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.
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.
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, visitingoldfriends 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!).
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…
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…
…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…
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.
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 …
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
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
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.
There must always be bacon in the fridge. Always.
There does not exist a food that doesn’t go well with bacon.
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
Crispy and chewy are both acceptable ways to present bacon. Thou shall not Discriminate
90% of the world’s problems can be solved by cooking more bacon.