Denmark, Pigs and Cauliflower Cheese

Eating pork in Denmark

Feasting on Pork in Denmark

“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.

The Østbroen Bridge: Hunting for Pigs

The Østbroen Bridge: Hunting for Pigs

“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. 

Deserted Rørvig Harbor

Deserted Rørvig Harbor

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.

(Free upgrade) Pig Hunting Hire Car

(Free upgrade) Pig Hunting Hire Car

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 butter
30g plain flour
500ml milk
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.

 cauliflower cheese


Slow roast pork with fennel

Slow roast pork with fennel1

Ever since the recession hit and Jamie Oliver roasted belly of pork for six hours, the cut of meat has seen a huge revival. From the mahogany tables of smart London restaurants to the ikea tables of skanky student flats, it’s been the cut of the moment…. 

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Ode to the pork pie that never was

Deconstructed pork pie – sadly the jelly never made it inside the pie’s crust.

Now that a week has passed, I’m about ready to write about the tragedy that was my pork pie. It was an ambitious project…and I could have pulled it off. But I didn’t.

Don’t let this put you off though – I know exactly what went wrong, and I want you to learn from my mistakes, so that when you come to make this little beauty, it’s nothing but perfection.

There were two contributing factors to the pork pie’s collapse: impatience and over-excitement. I’m not going to lie – when you’re creating a pork pie, it’s hard to curb these two animal emotions. So my first two tips are to leave lots of time, and also to adopt the right mindset. Perhaps do some yoga beforehand, or put on some calming music – anything to keep you in a composed, meditative state.

Now, you’re not going to be able to find all the ingredients at your local Tescos, but don’t let this put you off.
Speak to an actual butcher – they’re really nice, and they’ll be able to scout out all the cuts for you, which are, incidentally very cheap. Bonus.
So, here’s everything that you’ll need:

For the Stock
A few pork bones
A pig’s trotter or a very small hock
1 onion, halved and studded with six cloves
A stick of celery, chopped in half
Six black peppercorns
Parsley, thyme and bay leaves
Roughly 2 litres of water

For the Crust
100g butter
100g lard
200ml water
550g plain flour
1.5 teaspoons salt
2 large eggs, plus another for glazing later
1 bay leaf

For the Filling
1.3 kg pork shoulder
250g smoked back bacon
250g belly pork, minced
1 heaped tablespoon chopped sage
1 tablespoon chopped thyme leaves
1 generous teaspoon salt (don’t go overboard as the bacon is salty)
1 generous teaspoon black pepper or to taste
1 generous teaspoon white pepper or to taste
Half a teaspoon of ground mace (substitute nutmeg if you don’t have it)

The first step with a pork pie is to create the jelly.
You’ll need to do this a couple of days before you plan to feast on the pie, so organisation is key.
It’s pretty much identical to making a stock…only you chuck in a trotter or two, and this amazing thing happens-the collagen breaks down, and turns into gelatin, which is the main ingredient of an old school jelly – it’s terribly exciting.

Tom’s insatiable excitement over a pig trotter

Just to clarify, at this stage you’re chucking all the ‘stock’ ingredients in a big pan, then gently simmering for at least three hours.
Strain out all the left over feckle, bones and other solids and then pour the delicious juices into a jug which, when put in the fridge overnight, turns into jelly.

Next is the pastry. One of the first things you have to do is try to expel anything you’ve been told about pastry-making from your mind, because the method for pork pie pastry is very different to your standard short crust.

Melt the butter and lard with the water over gentle heat.
If you were being spoiled (as I was) by having access to a Kenwood chef, then attach the K-shaped beater. Gently mix the flour, salt and eggs. Once it has started to come together, add the buttery-watery-lard very slowly-after a minute or so, the pastry should have naturally formed a ball.

If you’re not lucky enough to have access to a Kenwood chef, then mix everything in the same order in the way you usually would with handmade pastry – cut it together with a knife, and then use your hands to bring the pastry together in a ball.

Wrap the pastry in cling film, and then pop it in the fridge while you conjure up the juicy, meaty filling.

I used scissors to cut up the bacon into tiny pieces. Then I diced the pork shoulder into 1cm squared cubes. This was quite time consuming, but also very satisfying.
Put the bacon and the pork shoulder in a mixing dish, then add the minced pork belly, thyme, pepper, sage and a teeny weeny bit of salt (though be careful, because bacon really is notoriously salty anyway, and it’s a lot easier to add salt rather than take it out).

Now, take the pastry out of the fridge, and roll out 2/3 of it into a square.
The pastry should be nice and springy, so you shouldn’t have any problems with it disintegrating or behaving in an annoying fashion like a very short, shortcrust pastry.
Try and nail your rolled square first time though. When I scrumpled it up and tried to roll it out a second time, the pastry lost its elasticity, and was suddenly quite uncooperative.

I found that quite a deep, 18″ cake tin worked perfectly for the amounts in this recipe.
Whizz round the sides of the tin with some old butter paper so the pastry won’t stick.
Next line the cake tin with the pastry, and then tip in your meaty filling.

Roll out the final 1/3 of the pastry for the lid, and using very slightly wet hands, crimp together the sides and the top. Finally, stick a bay leaf in the lid to create a hole which will stay open during cooking, and brush the top of the pie with an egg yolk.

Pop the meaty pie in an oven at 180C for 30 minutes, and then reduce the heat to 160C to cook for another hour….

By the end of cooking, my pie was looking like the most handsome thing you’ve ever seen. Oh, never have I experienced such maternal pride at the sight of this wonderful, porky baby.

But our time together was to be short-lived, because this was the moment where things started to go wrong.
The instructions I was following told me to brush the whole pie with egg yolk, and give it a final ten minutes in the oven so that the outside turned golden.
I loosened the sides of the cake tin, and pushed the pie out, so that it was sat on the base. I could (and should) have quite easily brushed just the sides of the pie, and left the bottom alone. So why, oh why then did I decide that the base of the cake tin should come off too?
With the pie weighing quite a lot, and the pastry base being warm and supple, and a little bit damp from the meat juices, when I tried to slide the pie off, the base stuck and the rest of it moved, detaching the top of the pie from the bottom, and flooding the kitchen floor with meat juices.
There was a motionless twenty seconds where we just stood and stared – interrupted only by the steady drip of meat juice onto the floor tiles. Then Tom and Andy jumped into action, ushering me out of the room, away from the scene of devastation, and pouring me a large gin and tonic.

Disaster strikes as the bottom falls off and the insides fall out – shame.

For a pork pie to be a pork pie, it must have a jelly layer between the meat and the pastry. Without a tightly sealed pie to pour the liquid jelly in, it’s impossible.
The plus side of this story is that the pie was devoured as a ‘meat pie’ rather than a ‘pork pie’ – everyone generously told me that they didn’t like the jelly part anyway. Such good friends.

Hopefully by this point, you will have learned from my mistakes though, and as you are reading this part of the recipe, you’re sat next to a proud, in tact pork pie. So, I shall instruct you on how to finish the recipe.
Wait for the pie to cool, then remove the bay leaf – if you do this while the pie is still hot, then it might spew hot meat juices up through the hole, which would discolour the pastry lid and be a great shame.
Now, heat up 250ml of your porky jelly so it turns back into a liquid. Using a funnel, pour through the hole in the lid, and then put the pie in the fridge overnight, so the liquid-jelly has a chance to cool and set.

Finally, create a haiku to celebrate your pork pie, invite all your most carnivorous friends round for lunch, and add the achievement to your CV.