Foraging through my freezer is always entertaining. At the moment there’s a haunch of venison (wedding present), lamb shanks, ox tongue, ox cheeks, beef bones for stock, fish head for stock, frozen wine ice cubes……
“Denmark is literally filled with pigs” a friend told me in the pub a couple of weeks ago, just before I set off on holiday.
“Seriously, you can hardly move for the pigs” he insisted. “Denmark has so many pigs, it supplies the whole of China with pork.”
And so I arrived with porcine thoughts swimming through my mind. I reminisced about a journey I often made from Leicester to Suffolk, where the rolling hills gave way to flat Suffolk fields – lined with sties, snuffling sows and their little piggywigs. I wondered what it would look like on a grand scale. How a country as small as Denmark could provide enough pork to feed all of China. How the millions of pigs would move about when Denmark is made up of 406 islands. They’re not renowned swimmers, are they?
But then a funny thing happened. We got there and started driving – and no pigs. We drove a bit further – still no pigs. We crossed The Østbroen Bridge. “Perhaps there’ll be some pigs the other side” I wondered as we pushed west toward Jutland and the North Sea coastline. But not a sausage.
“We have now driven quite far” I texted the aforementioned friend. “And there is not a single pig in sight. Sheep, yes. Cows, plenty. Quite a few horses. But this gobbet you tried to feed us about Denmark supplying pork to China is rubbish.”
“Impossible.” He replied. “You must be in Holland.”
Well, I can assure you that we were not in Holland. And not once during the week did I see a pig. Though oddly there was a lot of Danish bacon in the supermarkets, so they must be kept somewhere. “Battery pigs?” Tom suggested – which I thought was a revolting idea. Even worse that battery chickens. But he assured me that pigs liked small dark spaces…”like pigsties”…and he put another pack of bacon in the trolley.
It didn’t really matter though. It’s not like we’d gone to Denmark specifically to eat pork. In fact, for most of the week we stayed in a cottage kindly lent to us by a friend of a friend of a friend. It was near the small fishing town of Rørvig, and I was excited about eating fresh fish.
Only it turned out that we had chosen quite a peculiar time of year to visit Denmark – and all the fishermen had gone home. We cycled to the harbour, and stalked round the desolated yard. But not so much as a fish finger. There was movement inside a portacabin, so we knocked on the door, and entered a fog of cigarette smoke. “Hvad vil du?” a voice growled from within the thick smoke cloud.
“We are looking for fish” I said. The fisherman stood up – his head poked up above the cloud of smoke. He wrung his rope-worn fisherman’s hands and plunged them into the deep pockets of his oilskin fisherman’s jacket, chewing on the stem of his fisherman’s pipe. “There are no fish here.” He said.
And so we went to Spar instead. Where, much to Tom’s delight, he found 2.5kg of pork belly for £2.50 – the sort of prices which can, apparently, only be found in a country saturated with pigs.
Recipe: Cauliflower Cheese
We rubbed salt into the pork belly and then put in a very hot oven for half an hour, and then in quite a low oven for two and a half more hours. It doesn’t make for a very exciting recipe. So I thought I would use this opportunity to do a recipe for cauliflower cheese instead, which was, on this occasion, made to use up an enormous lump of smelly ‘Økologisk Danbo’ cheese which Tom had bought, and which we both agreed would be unfair to take home in our hand luggage.
1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
1 tablespoon olive oil
30g plain flour
125g grated cheese (smelly leftovers are best)
1 tbs lemon juice
1 tsp mustard
pepper, to season
1. Some people boil the cauliflower. I prefer to roast it. I think it helps it stay a bit more robust, and it stops the cauliflower from seeping out goodness and flavour into the boiling water. So, put the cauliflower florets into a roasting tin. Use your hands to coat with olive oil, and then put in the oven at 180C for 12-15 minutes, until the edges are just starting to caramelise and brown.
2. First make a roux. Put the butter in a saucepan, and heat until it is just starting to bubble. Add the flour, and then stir it into a sort of thick, spongy paste. Now, leave this to cook for a couple of minutes. This is key – because it cooks the flour a little, and means that…well, it won’t taste floury. Don’t let it burn – don’t even let it brown – ideally, it should turn a dark, straw colour and start to give off lovely nutty, buttery aromas.
(Nb. If the photographs look like I’ve done it in a frying pan, that’s because I did – but only for the sake of there being more room in a frying pan for photographs. Do not follow my lead. Use a saucepan. The high sides mean that it’s far easier to stir things in a saucepan, which means that the sauce won’t splatter round your kitchen, as it has a little in mine.)
3. The most important thing is to add the milk little by little. The pan should be hot enough that when you pour in the first 25ml, it sizzles, and is absorbed by the flour-butter roux immediately. Each time you add a little more milk, beat it in with a whisk. If it starts to go lumpy, then it could be a sign that you’re adding the milk too quickly, or you’re not whisking thoroughly-enough. Do not fear! You can use elbow grease to beat out the lumps.
At first, the roux will take on a rather weird, spongy, brain-like consistency. This is good. Add a little more milk now, and it will soon turn thick and creamy. You will still need to add a little more milk after this point for two reasons. Firstly, because the melted cheese thickens the sauce, and secondly because the continued exposure to heat will also thicken it.
