Going the Whole Hog

“You should cut down on your porklife mate, get some exercise!” – Blur, Parklife

There are so many jokes you can make about a pig. Cop jokes, bacon jokes, swine jokes, fat jokes. But pork is no laughing matter in my adopted home of Britain. Never did I realise that the love of pork went so deep into the hearts and arteries of the British public. Not until I moved here and married one (a Brit – not a pig – just to be clear).

Now I come from what I thought was a bacon country – Canadians love bacon. In North America, we even have a type of bacon named after us (which was also the title of a 90s John Candy movie). But until your first visit to the bacon section of a British supermarket, where you can see the outstanding range and depth of available bacon products, do you begin to understand what’s going on here. Smoked. Unsmoked. Oak smoked. Applewood smoked. Streaky. Back. Top. Side. Economy. Posh. British. Danish. You get the point I’m sure. In Canada it’s much simpler to choose your bacon – regular, low-salt, maple syrup-infused, or turkey. And if you’re in a fancy market or butcher there’s peameal or back bacon.

But enough about bacon – what about the rest of the pig? It never fails to make me smile at how many ways the British have managed to get pork in all its forms into as many special occasions as possible. My first Christmas was an eye-opening experience – these people not only use minced pork to stuff the turkey, then bacon to wrap the turkey, but they serve the poor pork-drenched turkey with a side of bacon-wrapped sausages. For our London wedding reception, my husband found a pub that would do a hog roast. A hog roast. In the pub garden. In a city like London, not some rambling countryside. I was amazed. What a place. Pork is big here.

Last night N and I attended a pop-up restaurant event called @PorkLife at the Bull in Highgate, a great brewpub and restaurant not far from where we live in North London. This event was the brainchild of two pork-enthusiast chefs, Tim Anderson and Tom Whitaker. Some of you may remember them from a little show called MasterChef in 2011 – Tom was a finalist and Tim the glorious champion (I like Tim, I must admit – if it had been X-Factor, I would have voted for Tim every week and totally run up our phone bill). As true pork-lovers, Tim and Tom decided to host a meal where their guests ate a variety of dishes from every part of a single rare-breed pig, scary bits and all. Needless to say, it didn’t take me long to convince N that we should grab a couple of tickets before they sold out.

What a menu and what a fantastic night!  I won’t go into too many porky details, but needless to say the food was outstanding and I won’t be forgetting that meal for a long time.  A couple of dim photos for your viewing pleasure are attached below, with my apologies if they don’t capture the true porky essence of the dishes.  I was particularly fond of the nugget of brawn (headcheese to those in North America) that was breaded in panko crumbs, deep-fried and served with Korean chilli mayonnaise.  Kind of like a grown-up chicken nugget.  And of course the salad of romaine lettuce, watermelon, chilli, peanuts in fish sauce vinaigrette topped with crackling, trotters and pig’s ears.  Because bacon bits on a salad are old news it seems – you need a piece of crispy ear.  Who knew?

I truly admire Tim and Tom’s ability to make delicious, gourmet fare from parts of an animal that are not always popular.  It really is time for meat-eaters everywhere to realise that it is wasteful if we don’t try to use every part of the animal available.  Nose-to-tail eating shouldn’t just be the latest trend, but the way forward in responsible meat consumption.

On another note, I think I may have witnessed the tipping point of pork consumption for my pork-enthusiast husband – tonight I think we’re having chicken!

Happy St. Lobster’s Day!

 

Ok, so I’m NOT a Valentine’s Day girl….really. Really? Really.

Truth is I spent the better part of 30 years of my life not liking (caring) about the dreaded “V-day”, and instead would spend the 14th bonding (whining) with my single girlfriends about how commercial (tragic) Valentine’s Day was, how it didn’t mean anything (everything), and how we’d rather DIE than be stuck in some cheesy restaurant, with some cheesy guy eating way too much cheese (mmmmm cheese). Never. Nevernevernever. Never.

And then I met the love of my life. In a completely non-cheesy way of course – we don’t do cheese….well we like it on a board after dessert served with crackers, but otherwise nope. No cheese for us. And after a couple of forced Valentine’s Day cheesy dinner dates with N (we even technically got ENGAGED on the dreaded V-Day, something N had actually forgotten until I reminded him earlier, and of course it was the most non-cheesy engagement ever…as you’d expect from me….), I realised that the best way to spend a cold February evening with another human being you love is to stay home and cook a fantastic dinner. Screw the greeting card industry, screw very expensive red roses, screw crappy chocolates (although I will still accept all of the above – N take note). The thing you, me, and the rest of the world needs is something nice to do on a cold evening approximately halfway between New Year’s Eve and the start of spring – and when I think of something nice to do, I think of cooking delicious, rich, luxurious food and sharing it with someone equally nice. And that nice person CAN be your partner/spouse/sweetheart, but it could just as easily be your best friend or your favourite cousin. Find someone you like and make a great meal – this is an excellent excuse!

And so, I hereby re-Christen February 14th as St. Lobster Day.

I realise that I’m not in any official capacity to change holidays, and that lobsters probably aren’t saints (although they might have a patron saint – must check) but go with me here. If lobster isn’t your bag of tricks (and I’ll respect that – but I’m pretty shocked) then find something else that you wouldn’t normally cook for a Tuesday night dinner. A fantastic piece of steak, some fabulous pasta concoction with too much cream in the sauce, mussels, anything deep-fried – the point is to spoil yourself and the person you’re spending the evening with. And why not? You deserve it – because it’s St. Lobster Day!

Tonight N and I feasted on pancetta-wrapped tiger prawns (nice), mini-Yorkshire puddings with rare beef and horseradish cream (lovely), and the piece de resistance, Lobster Linguine (fantastic!). I will admit to cutting back the recipe from two lobsters to one – somewhat because at £18 a pop, it seemed a bit more fiscally responsible of me in these times of financial restraint, but also because when I got to the fish monger, he only had one lobster remaining. Shocking! I guess we’re not the only ones celebrating – happy St. Lobster Day everyone!

 

Lobster Fettuccine for Two

recipe courtesy of Canadian Living Magazine

We did use one lobster less than they suggested, and the results were just lovely. But heck, if you can buy two lobsters, why not go for it?!

Ingredients
• 2 cooked lobsters, (2 lb/1 kg total)
• 8 oz (227 g) fettuccine
• 1 tbsp (15 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 shallot, minced
• 1/2 tsp (2 ml) salt
• 1 pinch hot pepper flakes
• 1/4 cup (60 ml) dry white wine
• 1/4 cup (60 ml) finely chopped fresh parsley
• 1/4 cup (60 ml) whipping cream or double cream

Preparation
Place each lobster on cutting board; twist off tail. With sharp chef’s knife, cut tail in half lengthwise; remove meat from tail and cut into chunks. Place in bowl.

Remove claws from body. With blunt side of knife, crack claws; pull apart shell and remove meat. Cut into chunks and add to bowl. Pull off back shell; remove white protein clumps and discard. Keep green or yellow tomalley (liver) and add to bowl, if desired. Reserve shells for lobster stock, if desired. (Make-ahead: Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 hours.)

In large pot of boiling salted water, cook fettuccine until tender but firm, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup (50 ml) of the cooking liquid.

Meanwhile, in large non-stick skillet, heat oil over medium heat; fry lobster, garlic, shallot, salt and hot pepper flakes until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add wine; cook for 1 minute. Add parsley, cream, pasta and reserved cooking liquid; toss to coat and heat through.