Photo: Deirdre Rooney
I once had a French sister-in-law who, when we were eating spider crab or lobster toegther, would excavate the beast down to the last tiny, edible morsel before tasting ANYTHING. She would build a mound of meat and dominate the conversation while we were all eagerly sucking and picking at limb joints. I found this a little mean-spirited. She was opting out of the communal mess and joy of using fingers, tongues (and usually teeth as we could never find the damned nutcrackers) and would eat, triumphantly, her tidy pile of flesh long after we had made carnage of ours.
It’s socially acceptable to be a bit slurpy and dirty with shellfish, of course. And even if in England things get rather prissy with lemon-laced finger bowls (I was recently given a whisky tumbler filled with tepid water set on a paper doilie, on a saucer, which I then absent-mindedly grabbed when reaching for my water glass) provided for the merest oyster, you can enjoy the primitive pleasure generated by eschewing cutlery.
But still, there have been too few meals in my lifetime where the entire table gets to use their fingers and eat meat directly from its skeleton. So for Easter I ordered a suckling pig, fired by Momofuku Bo Ssam love and a grand fantasy of a grande table of folk greedily pulling bits of skin and confit meat from a carcass.
My butcher sorted out the ordering and butchering, and on Sunday I picked up 7kg of baby pig. I followed instructions from this great post, with pretty good results (see pic) – all very delicious , crispy outside, melting within. (I served it with apple compote and Noirmoutiers new potatoes. Pudding was Eton mess and a goats’ cheese platter from The Normandy Stall of Everything.)
And yet, devastatingly, my well-meaning caveman fantasy did not become reality. My daughter, (11) was disgusted, pointing out to me that the pig was the size of our dog and almost put herself up for adoption on the spot. And the French parents of the younger children present begged me to cut the meat , put it in a serving dish and hide the carcass. We all knew each other quite well but it was immediately obvious no-one shared my desire to have our fingers meet somewhere inside that piglet’s hot, collagen-sticky, little head.
So the next time I want to put anything edible, still connected to its face and hooves on the table – no matter how droolingly melting its meat may be, I shall be more selective in my guests. No children for a start. And probably only foodie people – a majority of whom, I suspect, would be Irish/British and who, like me, might have a delicious tendency to use food for sensation, not sustenance.
Roast suckling pig
A 7kg pig fed 14 + 5 the next day and fitted easily into my 90cm oven. It would be a squeeze in a 60cm oven, so a 4/5kg pig would be more practical. Reduce cooking time by about an hour. 30 minutes preparation, 5 hours cooking
1 suckling pig, 7kg, 1/2 head of celery, 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, 2 carrots, 2 handfuls fresh thyme, 10 bay leaves, sea salt, 100G butter, olive oil.
10 apples (Canada, Boskoop) 1 small jar Fauchon spiced mango chutney (or similar) 2kg new potatoes, fresh thyme, bay, 50g butter, salt, pepper.
Pre heat the oven to 200°C, cover the roasting tray of your oven in aluminium foil and lay the pig on its side, bending it at the hips to fit it on the tray. Drizzle and massage with olive oil, sprinkle generously with salt inside and out , then fill cavity (including throat) with the finely chopped aromates. Protect the tail and ears with aluminium foil (they’ll burn otherwise) and roast for about 30 minutes. Lower the temperature to 150°, cover with foil and cook for a further 4/5 hours.
About an hour before sitting down together, make a compote by steaming the peeled apples with a very little water for about 10 minutes in a saucepan with a lid on, and mix through the chutney you’re using. Stir and reserve. Boil the potatoes transfer them to a large pan or wok with some butter and thyme and bay – ready to heat and toss just as you serve the meal.
For the last 30 minutes before serving, you could turn the grill on in your oven or turn the heat right up to 220/230° to crisp up the pig’s skin. I didn’t do this, as I was going to cut the meat below, and preferred to keep the skin to make AMAZING crackling the next day.
We’re settling in to our place in the country near Versailles. And despite recent legal rumblings, I heard on Friday that we are here to stay. Forgive me, but I have to write that again to help it sink in. Until the children leave school, we are here to stay.
It is giddily appropriate to me that this news should come as spring well and truly arrives. All doors and windows onto the garden have been flung open and my kitchen/sitting room/deck/terrasse is forming one, bright peaceful room, soundtracked by birdsong, fragranced by the contents of the oven. Yesterday I allowed myself to open the last of the boxes of kitchen stuff in the garage, and all my old favourite cake tins and cooking stuff have been located and put away again, mindfully and closer to hand.
