Man’s relationship with pigs goes back several thousand years. Acorn-eating wild boar were slowly tamed in European forests to become the slightly tamer proto-pig utilized by the Spanish, French and Greece. Swineherds had the unlucky job of attempting manage the unruly pigs. Modern pigs are not quite as wild as their forbearers, but do apparently revert to their feral behaviour quite readily. So beware.
Galen, the medical pioneer of the Roman era, enjoyed a bit of pork like his fellow Romans. What is odd is that he thought it tasted of human flesh. Whether this was a hunch or whether it was knowledge from experience, I do not know. He is correct though, the cannibals of the South Sea Islands, called the various explorers and pioneers they caught and ate longpigs due to their flavour.
The pig is famed for it versatility and pretty much all the animal can be used, and it is the pig that is the focal animal in Fergus Henderson’s wonderful nose-to-tail restaurant, St John in London (check out the blog here). I’ve never managed to get there unfortunately, but one day I shall! For any nose-to-tail fans out there, the ultimate delicacy must be Pliny’s personal favourite, the vulva of a sow who had aborted her first litter, according to Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat in her amazing book A History of Food.
This dish was cooked on my recent trip to England, where Hugh somehow managed to buy a massive shoulder of pork for £1.50. Absolute bargain. He’s a good bargain-hunter; in fact, he’s known for it! I pounced upon the opportunity to roast it the Grigson way which includes baked apples as well as a glaze to go over the crackling. I imagine a sweet glaze would go down well with Texans going by this sign I spotted at the rodeo:
It’s worth mentioning that it is best to buy the largest joint you can afford, the meat will be much more moist and tender in a large joint than a small one. This particularly applies to pork that benefits from a good blast of heat and then a slower roast on a lower hear than say, beef.
As mentioned I used shoulder here, but you can use leg or loin. If the meat has a bone in it, ask the butcher to remove it but ask to keep it. Also ask him to score the rind, every centimetre or so. You can do it yourself with a razor-blade. Make sure that the rind is nice and dry and season the joint all over. You can, leave it overnight in the brine tub, but if you do this, you won’t get the crackling. Seeing that the crackling is the best bit, I wouldn’t recommend it. If you have bones, pop them in a saucepan with a chopped carrot, a peeled onion studded with three cloves and a bouquet garni. Cover with water and allow it to simmer for three or four hours. Strain and reduce to ¾ of a pint. If there was no bone, use some pork or vegetable stock and simmer for just an hour.
Heat the oven to 220°C (425°F) and rub the skin of the joint with some oil and sprinkle with some salt. Cook for 35 minutes to the pound (1 ¼ hours to the kilo). Place in the oven and turn the temperature down after 20 minutes to 160°C (325°F). An hour before the end of the cooking time, prepare the apples. You need one per person, and use Cox’s Orange Pippins if in season. If not, use Braeburn or Mackintosh. Score a circle close to the tops of the apples, to prevent the skins bursting and nestle them around the joint. If you don’t want baked apples make an apple sauce.
Next prepare the glaze. Melt a tablespoon of redcurrant jelly in a pan and mix in a tablespoon of French mustard as well as half a tablespoon each of cream and soft brown sugar. Paint the glaze all over the crackling in the final half hour of cooking.
When ready, remove the joint from the oven and let it rest for at least 20 minutes. While you are waiting, make the gravy. Melt an ounce of butter in a pan and when it goes a nutty brown colour, stir in a tablespoon of flour. Whisk in the stock and add any meat juices from the roasting pan.
#290 Roast Pork with Crackling and Baked Apples. I have eaten roast pork many times, but never actually cooked, but I can honestly say that this was the best roast pork I’ve ever had from a domestic oven. It was so tender, it took no effort to slice and the glazed crackling was half crispy, half chewy and almost toffee-like. The baked apples were a revelation. An absolutely fantastic roast dinner! 9/10.