Tag Archives: pork

BLOG – variations on a sweet-and-sour theme

I cooked my first sweet and sour dish in 1984. Pork, of course. The recipe came from Ken Hom’s Encyclopaedia of Chinese Cookery Techniques, a cookery book classic and one I bought the minute it came out that year, on foot of Ken’s successful BBC TV series. I still refer to this book on a regular basis.

Ken’s recipe for the sweet-and-sour sauce goes:

15ml Shaosing wine or dry sherry

15ml light soy sauce

15ml finely chopped garlic

15ml finely chopped fresh ginger root

30ml tomato purée

100ml Chinkiany vinegar – or 60ml cder vinegar

50g sugar or 3 Chinese sugar slabs

225ml chicken stock

15ml cornflour dissolved in 30ml cold chicken stock

15ml sesame oil

The pork cubes are marinated for at least 30 minutes in 15ml light soy sauce, 15ml Shaosing wine or dry sherry, ½ tsp salt and a beaten egg, then drained and blotted dry, dusted with a 50/50 mix of plain flour and cornflour then deep-fried in ground nut oil in a wok for 3 minutes. The oil is drained from the wok then the sweet-and-sour sauce ingredients (minus the cornflour dissolved in stock) are heated to the boil, together with half a pineapple’s worth of chunks. Then the pork is added, together with the cornflour and a teaspoon of sesame oil.

In the text Ken warns about over-thickening, making the sauce too sweet and having it end up a day-glo red hue.

And there you have it. Sweet-and-sour, yin and yang, is all a question of balance.

Since those days, when I followed the recipe implicitly, I’ve experimented. Hallelujah Day One was when I found if I started with a base of fried finely chopped onion, ginger, garlic, tomato purée and a small pinch of five spice I could dispense with the cornflour and get a cleaner flavour, building up the sauce gradually by adding the stock a little at a time (like I do with a bolognaise sauce) Day Two came when I discovered palm sugar – after I developed an interest in cooking Thai food – gave a more subtle sweetness than granulated white.

Since then I’ve done other tweeks including: adding a little or a lot of finely chopped chilli; cooking half a lemon or lime in the sauce – the sweet element has to be adjusted to take account of this; using honey, maple syrup, even pomegranate molasses to get a different flavour/texture; adding a handful of roughly chopped fresh coriander at the last minute. Infinite variety.


Ken Hom’s Encyclopaedia of Chinese Cookery Techniques is no longer in print but if you can find one second hand, buy it.




RECIPE – Fillet of Pork in Milk


Sometimes my cooking gets into a rut and I have to shake myself out of it. When people come to dinner I tend to rely on the ‘tried and trusted’. Sometimes, though ‘tried and trusted’ morphs into ‘tired and disgusted’ (with myself, for my lack of effort). Last weekend , between waiting for FF to be annihilated and the hapless Greens to be composted, I placed a stack of cookbooks beside my favourite chair and browsed them, one by one. This idea, the result of that exercise, is a compound of Marcela Hazan and River Café, both rooted in Italian tradition. The recipe and method is pretty much Me.

The combination of milk and pork sounds unlikely but, believe me, it’s delicious. The addtion of lemon zest curdles the milk slightly and what you get is nutty, brown nuggets in the sauce.

1 medium-sized pork fillet

3 slim leeks, washed and cut into approx 12cm pieces

2-3 red onions, peeled and cut into quarters lengthways

Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Milk (ideally whole milk)

Zest of a lemon

Sprig of sage, sprig of rosemary

Serves 4

Preheat the oven to 220 C

Season the pork and sear briefly in a dry hot skillet or ridged griddle pan. Remove and place in a cast iron baking dish (I used a large Le Creuset). Surround with the leeks and onions and pour in the milk until it comes half way up the pork. Add the lemon zest and the sage and rosemary. Bring the milk to the boil then

Place in oven and bake for 30-40 minutes. Remove the pork and allow to rest. Return the dish to the stove top and boil briefly to reduce and thicken slightly. Scrape any brown residue from the sides or base of the dish back into the sauce. Slice the meat, either thinly or into medallions and serve with the vegetables, sauce and either mash or sauté potatoes.


PORK PIE – after the Melton Mowbray fashion

I dug up my old recipe in response to my mates’  Harriet and Evan’s request for pie recipes for their food project on KCRW’s Pie a Day Blog Project.

