the ‘phones when we touch down.

© Mundo Japón

© Japanny.com

© Paper Connection

 

 

© Naturalistic Spoon & Seiji Yamauchi 2011

The country ticks so very many of our boxes; so much so that we may not ever return, spending our remaining years hiking being driven around the gorgeous countryside, stumbling across yet another master of their craft, whether paper making, pottery throwing, hot steel working or pig rearing. And that’s before we look at their fish…

And San Sebastián later this year. The next few posts will be pork & knife related (with the occasional detour into Val territory) based around the local specialities in Spain & Japan. Starting with Tonkatsu. Look at that, will you. Sweet death. Just. Look. At. That.

© MAKIKO ITOH

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Pick a pintxo; punch a Nazi http://salutethepig.com/pick-a-pintxo-punch-a-nazi/ http://salutethepig.com/pick-a-pintxo-punch-a-nazi/#respond Sat, 04 Feb 2017 14:17:06 +0000 http://salutethepig.com/?p=5627 Continue reading]]> With events across The Pond unfolding daily, all involving yet more of the madness of The Orange Stain, it’s beginning to look more and more like an outtake from The Man In The High Castle. So, we have decided that, until Trump is ousted and his Nazi followers sent back to the swamps from which they’ve crawled (hi Milo!), we’ll not be visiting anytime soon…

 

So, sadly, we’re going to miss out on a visit to see the Ossabaw Island hogs, eating our way through North Carolina, visiting old friends in DC and going to Houston for Cochon555.

We’ll instead, punch a Nazi (or ten) over here in England and are now planning a visit to the heart of the Basque country, inc. San Sebastián to eat metric fuck-tonne quantities of pintxo, the Basque version of tapas. They’re called this (it means “thorn” or “spike”) as a toothpick or wooden spike is used to keep the gorgeous, fresh, local ingredients from falling off the bread (as well as to keep track of the number of items that the customer has eaten!).

© Euskal Etxea 2016

There are over 600 restaurants in San Sebastián inc. Arzak, run by father & daughter team Juan Mari Arzak and Elena Arzak Espina and rated 21st out of the top 50 around the world, but also lots of the small, almost hidden, dark and shaded, family run bars that we enjoy so much. I have a feeling we’ll not starve…

And we’ll also be paying a visit to look at the Euskal Txerria pigs on the Urdapilleta farm …

© What About Leo https://whataboutleo.com/blog/

…and drinking the amazing, still (not sparkling) and with some sediment left in, hard, local Sagardoa sidra (“cider”) .

© Miki López

There’s a good piece on this from the team at Serious Eats here; remind me of this link when I’ve drunk too much to remember it would you and tell me not to try this traditional method of pouring?

We’ve other trips planned inc. a Scandie one, so, sorry America, maybe in 4 years we can come back?

 

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Get ahead; get a head pie. http://salutethepig.com/get-ahead-get-a-head-pie/ http://salutethepig.com/get-ahead-get-a-head-pie/#respond Thu, 02 Feb 2017 17:31:32 +0000 http://salutethepig.com/?p=5616 Continue reading]]> I just know Val will roll her eyes at this and say “what, not that bloody Fergus, again“, but sorry sweetie, no apologies for highlighting again the work of two masters of their craft (rather than the more plodding efforts displayed by this amateur — yours truly — in the previous post).

First, here’s Fergus and St. John’s Pig’s Head Pie — seemingly endless layers of pigs head & potato lovingly, mouth-wateringly, cradled inside a buttery pastry. Can’t you just see yourself rolling into that…

© St John’s 2017

…immediately followed by a shot from the young pretender to all things “nose to tail”, Mr Tom Adams of his speck sausage. That fat. Oh boy, that fat.  Excuse me whilst I go and wipe the drool off my chin…

© Tom Adams 2017

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Stop fidgeting at the back there; or the Huntingdon (fitchett) Pie http://salutethepig.com/stop-fidgeting-at-the-back-there-or-the-huntingdon-fitchett-pie/ http://salutethepig.com/stop-fidgeting-at-the-back-there-or-the-huntingdon-fitchett-pie/#respond Wed, 01 Feb 2017 21:33:01 +0000 http://salutethepig.com/?p=5221 Continue reading]]> Why am I writing about a mere pie you may ask? OK, for any number of good reasons (foremost of which of course is: “it’s a PIE, stupid, what’s not to like?”) but really there are two main ones:

  1. It’s a great traditional dish made with pork & apple that’s been produced in and around Huntingdon and dates back hundreds of years &
  2. It used to be made with bacon taken from the Huntingdon Black Hog, now sadly extinct. A local pig, dear to my heart, especially as it was so similar to my beloved Berkshires.

