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!