Pork Talk

It has, it must be said, been a good weekend - generally - for edibles. Friday started with a fine Brindisa breakfast of very good smoky chorizo, egg and potatoes (at a very good value six quid as it happens), and concluded with an attempt to consume my body weight in champagne with the assistance of the marvellous Confrerie du Sabre D'Or. I'm not one for societies and clubs - I typically take the Groucho Marx view on such things - but this lot could change my mind. As the name and champagne reference suggests, they're keeping the art of sabrage alive which, for the uninitiated, is the practice of opening champagne bottles with a sabre. It's a hugely satisfying thing to do (as Auntie Sheila discovered on Friday) and not as difficult as you might assume. It's actually more to do with the coldness of the bottle and steady even pressure along the blade than any great precision or sword-waving. Even so, it's a lot of fun and they're a fine, fascinating bunch.

The event - one of many they do each year - was held at the very nice Grims Dyke Hotel in Harrow which opera fans will recognise as the home of W S Gilbert of .... and Sullivan fame. The champagne was excellent, the food... okay. Actually, it was pretty good for the numbers they were catering for: a well-flavoured (if slightly watery) butternut squash veloute; excellent beetroot-marinated salmon; an okay steak (with earthy in a good way cabbage, carrot mousse and fondant potatoes); and a good light orange and lemon tart. Breakfast the following morning was less successful / rather more average but one word of praise for the toast. How many times have you eaten in B&Bs and hotels where the toast has been slightly warmed, not-a-hint-of-brown bread or toast coloured and stone cold? Seriously, how bleeding difficult is it to put a stack of warm, actually-toasted toast on a table? Accordingly, pats on the back to the Grims Dyke.

Saturday evening saw me roasting pork belly for, slightly shamefully, the first time. And it was good. Well, certainly for a first attempt. I scored the belly (a Ginger Pig special) with a sharp knife and then rubbed in a load of crushed fennel seeds and rock salt. A handful of garlic cloves in the pan (plus a couple of knackered-looking tomatoes from the rack) and then the old Jamie trick for the 'sizzle': oven cranked up to full, 5-10 minutes at this temperature, then turned down to 170 for an hour. This means the 'sizzle' is slightly extended as the oven cools.

After an hour, it was out with the meat to pour away the excess fat. Then back in with the remains of a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc (and a bottle of Cobra just to bulk out the liquid level - note to self, get more cooking wine in the fridge) for a couple of hours. The results were excellent but left the juices a little too fatty, so next time I'm going to give it 90 minutes to two hours on the first spell, maybe with a little liquid, pour all of that and the fat away, THEN add the wine. Mind you, it was delicious, and worked well with a little rice and lentil action. It was also good Sunday night, with a few peas added to some stir fried rice and the remains of the lentils. For the record, the rest of Sunday was very simple, with a tosted bagel or two (from Daniel's of Temple Fortune, which are expensive but way better than anything else in the area) and, thanks to Angela's increasing repertoire of baking and bread-making skills and a big lump of nearly past-it Stichleton from the fridge, some quite excellent cheese scones. Looking forward to the remainder toasted tomorrow with a little Tamworth back bacon in the morning...


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