We’re now about 10 km from St Germain en Laye, where the children are at school, but my shopping habits and favourite addresses have not changed. If anything, there’s a much more definite routine, as the school run gives rhythm to the day so differently from waiting for the children to wander home on foot.
I thought I’d start writing again about feeding the three children still at home with me, week in, week out. And here, then, is my Sunday market vegetable shop. All 21€ of it. (The asparagus was very tempting this morning, but was mostly from Mexico, Peru and Spain with the first violet topped Provençal spears weighing in at around 17 € a kilo, so I’ll wait a few weeks more for a true taste bomb.) Just in at Maison Huet were lovely new carrots and turnips. I have rosemary, bay and thyme in my garden but they are looking very sad after such a harsh winter so I bought 1 € sprigs of each, along with the last of Huet’s sage to go with the rolled shoulder of pork lined up for today’s lunch. I picked up the first spring goats’ cheese at The Normandy Stall of Everything, reckoning my 87,50 € shop, with 15 € or so for top ups of bread, eggs etc. should more or less cover all our meals for the week. I’ll keep you posted.
Shoulder of pork à la cocotte with lemon, sage and miso.
For 6 , with leftovers
5 minutes preparation, 1hr 30 cooking.
1 boned and rolled (or not but you’ll need a bigger pot) shoulder of pork , 1.5/1.75 kg
1 small sprig of sage
1 or 2 cloves garlic, peeled, 1 onion, chopped.
grated zest of a lemon, salt, pepper, olive oil, red miso paste (optional)
Make a paste in a mini blender with the garlic, lemon, sage leaves and a tablespoonful or so of olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste and rub the meat all over with the paste. Let it stand for 30 minutes or so (you can wrap it up in cling film and leave itto sink in properly overnight, but I was in a hurry)
Heat the oven to 180°. Heat some oil in a heavy based casserole dish and brown the meat all over. (I also added a chopped onions at this stage) Deglaze the pot with enough water to come up to about 2cm on the side of the meat. Bring it to a simmer, put the lid on, slip the pot into the oven and cook for about an hour and a half.
Remove the meat from the pot, keeping it warm before slicing.
Pour the cooking juices from the cocotte – remove some of the fat and reduce them. If you add a heaped teaspoon of hatcho miso at this stage, it will make all the difference to the taste.
Serve with new turnips and carrots, simply peeled and steamed.
PS. I now have a very large oven, so I turned it up to 200°c to let a banana bread and an oat and apple crumble cook alongside the meat.
TRISH DESEINE’S ULTIMATE CHOCOLATE RECIPES
Talk to Paris-based food writer Trish Deseine about chocolate and it seems that she sees enjoying it as a near-spiritual experience. “The singer Adele says that when she sings ‘Someone Like You’, there’s a sort of pact with her audience – everyone recognises and shares the emotions she sings about. Well, chocolate does that, too,” explains Trish. “Its pleasure is so universal that even complete strangers seem to enter into some kind of communion when they eat it together.”
Moving to France in the 1980s, she gave up a career in marketing in 2000 to sell her chocolates by mail-order from home. It wasn’t long before her unique style was spotted by publishers and her writing and TV careers took off. These days, Trish divides her time between Paris, a country town near Versailles and Languedoc, where she’s converting an old bakery into a holiday home. There are also plenty more cookbooks on the horizon: “It’s what I love doing most.”
Oreo & peanut butter pie
20 Oreos (or other chocolate cream biscuits)
175g unsalted butter
400g crunchy peanut butter
175g icing sugar, sifted
200g good-quality dark chocolate, chopped
- Finely crush biscuits in a food processor. Melt 75g butter and combine with biscuits. Press into the base and sides of a 24cm loose-bottomed tart pan and chill for 30 minutes until firm.
- Combine peanut butter and icing sugar in a bowl and spread in the tart base.
- Place chocolate and remaining 100g butter in a clean bowl over a pan of simmering water (don’t let the bowl touch the water). Stir until melted, then cool slightly. Spread over the peanut butter layer and chill for 30 minutes until firm. Cut into slices and serve.
Bill Granger portrait: Anson Smart
Vegetarian bolognese photography: Jonathan Gregson
Oreo & peanut butter pie photography: Jeremy Simons
Oreo & peanut butter pie styling: David Morgan
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