© Slow Food UK

It’s such an important specimen (the pie that is, obviously; sadly the pig isn’t with us anymore) of the history of the food in this country, that the very wonderful Slow Food UK movement have added it to their Ark of Taste programme as a prime example of one of around 80 or so English products felt to be under threat of either disappearing completely or being changed beyond recognition i.e. read “cheapened”.

The Berkshire (along with the British Lop, Gloucester Old Spot, Tamworth and other rare pig breeds) is also in there, right next to our regional cheeses, ancient fruits, endangered sheep and traditional fish, all coming under a heading we could and should call “best of British”.  Do you see a theme emerging here?

So, back to the Fidget (“fitchett” is an alternative spelling as one suggestion for the derivation of the name is that it was originally ‘fitched’ or five-sided in shape; however, reading Stefan’s Florilegium also suggests the origin could indeed be fitchett †, a slang word for ‘apple’). However you choose to pronounce this beauty, with pork and apples cooked inside a golden-brown short crust pie, what’s not to like about it? And along with onions and cider, that’s the basis for this deceptively simple dish.

[NOTE: some recipes also throw in potato — but that’s some horrible aberration straight outta Shrophire, so will be ignored here and henceforth by all right thinking people].

Back in 2007, a Grauniad journalist ¹ tried to find a Huntingdon Fidget Pie he could sample whilst on a family visit to the town; with a singular lack of success. Things haven’t improved any in the 7 years since then. Still no one is offering them in the town. Not one place.

These majestic pies — that were once produced here and all over the Midlands and described memorably as “meals on wheels for working men” ¹ — are the hyper-local equivalent of the bulging Cornish pasty or those packed hot pies coming from Lancashire but you’re hard pressed to find them being made anywhere now even (especially!) in their home-town– and that’s a crying shame.

© Visit Cornwall

© Richardson’s Butchers, Lancs.

So, to redress this balance I intend making these regularly. And with Berkshire bacon as I can’t get the pork from a genuine Huntingdon Hog. There are a number of recipes floating around the web now but this is the one I’m slowly fine-tuning.This will probably serve four (small) people. I’m not sure that’s correct — “your mileage may vary” — so you may want to scale up the numbers below …

INGREDIENTS:

  • 100 g (4 oz) unsalted butter, cubed
  • 250 g (9 oz) plain strong flour
  • 1tsp fresh thyme
  • 1tsp caster sugar
  • salt and milled pepper
  • 225 g (8 oz) back bacon, rind off, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium onion, skinned and roughly chopped
  • 225 g (8 oz) mixed cooking & eating apples, peeled, cored, roughly chopped
  • 15 ml (1 tbsp) chopped fresh parsley
  • 150 ml (1/4 pint) dry cider
  • 1tsp corn flour
  • 1 large egg yolk, beaten for the glaze

    PREPARATION:

  • We’ll start off with the pastry:  sift 225 g (8 oz) of the flour and a pinch of salt into a bowl, add the thyme. Rub the butter in gently until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs then add just sufficient cold water to mix to a firm dough. Ball up the dough and knead lightly then cover the bowl in clingfilm and put it in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, cook off the bacon and onions in a little pork fat until the former starts to crisp and the latter to go translucent. Combine the two, tossing in the corn-flour and then place with the apples into a 568 ml (1 pint) pie dish. Add the parsley & caster sugar and season to taste with salt & milled pepper.
  • Take the remaining flour and slowly add the cider, a little at a time, until it’s a runny paste; pour this into the pie dish.
  • Roll out the pastry until it’s approx. the depth of a £1 coin. Cut off a thin strip long enough to go around the rim of the pie dish. Moisten the dish rim with water and place this strip onto the rim, pressing down lightly all the way round.
  • Roll out the pastry again until it’s a circle approx. 1/2″ wider than the dish diameter
  • Now moisten the strip of pastry, place the pastry circle on top and press firmly to seal. Knock up and flute the edge using a fork.
  • Make a diagonal cross in the centre almost to the very edge of the dish and fold the pastry back to reveal the filling. Chill it all in the fridge again for 30 minutes.
  • Take out and brush the pastry all over with the egg. Bake at 190ºC (375°F) mark 5 for about 45 minutes or until the pastry is deep golden and the filling is cooked.
  • It’s perfect served straight from the oven along with a green vegetable — I’d suggest a purple sprouting broccoli or some curly kale or you can let it chill and then match it with a salad & a sharp pickle.

And this is the result. Well, one of them. In this version from last weekend, I’ve used diced pork loin rather than bacon, to ring the changes and experiment. Hey, no carping criticisms eh? My town, my recipe(s), MY frickin’ pie.

