You start the first stew recipe after the clocks go back with something gushing about earthy flavours and warmth and the nights drawing in, right? I’m not sure – it’s been a while. Anyway, this is a one of those.
It’s an off-the-cuff pork stew that was really more about the desire to drop a whole bottle of sherry over some gooey pork belly than any especial chunky-knitwear tweeness.
I’d argue it succeeds. The nutty-sweet sherry comes together with the actual nuts and fruit sweetness of the dates, and the fat and rind of the pork go beautifully sticky in the long braise.
I only made this the once, so the quantities are a bit seat of the pants, but you’ll get the overall idea.
Here’s one for the tail end of barbecue season. In fact, here’s one I was not quite brave enough to take to a barbecue yesterday (cancelled of course, because Grim Rainy Island).
It’s a bit of an experiment, and it drifted into my head after putting some leftover peanuts into a rather gentler pork burger mix for a different barbecue a few weeks back. It worked, but it made me think: aren’t we tottering close to a Pad Thai vibe here?
Why the heck not. In for a penny.
In, also, for an eye-watering quantity of fish sauce. Damn, that stuff’s pungent. Like, borderline is-this-recipe-worth-it pungent. Oh, it cooks out – it’s great. But there’s ten minutes coming up where you will not enjoy being in your kitchen.
Puchero is a soupy Spanish peasant stew. It’s also one of the earliest things I remember eating. My mother used to make it when I was growing up; a bastardised take, worked up from a half-remembered recipe with whatever she could find in 1980s & 90s Darlington.
You can find a lot of recipes for South American puchero, and the Spanish variants are multitudinous. Standard for those rustic dishes named after a stewpot a few hundred years ago. Elisabeth Luard tracks it back to Andalusia, making it as a simple broth of roasted chestnuts and whatever ham’s going spare. That sounds amazing, but it’s not what I remember.
No, what I remember is a vivid broth of tender pork belly and plump chickpeas, flavoured through with scant chunks of chorizo. They were always the best bits – an unusual ingredient in that time and place, a treat to be hunted out in any bowlful. The sausages were a finer-grained Lincoln, sometimes a Cumberland, giving a plainer offset, but with the pepper adding interest.
I’ll wager we ate it with a good deal less meat per head than I’ve allocated here, and likely more carrots and chickpeas. I’ve amped up the indulgence, but you can dial it back down and go in hard on the veg. A little fatty pork goes a long way after all.
Anyway, here’s my best guess. I think my mum’s old recipe notebook is still floating around somewhere. It’d be fascinating to compare.
Elizabeth David is probably best known for bringing French cuisine to British tables. But her 1954 book Italian Foodmade a reasonable stab at introducing rural Italy’s fresh, simple flavours to a United Kingdom only just relaxing from the grip of rationing.
One of the fun things in Italian Food is a scrappy, half-explained braise of pork in milk with marjoram. Plated up as a main it would have all the appeal of stringy cement. But conceptually it’s a nice way to keep slow-cooked pork moist and flavoursome.
So how about wrapping it up in pasta, a rich carby cloak to hide its shame?
Tortelloni are great (even if I did fold mine wrong), and keeping them large cuts down the hassle. What’s fun here though is the addition of a little lemon zest, just before cooking. It steams in the filling so that when you slice into the pasta, you get this flash of zingy aroma, but the flavour doesn’t overpower.
When I was a teenager, my dad taught me to cook. I mean, he tried. I was a truculent little fucker even then, and I doubt I really listened. Still he taught at a catering college, and somehow some basics of technique and flavour sank in. I don’t think I really learned to cook though until a bit later, living in a grotty shared house, having rage-quit the family home, post graduation.
As tantrums go, “I’m moving to Cambridge” was a bit dumb, and more than a little expensive. But not wanting to let the cooking shtick wither entirely, my dad packed me off with a few books. Some core catering texts, a well-thumbed Delia, and a couple of quirky extras that have since become two of my favourites. They were Elisabeth Luard’s European Peasant Cookery, and Rick Bayless’ Authentic Mexican, and they massively influenced my early cooking forays. The latter introduced me to Tinga Poblana, one of the first things I learned to cook then really ran with.
It’s bound up in a whole bunch of memories – if I cook for you at all in person, the odds are you’ll have eaten some version of it. Hell, I’ve been titting about with Tinga Poblana for about ten years, and this won’t be the final version I settle on by any means.
A few months ago on some product management training, I had the opportunity to geek out about cheese with a lovely French lady called Mirissa. She was also kind enough to share her mustard pork loin recipe with me, and it was bloody tasty. Unable to leave well alone, I’ve tweaked it a bit, so what’s here is an onioned-up version of a quick and easy French classic.
The mustard cuts through the cream without being too vinegary or overpowering, and you can get this together in a little over half an hour.
With one half of my family from Lincolnshire, and the other from Norfolk, it’s no wonder I consume a harrowing quantity of pork and brassicas. Two Lincolnshire pork dishes I remember very fondly from childhood trips back down there are Haslet and Chine.
Now, this may sound like a rural buddy cop show, but they’re actually serious old-timey cold cuts. When we went to visit my grandmother, she would reliably serve both with an elaborate library of homemade pickles. Haslet is basically sliced stuffing, and chine is a scraggy pork neck cut, with buckets of parsley packed into deep incisions. It serves with these beautiful vivid striations, and the parsley gives it a real freshness.
Of course, there was no way I wasn’t going to muck about with it. So here it is with a more readily available cut, and crashed into a kind of idiot porchetta.
Flesh and Buns is the latest venture from the folks behind Bone Daddies, the Soho ramen bar that sounds a bit like an inter-generational fetish night, and narrowly escapes style-over-substance by serving extraordinarily tasty food.
It’s another Japanese-ish concept joint; this time a kind of elevation of Tokyo drinking hole bar snacks. It’s a repackaged Izakaya with an inexplicable hentai twist, and a name that should really be warning enough. Like Bone Daddies, the food is tasty, but Flesh and Buns pings a good seven or eight milli-Polanskis on the Good-But-Problematic scale.
The second stage of our trip was Salzburg, followed by Munich: both beautiful – if very different – cities. Architecturally and culturally different, at any rate. The onslaught of sausage, beer, and related pork products remained both relentless and delicious.
So much so, that we cooked for ourselves for two nights in Salzburg – simple vegetable stews to restore much needed vitamins and general gastric balance. Seriously, I don’t know which dark gods look after dietary fibre, but there must be a story behind why they have so savagely forsaken Austria and Germany.
I love empanadas, but rarely make them from scratch. Sometimes I’ll cheat with a pack of puff pastry, authenticity be damned. This works, is quick, and fits particularly well into the cram-more-cheese-up-it school of buffet food.
But I had a free afternoon, and Rick Bayless’ empanada pastry dough contains three tablespoons of lard, and is then fried rather than baked. How Could I say no?