Plus ça change…

Our studio on Treverra Farm

I woke up to the sound of a small creature clamouring for attention outside my window, followed by a chorus of buzzing: flies. The inquisitive small child has now gone, but the cows are back in the field next door, which means they bring their little friends with them. Joy. Still, one look at my view of rolling green fields, perfect lawn, summer flowers and blue, endless sky is enough to soothe my fly-angst (not to mention a frenzied attack with a fly swat that killed about 10 of the buggers).

Near Lundy Bay

Sound familiar? There are indeed echoes of my time spent in the Tarn, my busy life working as a chef in a beautiful, tranquil corner of France with many creatures of all sizes to entertain and infuriate me. But Le Manoir de Raynaudes is long gone and I have moved onto new pastures (and cows, and flies…) My life is still nomadic, but I’m getting a sort of rhythm going, which feels like progress – I’ve found places I keep wanting to return to. And someone to return with: the Big Swede. Well, actually he’s a French-Swedish hybrid, but the name suits him and it’s stuck. We met in the Swiss Alps and are set to return there for our third winter together. For the summers, we live in Cornwall, with me working as a private chef and him mostly working on his surfing. Together, we look after the guests staying in a beautiful house and cottage in an idyllic site on the north Cornwall coast, set up away from the swarming crowds of tourists, with an uninterrupted view of fields and the estuary. Life doesn’t get much better than this.

Treverra Farm House
Before I get lost in smug ramblings, I must remember the point of reigniting the blog: food. It turns out that my comments and photos on Twitter or Facebook about something I’ve just cooked are prompting responses along the lines of “Enough with the chat and give us the recipe, woman!!” When I post recipes, I’ll do my best to be accurate with the quantities and be clear in my methods, but feel free to ask me if something just doesn’t add up. First up: slow roast pork.
Although I’ve always been a fan of cured or smoked pork – Spanish jamón Iberico and chorizo, Prosciutto, Salami, etc – and it’s true that I view sausages as a sacred food group in their own right, I was never a fan of roast pork. Dry, uninspiring, bland… and I never got the point of crackling. But then I tasted slow-roast pork belly in Spain and things shifted – pork that was juicy, super-tender and almost caramelised. So I experimented over and over again, changing recipes, methods, timings, temperatures, suppliers – everything in the quest to recreate the mouth-watering dish I’d eaten all that time ago. Results varied and, despite a few moderate successes, I was far from satisfied. But then I received a golden piece of advice: forget perfect meat AND perfect crackling – you can’t get both at the same time. So I divided and conquered:
SLOW ROAST PORK
Slow roast pork, salads and roast potatoes & red onions

 

This recipe and method have worked for me with both pork belly and a shoulder of pork – the former is better for smaller numbers, whereas a whole shoulder of pork (bone in) is a great way to feed about 20 people. The paste recipe is adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Aromatic shoulder of pork ‘Donnie Brasco’ and the method is thanks to Jamie Oliver and his brilliant advice, which he based on much experience and many conversations with “meat geeks”…
For the paste to rub on the meat
In a pestle & mortar or a coffee grinder, pulverise:
2 star anise
2 tsp fennel seeds
4 cinnamon sticks
4 cloves
1 tsp black peppercorns

Add 1 tblspn of this powder (you can keep the rest in an airtight jar for future use) to the following (if you’ve got a stick blender with a mini chopper accessory, this is ideal – if not, you can grate the garlic and ginger and mash everything in the pestle & mortar):
5 large garlic cloves, peeled
5cm piece of fresh ginger root, peeled
2 tspns dried chilli flakes
2 tspns ground ginger
1 tblspn brown sugar
4 tblspns flaky salt
1 tblspn sunflower or groundnut oil
1 tblspn soy sauce

Meat

Pork belly (it’s tricky to give weight – best to ask your butcher based on how many of you there are and use your eyes to gauge how much you want to eat – and remember that the meat will shrink by about a quarter during cooking), OR
Whole shoulder of pork, which weighs between 5kg and 8kg

Cooking – bearing in mind cooking times, you will need to get things going up to a day in advance
Turn your oven to 110°C.
Take the skin off the meat, using a small, sharp knife, causing as little damage as possible to the meat, the skin and your fingers. Score the skin with a sharp knife (a stanley knife works best if you have one), chop into strips or squares and put it in the fridge.
Line a roasting tin big enough to hold the piece of meat with two layers of tin foil that are big enough to wrap around the whole piece. Put the meat in the roasting tin and rub the paste all over it, then wrap the meat up and seal up the foil around it.
Put the meat in the oven for about 6 hours for a piece of pork belly or up to 24 hours for a big, whole shoulder of pork. That’s very approximate, by the way – it should be wet at all times and you cook it under the meat is falling apart – check it a couple of times during cooking and turn it over once or twice.
When it’s finished cooking, remove the pork from the oven and turn it to 160°C, transfer the meat from the foil into a roasting tin and strain the juices into a saucepan. You can smother the meat in a jelly of some kind at this point (I used a homemade red- and white-currant jelly) and put it in the oven for about 20 mins (belly) to 45 mins (shoulder) to dry out a bit.
Heat the juices in the pan and reduce to a nice saucy consistency – add a teaspoon of jelly if you want to sweeten it a bit and a squeeze of lemon often doesn’t hurt if it needs a zesty kick.
Meanwhile, for the crackling, sprinkle salt on the skin and lay it in one layer in a roasting tin in a searingly hot oven (250°C-ish) for about 20-30 mins until it is crunchy, but don’t let it burn. Sprinkle with more salt if you fancy before serving.
To serve the meat, pull out any bones and discard them then, using two forks, tear the meat apart and put onto a warmed platter. Put the sauce in a jug to serve on the side.
What you serve it with depends on you and your guests – my favourite accompaniments have been sticky coconut rice, chargrilled broccoli with chilli & garlic and Jamie’s free-styled salad of finely diced carrots, cucumber, apple & coconut with tarragon & parsley and a dressing made by tempering oil with mustard seeds, ginger & cumin, finished off with a good squeeze of lemon – a bit off-the-wall on its own but AMAZING with the pork and coconut rice. Last night I was feeding 16 guests, some of whom had more conservative tastes, so I did balsamic-roasted new potatoes & red onions, a marinated green bean salad with a Dijon & shallot dressing, a crunchy salad of carrots, fennel, cucumber & courgette and a simple green leaf salad.
We ate leftovers at about 10.30pm last night and I am still rather full, so have managed no more than a cup of detox tea so far this morning (pathetic, really). The Big Swede, however, got up at 5.30am to go surfing (the buzz on the Twittersphere tells me it’s the best swell of the season so far, so there is method to his madness) so he will probably return soon, absolutely famished, and I can attempt to assuage his hunger with a sandwich of torn, slow-roast pork, some garden lettuce and a bit of English mustard and mayo. Ooh, is that my appetite I can feel returning?