† interestingly, there’s a Fitchett mentioned in connection with the eponymous town of Huntingdon, VA. Nothing to do with pigs or pies but still, one of those nuggets of useless information (in this case about Cherrystone oysters) that you’ll thank me for one day …

Doran S. Callahan Collection, Eastern Shore Public Library Accomac, Va. 1900

References:

  1. Fort, Matthew. “Start fidgeting”. The Guardian, 17 November 2007
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Bacon: the science of taste & smell http://salutethepig.com/bacon-the-science-of-taste-smell/ http://salutethepig.com/bacon-the-science-of-taste-smell/#respond Sat, 28 Jan 2017 18:48:28 +0000 http://salutethepig.com/?p=5578 Continue reading]]> Science writer Veronique Greenwood once described bacon thus:

“the mere smell of it can take you by the nose and lead you across the house to the kitchen”

 

And she’s right of course. But why is she right and how does smell and taste act together to overwhelm your sensorium? Well, duuuuuuh. Science. Of course.

So in this piece, let’s try and science the shit out of it, shall we?

Bear in mind this is a blog post, so it’s barely even raising a welt on, let alone scratching the huge surface of this thing. The references at the bottom are just a few of the pieces I’ve read and continue to browse through. And, as always, any errors of interpretation or description are mine, not those of the super-smart people I’ve cited here.

The muscle tissue we take to eat from our animals (and this detail applies to us as well of course) contains fatty acids that, disintegrating as they do during the cooking process, yield up a complex mix of smells and aromas via complex molecular compounds such as furans, ketones & aldehydes. Each have their own distinctive tells – furans give a sweet, nutty, caramel-like note, ketones incline towards butteriness whilst aldehydes show a grassy, green note.

The question of which fatty acids are to be found in a particular meat then leads into the question of diet; each choice made in terms of what’s consumed then branching further out, so flavours and smells depend on the input. “You are what you eat”. Or in this case, they (the animal) are what they eat. For example, the gaminess you taste in the meat taken from a lamb is at least partially down to the resultant particular array of lipids held in the membranes and their resultant breakdown products as the meat cooks.

The cured and smoked belly pork used to make good bacon has a taste intimately defined by the processes necessarily involved in its production. Salts, utilised in the cure, change the pathways these chemical reactions can take — thus affecting how the fats react — by arresting their journey along certain routes whilst shunting the rest of the molecules down yet others. Then there’s the smoking; the wood, gently smouldering, starts to release those distinctive acrid-smelling phenols as well as much sweeter smelling ones such as cyclotene (3-Methyl-1,2-Cyclopentanedione), more poetically known as maple lactone, which interestingly is a component also used in perfumes.

Copyright 2015 Andy Brunning/Compound Interest.

And then there’s the cooking process itself. We’ve all heard by now of the Maillard reaction, that gorgeous browning that occurs when, under high heat, reducing sugars and amino acids combine. This process leads to the inclusion of yet more of the furans, alongside other exotics such as pyrazines and thiazoles, both of which combine to contribute their nutty, caramelised tastes and aromas to that heady brew that your tongue and nostrils love so much.

[NOTE: a word of warning here; such high heat can also lead to the production of acrylamide, which you’ll want to steer clear of (carcinogenic, don’t you know) but unless you’re the type that feels they have to turn their bacon into charcoal — and what kind of moron thinks that’s a good idea — you’ll be fine. Brown away baby!]

Here’s a great looking example of this delight from the team at Hill & Szrok

Finally, here’s a suggestion for the Six Rules Of Bacon. You’re welcome to add your own.

  1. There must always be bacon in the fridge. Always.
  2. There does not exist a food that doesn’t go well with bacon.
  3. There are 2 kinds of people in this world. Those who love bacon & those who will be used as fodder in the case of a zombie apocalypse
  4. Crispy and chewy are both acceptable ways to present bacon. Thou shall not Discriminate
  5.  90% of the world’s problems can be solved by cooking more bacon.
  6. Meals without bacon are not worth eating.

And finally, finally, a recipe from Nathan Myhrvold in his incomparable “Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking” for blackstrap molasses country ham. I’m off to try this. Back in about 8 weeks. If I can find an Ossabaw. Bear with me…

References:

  1. Olfaction, Taste and Cognition” by CATHERINE ROUBY, BENOIST SCHAAL, DANIÈL DUBOIS, RÉMI GERVAIS, A. HOLLEY. Cambridge University Press 2002
  2. “Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom Excursions into Eating, Power, and the Past” by  Sidney W. Mintz. 1997
  3. Taste: Surprising Stories and Science About Why Food Tastes Good.” by Barb Stuckey. 2013
  4. “The Elements of Taste” by Gray Kunz & Peter Kaminsky. 2008.
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