07 May, 2009

it's not easy, being pork

Poor things, pigs are getting it from everywhere these days. Of course swine flu is nothing to joke about, except that one must. Avery brought home this gem from school this week: "What's the best treatment for swine flu? Oinkment." And my personal favorite, sweeping my little circle of friends, goes like this: "I called up the NHS Help Line for information about Swine Flu, but all I got was crackling." Which is a particularly British jokelet because you have to understand both "NHS" and "crackling," a phenomenon peculiar to the cooking of pork in my adopted land. In America, of course, we insist on calling pork "The Other White Meat," which means it's competing in every way with chicken: bland, cheap and skinless. No average American is going to taint such a compelling list of qualities with anything resembling what makes pork in Britain so popular: the thick layer of gorgeous fat and skin running the length of our roasts. Cooks here score the skin and fat in any number of attractive patterns (I favor the crisscross), sprinkle it generously with sea salt and fresh black pepper, and if you're me, cover it all with fresh purple sage leaves from your handy kitchen garden (as you see above), and roast it till the meat is soft and tender and the fat is, well, crackling. Lovely.

But even if it weren't for the rather hysterical world reaction to swine flu (several London schools have closed for the week with just one or two cases), pork has other worries on its mind. In my continuing quest to support my beloved Giggly Pig sausage and bacon producers, I took a goodly number of a flavor called "Welsh Dragon" with me on my cookery weekend away, and they went down a treat. I don't really know for certain what the term "Welsh Dragon" denotes, since several sausage makers use the title and the recipes all seem slightly different, but I would guess the common denominator is hot chillies. I say, I would guess that, but you'd be surprised at the number of food policy administrators who seemed fearful that the General Public thought the main ingredient was... dragon meat.

I am not making this up.

Seriously, some governmental body actually has stipulated that any sausage called "Welsh Dragon" must specify that the main ingredient is PORK. When challenged, said governmental officials had to backtrack and say that they did not actually rate the General Public as so massively stupid (or wishful) as to believe they were buying ground dragon... just to "clarify" for vegetarians! So I guess dragon meat, being mythical, would be acceptable to vegetarians, but pork... WHOA!

All I can say in support of these concerns is that Rosie says the best dish of our whole Hereford weekend was this:

New Asparagus with Quail's Eggs and Lemon Mayonnaise
(serves 4)

about 20 fresh asparagus spears, broken off where they are tender at the stem
1 dozen quail's eggs, hard-cooked (put in boiling water for 3 minutes, then plunged in cold), peeled and cut in half lengthways

2 tbsps mayonnaise
1 tsp Dijon mustard
zest and juice of 1 lemon
sea salt and pepper to taste

Steam the asparagus JUST until it begins to smell like asparagus - perhaps 2 minutes, no longer. Simply lift the lid of the saucepan/steamer and smell. The asparagus will continue to cook for a moment when you take it out, so be conservative and DO NOT overcook.

Lay the asparagus on a platter and scatter over with quail's eggs, then drizzle with dressing and serve right away.


Light, fresh, green, yellow and white. The absolute personification of spring. I don't want to gloat, but asparagus one's picked on one's own, minutes before cooking, is pretty much the apogee of satisfaction on a plate.

Then, too, for lunch today I made a completely simple and fresh salad and I'd serve it to anybody, perhaps alongside the asparagus dish, for a truly elegant spring luncheon.

Crayfish Tails Salad With Avocado, Rocket and Lemon
(serves 4)

360 grams crayfish tails
1 avocado, diced
two handfuls rocket
2 tbsps mayonnaise
zest and juice of 1 lemon
handful chives, chopped
pinch sea salt and pepper

Drain the crayfish tails and dry with paper towels (so dressing doesn't get runny). Place in a large shallow bowl. Toss in avocado and rocket.

Mix mayonnaise with lemon zest and juice and shake very well till mixed. Pour dressing over crayfish, then sprinkle over chives and salt and pepper.


Again, this dish is welcoming of spring in its bright colors and lively flavors. Tangy, creamy, sharp from the rocket and firmly fleshly from the fish. You'll love it.

More tomorrow on our adventures in Hereford, which included a massive barbecue of lamb burgers, aubergine (eggplant), tomatoes with harvested rosemary, you name it. When I give you these recipes, you will not frankly believe that we cooked (and ATE!) it all in three days... but my swimming costume on our trip to the pool this evening will assure you that we DID!


Rosemary said...

In the last photo is that asparagus growing? And behind blooming rosemary? Lucky find or lucky choice of house for a cooking friendship gathering, I'd say.

Rosemary, the mother-in-law kind

Kristen In London said...

Oh, yes! To both questions. Asparagus just coming on, and the landlady invited us to eat it all: so we did. And the rosemary was simply divine, as was the purple sage, and the spring onions, and the mint... it was pretty heavenly!