4. Now add the cheese to the pan. It’s a great excuse to use leftovers. In Denmark we used just Danbo. Today, I found a gnarled lump of Chedder, some Shropshire Blue which is so old I don’t even remember buying it, and some mozzarella which gives the cheese sauce a juvenile, stringy texture. Quite enjoyable. Pop it in the warm sauce, and let it melt in.
5. Finally, ‘season’ with lemon juice, mustard and pepper. Keep tasting, and adding a little of everything until you’re happy. Do not add salt. Cheese is very salty, so the sauce shouldn’t really need any more. Put the roasted cauliflower into a nice stoneware/pyrex dish (if you have one – improvise if not!) cover with the cheese sauce, and return to the oven for 4-6 more minutes.
You asked for my take on
the great joys of life.
The taste of crisp bacon.
The love of my wife.
Often that order could be reversed,
but some days, the taste of crisp bacon stays first.
….so starts a wonderful poem entitled ‘Ruminations on the Smell of Bacon’ which was composed especially for The Bacon Poetry Contest.
This somewhat esoteric poetry competition is, in fact, a mere warm-up act for BaconFest Chicago 2012—billed as “The greatest single culinary and cultural festival ever dedicated to Bacon and Bacon only”, featuring everything baconny, from bacon-inspired crafts to bacon-spirits. A chance for 3,000 bacon aficionados to gather in Downtown Chicago and…well, talk pork.
“Typical Americans” I hear you smirk. Well, dear readers, wipe that sneer off your face, because it’s not just our cousins across the Atlantic who are fans of all things streaky and crispy. Indeed, this week is Bacon Connoisseurs’ Week. A seven-day celebration of quality British pork.
This kicked off with the pig-equivalent of The Oscars with categories ranging from Classic Dry Cure Category to The ‘Rasher-nal Treasure Award’—which I suppose is the equivalent of The Lifetime Achievement Award….only instead of Meryl Streep we’re talking Old Spot Beer Mustard and Staffordshire Honey Middle Bacon. Far better.
‘Rashernal’ puns aside, bacon is widely considered to be a National Treasure. Early this year, 60,000 Britons were polled, and put bacon sarnies top of the charts, followed by a Sunday roast, and a cuppa tea. Dubbed by Gregg Wallace as “one of the western world’s greatest triumphs”, and accused by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall to be the Achilles Heel of vegetarians nationwide, it seems only fair that we join together to celebrate this porky slice.
I have joined in Bacon Connoisseurs’ Week by making some Cowboy Beans. I treated myself by using Black Farmer bacon, which really does have a gloriously smoky flavor which works particularly well with the cigar/bourbon/saloon bar vibe in these Boston-based, cowboy beans. Enjoy.
VOTE for my entry here—I might win a magimix or something!
8 rashers of Dry Cured Hickory Smoked Back bacon
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
4 x 400g tin of cannelloni beans
2 large onions, diced
Knob of grated ginger
3 tbsp of Dijon mustard
Big squirt of tomato paste
2 tbsp of cider vinegar
500ml dry cider
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 bay leaves
Slosh of cognac
2 tbsp of dark brown sugar
Pepper and salt to season
1. Cut the bacon into small slices about 2cm long and start frying them on a medium heat. Once the bacon begins to turn a little crispy add the diced onions to the pan.
2. At the point that the onions start to turn translucent pour the bottle of cider over the bacon and onions. Rinse the cannelloni beans and add them to the pan. Grate in some fresh ginger, then add the mustard, cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, bay leaves, tomato paste, tinned tomatoes and cognac.
3. Add a tablespoon of dark sugar (it’s easier to add than take away, so wait until the beans have cooked a little longer before adding any more if needed).
4. Cover and cook on a low heat for an hour and a half. Taste and season.
Budget eating is big. There are entire blogs devoted to feeding yourself on a shoestring. And today I’m going to join in, because I came up with quite a good wheeze involving the Marks & Spencer ‘two-salads-for-£3 deal’.
It’s quite simple. One for lunch and the other one as the base of your evening meal. I had giant cous cous with roasted pepper and red onion at work, and then used this one to sheesh up my supper:
The rest just involves the sort of food you might have lying around in your kitchen. Tescos penne pasta (48p), mushrooms (78p) creme fraiche (£1.10) and bacon. Boil the pasta, and in the meantime cut up and then fry the bacon. Add the chopped mushrooms to the pan after five minutes – and chuck in a bit of thyme if you happen to have any lying about. (I didn’t – but it would’ve been nice!)
Once everything’s cooked, add a couple tablespoons of creme fraiche to the warm pan (but take it off direct heat to do this). A slosh of chicken stock and a squeeze of lemon would be a good addition – once again, I didn’t manage lastnight – I was too tired/hungry, but it would have enhanced the creme fraiche-based sauce.
Finally add the cooked pasta, and then chuck in the Marks & Spencer salad pot you didn’t eat at lunchtime – in this case, bean salad. Stir and serve. Quick, cheap and tasty.