A shout out for the Brussel sprout

It’s close to that particular time of the year when these lovely brassica family vegetables get rolled out across the land. There are those of you who — like the Marmite and liver haters — won’t touch them, thinking them the work of Beelzebub and his many minions. You’re insane of course. They’re gorgeous — and when done well (i.e. not like your Mum used to do, boiling them to within an inch of their life, lank, dulled, limp, tasteless), are a truly great flavour. There’s some good recipes suggested here in a Guardian piece that further enhance these beauties.

© Tamin Jones Guardian

Best way to buy them if you can, is as a stick: that way they stay fresh and ready to go for longer. And in addition you can use the remaining stick to make a handle for a new knife. Just like Nick Johnson, blacksmith and artist does. What are you waiting for? Off you go, buy a stick of sprouts, enjoy the resultant meal and then use the remnants to finish off the knife…

sprouthandle

George Orwell’s porcine protaganist or かごしま黒豚 for my readers in Japan

I guess it had to be one of the rare breeds but still I’m slightly sad for the Berkshire (or かごしま黒豚 literally: Kagoshima black pig) lineage, one of whom is portrayed as Napoleon (and thus is to be forever equated with “Uncle” Joe Stalin) in “1984“.

© Gerald D. Tang

That said, Wiki confirms:

Berkshire pork, [is] prized for its juiciness, flavour and tenderness, is pink-hued and heavily marbled and its high fat content makes it suitable for long cooking and high-temperature cooking

We’d agree with this — a couple of the best chops we’ve had for years came our way recently. Sourced from Sylvia (again) at Old Weston Garden Farm, they were cooked simply under the grill with a few fresh herbs. The meat was fantastic, juicy, firm and the crackling to die for. The Berkshire that did (die that is), did so in a very good cause.

There’s a fuller history on the breed in the normal section of the site.

Napoleon was a Berkshire.

I’ve seen a report that in France it’s a crime to name your pig Napoleon. But if you happen to own a pig and your name is Napoleon and it manages to commit a crime (how is that supposed to occur? I mean how many crimes is a pig really up for? Over-eating? Check. But bank robbery? Not so much), then it’s apparently immune to arrest. That’s the French for you.

napoleanberksire

Mind you, I’ve not been able to find a reference to this in either the Code Pénal or the Code Napoléon but it’s too good a story not to put here…

Napoleon from Animal Farm was a Berkshire. I mean you all guessed that the actual short (“not tonight, Josephine”), French Emperor wasn’t a pig didn’t you? Didn’t you?

I’ve put some details about their history here.

Bacon: the science of taste & smell

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 heady 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 built up through their particular dietary items available 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.

Keep a Pig

HT @val_littlewood for this image that gave me pause for a few seconds.

It comes from the the Imperial War museum and is sub-titled, “Join or Start a Pig Club”.

© Imperial War Museum

The home farmer shown looks so like my father — dead for a number of years now — but a committed pig farmer for nearly 20 years of my life and a veteran of WWII. And in another strange twist, the Small Pig Keepers Council was located at Southampton Row, London, just a few doors down from where I used to work back in the 1990s. A small chunk of personal history encapsulated in this wartime home propaganda image.

The strangest things remind me of you Bernie. I miss you.

And alongside this image is one that is still very germane today and on a subject that I’ve talked about on more than one or two occasions on this site.

© Imperial War Museum