I do love the swine. I love it any/which way it comes. Bacon, pork belly, chorizo, black pudding, loin, pork chops, ribs, sausages. Tender and crispy, moist and wonderful, oozing fat and dripping with flavour.
Ah, the swine.
Sourcing it well is most important. Every piece of meat we eat is the product of a number of factors: husbandry, the abbatoir and the butchery; each stage is equally important. The meat available to us in most shops and supermarkets is compromised on at least one of these fronts, in the name of price and value, speeding up the process to rush it to our shelves, or using intensive farming methods, common in pigs as chickens and equally cruel, but less well publicised.
Now, I don’t want to demonise the commercial pig farmer, but in our world, there’s a tendency to put profit over welfare, of the pig and the end consumer. I know it’s a very difficult time to be a farmer, they in the main are trying to compete and provide what the supermarket demands. I grew up surrounded by farms, and I know how difficult the life can be and how much they care about what they do. I really want to support them and not pointlessly criticise. It’s time for the supermarkets to hold their hands up and make some changes, and bring the product back to what it was before we had any of these issues. It’s better for the pig, better for the farmer, and better for the consumer.
Added to these concerns, rare breeds are dying out in favour of the easily bred commercial pig and the efforts of smaller farmers and farmer’s markets in preserving these and their uniquely flavoured meats is to be applauded and supported.
So, how do we tackle this now? Personally, I prefer to eat meat less often, and when I do, eat a better product. I go to a local reliable butcher, or the farmer’s market. At the very least, when buying in the supermarket, I buy the best I can. Recently, I discovered an online farmer’s market, Paganum, based in North Yorkshire and thought I’d give them a go. It sounded worth trying, their ethic matches mine, and it’s super convenient to boot. So, I ordered some pork and it was couriered to me the next day. I got bacon, a roasting joint, and (it goes without saying) some pork belly.
The bacon was back bacon and was cut quite thick, as is the Yorkshire way. I like my bacon crispy and I wondered how this would work with a thicker cut. I fried some with some eggs for brunch to see. It was absolutely delicious and the fat was melt in the mouth. I absolutely overate as a result. No surprise there!
Next up was the roasting joint. I cut it into sections as I wanted to freeze some for next weekend. It cut so easily, the meat was incredibly delicate. I seasoned it first with sea salt all over, especially on the skin and roasted it with some garlic, apples, onions, bay leaves, black peppercorns and sauvignon blanc. Roasting on a low heat to begin with and basting occasionally to keep it moist, using the accepted wisdom of cooking slowly at 190 degrees until the meat is cooked (roughly 25 minutes for every pound or so), then transferring the meat to a new tray and cranking up the heat to 230 degrees to crisp the crackling.
It took about two and a half hours in total for the amount that I was roasting. I have had my fill of heavy roast dinners after Christmas, so I wanted to eat it simply. I added some washed and chopped kale to the juices and accountrements in the original baking tray, covered it with aluminium foil and steamed it for about 5 minutes in the oven, until the kale was a vibrant bright green, still crispy and flavoured with the wine and juices from the meat. It was delicious! The meat itself was so moist and tender, and the crackling so crisp. There’s never enough crackling for me, which is probably just as well, I should leave some room in my arteries for some blood to get through occasionally.
It was lovely but not perfect, the recipe that is. While the wine was lovely, I might add some water or a light stock with the wine next time 50/50, as the flavour could dominate. I might add some carrots too, I think the sweetness would be a lovely addition to the juices.
It was the lunch that kept on giving. I had it for dinner on garlic ciabbata toasts, that I roasted in 5 minutes and with some more kale. I’ve got some more left, another meals worth and have saved the apples, onions and juices. I plan to experiment with an apple, sauvignon blanc and thyme sauce. I’ll let you know if it’s a success!
What about the pork belly? I haven’t decided what to do with that yet. I am tempted to raid my Fuschia Dunlop cookbook and do something Sichuanese with it. Or maybe have it cold in a salad a la Simon Hopkinson. I’ll decide soon, and come back and tell you about it here.
Tomorrow, I am quite excited to be going back to St John, they’ve just been awarded a well deserved first Michelin star, so I should have something to say about that soon too.
Hope you’re having a lovely January!