Snorkers – good oh – or know your pork
You know how we love a bit of outdoor cooking especially when the weather is as fab as it is at the moment. We thought we’d do a Bistecca Fiorentina for some friends for supper the other night in the wood fired oven – that’s a t-bone steak cut to 5cm thick and then cooked as a mini-roast over coals. Excellent – love a plan and we got ready sorting it out. The only problem being Richard at the Dartmouth butchers had run out of t-bones…..
His great suggestion was to still have a t-bone but to use it from pork, not beef. We’d never thought of that before but it makes a lot of sense: the same cut and still fab meat just a different take on it and we got to cook the porky sides as well – apple sauce, some roast onions, a fresh fennel and orange salad, and fantastic crackling.
Pork is essential to so many cultures – an animal traditionally happy to munch on our leftovers and clear a field of roots; you keep it all year, let it grow, then it heads off to be killed and it will feed you for the next year. And it all starts all over again.
Obviously that was when we all lived on the land and had a cottage with a pig in the back yard. All changed now but pork and cured pork are still a big part of many people’s eating habits – bacon, sausage, ham, salami, paté, pies, hot and cold roast pork, casseroles, stews. It is endlessly versatile and consequently one of the nation’s favourites, probably without us thinking about it. And not just here; it’s loved all over the world – China consumes the most but also France, Spain, Germany, the Baltic States, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, America – all big consumers and for many an ingredient of almost every meal. If you’ve eaten in Spain you’ll have experienced this – pork is practically an honorary vegetable.
Like chicken, if you compare a free-range piece of pork from a small holding pig with a cut from an industrially raised animal, they are literally 2 very different beasts. We had a piece of free range Gloucester Old Spot small farm pork for Christmas lunch one year – the meat was succulent, dark and packed with flavour and the crackling outstanding. I can still summon up the taste – definitely worth buying your pork from a farm or a butcher who sources his meat from small scale suppliers.
The cheaper cuts as with most animals are to me the most interesting – those bits that did all the work; cheeks, neck, shoulders, belly pork, all have much more flavour than the back legs and stay really good and juicy because of the layers of fat melting through the meat on cooking.
One of the best bits of many during our foodie weeks in the Alpujarras is our visit to the local jamon producer’s – 40,000 hams hanging from the ceiling drying in the cold, dry mountain air. It’s a sight to see and the smell is fabulous as long as you like ham. This is followed up by a super generous lunch of thinly sliced jamon, charcuterie, chorizo of every sort, cheeses, breads and salads. We’ve been there 3 or 4 times now and it’s still fascinating – the simplest process, generations old, creating the most fantastic result. My idea of piggy heaven.
Our friends Richard and Lesley had a small scale pig farm on the other side of Dartmouth after years of working on large farms in Hampshire. Despite rearing thousands of pigs, Richard was still inordinately fond of his animals, keeping his breeding sows in sheltered fields and looking after the piglets even when they grew up into rampaging teenagers and trampled through the fences to run through the village. When they left the farm and moved to Cornwall to retire, it was only a matter of time before Richard gave in and brought another few sows and their piglets to their new home and garden.
We serve dry cured bacon and proper sausages (snorkers good oh!) to our B&B guests for breakfast and they always comment on them. I think it’s definitely worth sourcing from an independent butcher who gets their meat from known farms. I know it’s another job to do instead of shopping in a supermarket but I find it adds enjoyment to my cooking and definitely to our guests’ meals. It’s a win win. And if you’re not sure what piece of meat to buy, ask your butcher; as we found out, he’s definitely the expert!