This is my own interpretation of an English traditional dish. The methodology and recipe is a cross between that of my mother, Doris Whalley and Jane Grigson (‘Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery’ is one of my all-time favourite cookbooks). The recipe is complex, takes considerable time and is definitely a labour of love which is why I only make this pie about every five years! Nor is it for the diet conscious. Lovers of lo-cal should avert their eyes.

In the north of England these pies are often known as ‘stand’ or ‘raised’ pies. A local nickname, from the Manchester area, for a smaller individual-sized pie is ‘a growler’. And of course the pork pie has also made it into rhyming slang parlance as in the phrase telling ‘pork pies’ or, more commonly, ‘porky pies’, i.e. ‘lies’.

Melton Mowbray is a small town in Leicestershire, in the English Midlands. The town has strong culinary associations. Stilton cheese originated near Melton Mowbray, and is still made in the town today. Stilton cheese takes its name from the village of Stilton, 80 miles north of London, on the Great North Road. This was a staging post where the cheeses were offloaded by local deliverers for bulk transportation to London. No Stilton cheese was ever made there.

Although supermarkets routinely carry pork pies with the label ‘Melton Mowbray’, there is in fact a specific hand-raising process and recipe which marks a pie as a Melton Mowbray pork pie. On 4 April 2008 the European Union awarded the Melton Mowbray pork pie Protected Geographical Indication status, following representations from the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie Association. As a result of this ruling, only pies using uncured pork and made within a designated zone, are allowed to carry the Melton Mowbray name.

The phrase “painting the town red” is said to have originated in Melton Mowbray. In 1837, celebrating a good day’s hunting, the Marquess of Waterford and his friends, under the influence of alcohol, found several tins of red paint which they daubed liberally on to the buildings of the High Street. Were this to happen today and were the offenders inner city kids they’d have been sentenced to community service at the very least. I presume the Marquess and his mates got off scot free.

A hinged mould (mine came from my grannie) facilitates making this pie. Mine measures around 9 x 5.5 inches and is just over 4 inches deep. Otherwise, use a round or oval mould with parallel sides, like a deep Le Creuset dish of similar dimensions.

For the jelly

1,000g (approx) pork bones, plus a veal knuckle or a pig’s trotter.

1 medium sized carrot

1 onion, stick with 4 cloves

6 peppercorns,

Bouquet garni

Salt, pepper and lemon juice to season

The jelly can be made the night before if you wish and refreshed by re-heating it just to pouring consistency.

Put the ingredients (no salt) into a large pan, cover with water and a lid and bring to the boil. Simmer for 2-3 hours and strain. Return to stove and boil down to 500 ml. Season carefully with salt, pepper and lemon juice.

For the pastry crust

700g plain flour

1 level tbsp salt

2 level tbsp caster sugar

250g lard

Cold water

Sieve the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre. In a saucepan dissolve the lard in hot water and pour the mixture into the well. Mix with a wooden spoon or electric whisk or combine in a mixer or food processor. Knead the warm dough until smooth. You need to be able to work it but it must not be so soft that it slides down the side of the mould.

For the pie filling

1 onion, chopped fine,

750g pork shoulder meat, coarsely chopped

250g pork sausage meat

200g chopped streaky bacon rashers (Melton Mowbray purists should omit – bacon is cured)

100g Leicester, Cheshire, Cheddar or Wensleydale cheese, broken into small chunks (optional)

1 Cox apple, peeled and finely chopped (optional)

2 tbsp fresh sage, chopped fine

1 tsp ground mace

100 ml English pale ale

1 large egg, beaten

Pre-heat the oven to 150 degrees C.

Cook the onion lightly in a little oil and reserve. Mix together the onion, pork shoulder, sausage meat, bacon, cheese and apple (optional), sage and mace and moisten with the ale. Season sparingly with salt and pepper.

Line the mould with the pastry, reserving about a quarter for the top. Spoon in the mixture until the case is filled about three-quarters of the way to the top. Roll out and cut a lid for the mould. Moisten the exposed edges, place the lid on top and crimp the sides to seal. Brush the top with the beaten egg. Lay 3 circles of baking paper on top of the pie and bake for 2 hours . Remove from oven and allow cool for 2 hours. Cut a hole in the lid large enough to insert a small funnel and pour in the stock until it just starts to overflow. Place in refrigerator until set.

Remove carefully from mould and cut into wedges to serve.

