Sunday, 21 October 2012

The noble porker: a tale of modern Britain

It could be said that the noble pig is a perfect snapshot for the state of British food as a whole.

Once upon a time, long ago, before enclosure took land away from ordinary people, before industrialisation drove millions out of the countryside and into the urban grime to find work, many homes and smallholdings would have had a pig.

It would have been kept through the year, grazing naturally, before being slaughtered as autumn came on and the nights pulled in.

Butchered, it would have been salted and preserved in many ways, nose to tail, offering food for the winter ahead.

If a more personal connection with pigs died along with the connection most of us have to the land, farming continued.

Like so many parts of our food culture, the post-war era saw an increase in factory farming and, with it, a reduction in the variety of pigs that were reared in the UK.

Many breeds died out, casualties of the growing fear – abject in so many ways – of real, natural fats.

Stand at even a proper butcher’s counter today and you may well hear people wanting lean pork.

We seem to have lost the understanding not only that natural fat is a perfectly good and healthy part of a diet – but also that it is essential for flavour.

With pork too, there’s the added importance of fat providing moisture for a meat that can easily become very dry.

But on an English autumn Sunday, what could be better to consider eating than some roast pork?

Precisely because of the ease with which you can let pork get overly dry, it’s not a meat I cook often. Which in turn, also means that I don’t get much practice.

But on Broadway Market recently, although I’d been considering lamb, Matthew had a lovely rolled, boned piece of loin that caught my eye.

To be precise, he had three rolled, boned joints – only one of them, though, had oddles of fat running through it and not just on top.

So with the clear blue overhead and the trees just moving toward a riot of colour, I settled on that – and then began to wonder just what to cook with it.

What I opted for was to use perfect seasonal ingredients to compliment it.

So first, I made up some sage butter – easy enough: a little dried or finely-chopped fresh leaves, blended into some softened butter and then allowed to harden again.

Next, the oven was set to 220˚C (fan).

I took the joint and with a bit of careful knife waggling, made a few gaps for the butter.

The skin (which had already been scored) was salted and then it went into the roasting dish with just a little fat (lard, of course) to start us off.

It then got 20 minutes, before the temperature was reduced to 170˚C, and is cooked for a further 30 minutes to the 500g. My joint was just over 1.1kg.

After that, you ratchet the temperature back up to 220˚C and give it a final 10 minutes, before taking it out and letting it rest for up to half an hour.

That allowed perfect timing to do a few roast potatoes (in lard, in another dish), to which I added a few (rinsed and drained) cannellini beans for the last few minutes. The beans cook magnificently in lard, taking on a wonderfully creamy quality.

I’d also taken two dessert apples, scored them around the middle, removed the top part of the core, filled the small cavity with more of the sage butter and then ‘lidded’ that with the top of the scoop-out core and stem.

They cooked with the potatoes, once those went into the oven after their par-boiling. And, of course, they need around 45-55 minutes.

The juices from the meat were mixed with plain flour, before some decent English cider was added (not the very best, but not Strongbow or Diamond White!).

The crackling was beautifully brittle, with an feather-light pillow of fat beneath it; the meat was tender, perfectly cooked through and delightfully moist.

Everything else worked well – and the gravy was the real deal. The whole combined for a perfect autumn feast.

Now that’s what you do with the noble porker.


  1. Lordy I'm salivating already! What a great post, you just can't get decent crackling from something wrapped in cling film from a supermarket. Cooking that kind of pork is like going on a blind date with a hideous and pervy man. It gets all sweaty and unnecessary far too quickly and the end result is a disappointing to both the eye and the pallet.