First Floor at Harvey Nicholls


 A week ago me and my buddies sat down to discern what the recession meant to us. “Well, in gastronomic terms, it’s pretty bloody unpalatable,” quipped Jocko who had been caught holding too many bank shares. The company divided naturally into two camps. One party vowed to take a “draw the wagons into a circle” strategy. This means dining out less often and when doing so, forgoing frivolities like fizzy water and post-prandial cognac; hand-in-hand with this goes a sworn intent to squirrel out discounts, early birds, promotions and pre-theatre dinners. The opposition clung to a manifesto that could be summed up as “Sod it; we might be on the Titanic but at least we’re going down first class.” As usual, yours truly, aware of the need for stringent economies yet unwilling entirely to give up life’s little luxuries, parked his butt in no man’s land.

A day or so later I received a press release from Harvey Nichols advising that wines, at least those above €30, were, for the month of January, to be flogged less 50% discount with lunch or dinner, same price that you could buy them for in the wine shop. I was excited by this, not as you’d imagine because it would enable me to have a bottle of wine in a good restaurant for €15 but because I would be able to drink so much better for the sort of money I usually spend – the thinking man’s view of the credit crunch if you like.

Let me give you a ‘for instance…’ In Clare Valley, South Australia, there’s a man called Jeffrey Grosset who makes some sublime Riesling. His Polish Hill is truly world-class. The last time I was in Chapter One, Grosset Polish Hill featured at €85. At the less exalted Winding Stair it sold for €60. On Harvey Nichols restaurant list it was €68, so, at €34, a snip, a steal. We also took a bottle of Seghesio’s excellent Family Estate Zinfandel, likewise a steal at the discounted €30

Let’s clear the crap out of the way first. The receptionist, having taken our coats, marched us into the dining area and showed us to The Worst Table In The Room. There were several tables-for-two in better locations that were unoccupied. Naturally, we assumed that they were reserved. As the evening wore on, this proved not to be the case. Secondly, I must take issue with the background music. It was actually “foreground” music, loud, bland, tedious and intrusive. Lastly and I’ll take Sibella’s word for this, the female toilets were a bit “untidy”. The gents was pristine. My only gripe was the Lilliputian buttons doubling as taps made life difficult for optically challenged me.

After that, onwards and upwards. Ambience-wise, they’ve made the best of an unpromising room, kitting it out with good furniture, linen, table and glassware and installing a battery of atmospheric lighting that takes out Eddie Rockets across the way. Sibella opted for the table d’hote; Old Greedy Guts, the à la carte, affording a more exotic choice. I figured out early enough that I wouldn’t have room for desert which would balance out what we spent.

The bread, four kinds of which the black olive deserves a special commendation, was excellent. I tore it into soldiers to dip into the amuse bouche poached egg crème brûlée. My starter, a combo of scallops and crispy belly pork was stunning, Sibs’ crab rillette, a delight. Where was I a few weeks ago when I railed against the belly pork? They should send someone here to see how its done. Milady had it for a main and I managed to scam a chunk, succulent and tender. I had the wild pheasant, less deconstructed than elsewhere, the breast left whole. It came with a pithivier, posh name for a little flat-capped pie, stuffed with chestnuts, which made a pleasing contrast in texture and pointed up the flavour of the bird. Sibs was entitled to dessert; we clashed spoons over the mango and passion fruit parfait. I topped things off with a 7/10 espresso. The young Polish guy who seemed to be combining the functions of Maitre d’ and sommelier looked after us regally all-night, re-corking the last of the Grosset and presenting it in a Harvey Nics bag so that Sibs, the driver, could enjoy it when she got home.

The damage: €164.12 inc service for starter, main course, 3-course table d’hote, 1 coffee, 2 bottles very good wine

Verdict: One of Dublin’s most under-regarded restaurants. Get there in January to drink in some style at bargain prices. Confident cooking, too and good ingredients. Precise service. Cool décor but watch where they put you.

Rating: ****


Pork and Clams in cataplana

The ‘Havana’ thread on Amuse bouche, which devolved into a discussion of Portuguese food, inspired me to put up this recipe, which I sometimes also cook with mussels. Good rib-sticking stuff!

It’s a good exercise to write down your favourite recipes from time to time, helps you analyse what you actually do and see if there’s a better way. I’ve been cooking this for years without really thinking about how I do it.

Shoulder pork, cubed, allow 3oz/90g per person
small glass of port
small glass of white wine
30 clams
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
5-6 sticks celery, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
50 gr streaky bacon, diced
90g coarse sausage, wjieska, chorizo or similar, cut into chunks
2 tbsp demi glace (optional but does give a nice unctuous sauce – or you could chuck in half a pig’s trotter)
handful flat leaf parsley/coriander mixed, chopped fine
sea salt and black pepper to season

Marinade the pork and sausage in the port. Wash the clams.
Preheat oven to 230 degrees.
Unclip cataplana. Place one half on stove and heat half the oil. Fry the bacon, garlic, onion and celery just until it changes colour. Put the remaining oil in the other half, heat it and brown the pork.
Combine the ingredients in one half of the cataplana, add the clams, sausage, wine, demi glace and the marinade, season lightly (easy on the salt as the clams have plenty). Bring to the boil then take off heat.
Clip both halves of the cataplana together and cook in the oven for approx 30 minutes.
Stirl in the parsley and coriander before serving.

Pork a la Petitechef

Petitechef asked on Amuse Bouche for an easy-to-cook pork casserole thyat would “feed a multitude”. Now I love pork with strong spicy and herby flavours, so this recipe does me fine.

2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, chopped (optional)
1 tsp crushed coriander seeds
6 crushed juniper berries
750g diced pork (chunky)
3 bay leaves
1/2 bottle cheapo white wine, Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc preferred
sea salt & black pepper to season
240 ml single cream (optional)

You can cook this on top of the stove in a lidded pot or in a 200° pre-heated oven.
In a large frying pan heat the oil, add the onions, garlic, coriander, juniper and fry till the onions change colour. Add the pork and brown it for a few minutes, turning all the while. Transfer to cooking pot.
Deglaze the frying pan with a little wine and add to pot. Stir in and add rest of wine, bay leaves, season to taste and cook until pork is tender.
OPTIONAL: Take off lid. If cooking on top of stove turn up the heat and add the cream. Cook till cream bubbles. If cooking in oven, return part of contents to frying pan, flood with cream and cook on high heat until cream bubbles. Return to cooking pot and stir in.
Serve with al dente green beans, fennel braised in stock, jacket spuds, a nice basil/olive oil mash or good old plain boiled rice.

Quantities are easily scaled up.

Braised Loin Of Pork With Wild Mushrooms

25g dried porcini mushrooms, broken into small pieces
375ml red wine
1 kg rolled pork loin, skin off
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
6 juniper berries, crushed
1 sprig rosemary
2 bay leaves
4 anchovy fillets, chopped
120g wild or mixed fresh mushrooms, cut into small pieces
serves 6

Preheat oven to 140°C/275°F/gas 1.
Soak the porcini in a little of the wine for 1 hour. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and quickly sear the pork. Season with sea salt and pepper and set aside. Fry the onions and garlic in the pan with the crushed juniper berries until the onions start to change colour. Transfer to an ovenproof dish with lid and add the rosemary, bay leaves, anchovies, mushrooms, porcini and all the wine. Cover and braise for 3 hours. Remove the meat. Heat a ridged griddle or skillet to a high temperature (or better still a gas barbecue) and lay the pork on it, turning till the fat browns and caramelised spots appear.
Allow to rest for 15 minutes before carving. Meanwhile, give the pan juices a fast boil (scraping the bottom of the pan), adding a little more wine or water if necessary and serve as a gravy (or jus, if you must!).

Pork Chops Al Latte

Al Latte? Sounds like a mafioso.
People give me weird looks when I announce this dish. Pork with milk? Unless you are Jewish, where it’s out of court on two counts, why not? The combination of milk and pork produces a nicely nutty sauce counteracting the sweetness brought by the balsamic vinegar and raisins.

1 medium sized onion, thinly sliced
3 tbsp olive oil
4 pork chops
sea salt
dash of balsamic vinegar
2 bay leaves
50gm raisins
250ml milk

Preheat the oven to 200/220 degrees C.
This dish is best cooked in a flat Le Creuset type dish that you can transfer from hob to oven. Otherwise, start the dish off in a frying pan and transfer to a shallow casserole.
Fry the onion lightly in the oil until golden brown. Add the chops and turn them from time to time, frying them for about five minutes. Don’t let the onions stick and burn. Add a light grind of sea salt, the balsamic vinegar, the bay leaves and the raisins. Add the milk and turn the heat up until the milk bubbles. Stir and scrape the pan bottom to ensure nothing is sticking then transfer to the oven and cook for 20 minutes.