Monday 18 June 2012

Slow Roast Shoulder of Pork in Cider. Mashed Potato, Green Sauce

It’s been far too long since I featured any recipes on the blog. Hopefully this post goes some small way to rectifying matters. Here’s something simple, but very decent we served to our guests this past weekend, at ‘The Basement’, the Bristol supper club I run with ‘E’.

Shoulder of pork is a fairly inexpensive cut, and doesn’t really need a hell of a lot doing with it, apart from a few timely interventions, it can be left to it’s own devices for hours in the oven until it’s practically falling apart and of course, there’s the added bonus of crackling, to really give those fillings a good workout.

A thick slab of tender pork, partnered with the almost rasping, herby pungency of green sauce. An aesthetically pleasing dollop of creamy mashed potato and finally, a spoonful of the porky-cidery cooking juices. You have an absolutely winning plate of food.

The Green sauce recipe is from St John. The mashed potato recipe is my own.

I am a total mash potato fiend and have gradually perfected what I modestly consider to be second only (just) to Joel Robuchon’s famous pureed pomme. Tried and tested at countless ‘Basement’s. This is the first time I’ve shared it with anyone.

Slow Roast Shoulder of Pork in Cider
Serves 6

1.5 kilo pork shoulder, boned, rolled, skin scored.
1 bulb garlic, broken up into cloves. (leave the skin on)
6 bay leaves
750ml dry cider
2 tbsp fennel seeds, bashed

Preheat the oven to 220C

Pat dry the pork with kitchen towel and place in a deep ovenproof dish
Shower it liberally with the fennel seeds, sea salt and black pepper. Be generous, giving it a good-old-all-over-rub-in.

Cook in the oven for 40 mins.

Remove from the oven, and transfer the pork momentarily to a plate.
Drain off the excess fat from the ovenproof dish and toss in the bay leaves and garlic cloves.

Place the pork back in its rightful place, and pour the cider around the sides of it.
Cover with foil and return to the oven at 160C. Cook for three-four hours (most likely four).
By this time, the pork should smell amazing and be practically falling apart.

Don’t forget to leave it to rest, covered in foil for about 20 mins before serving.
If the crackling is soft, take it off and put it in on a tray, in the oven at 220C for 10 mins. It should crisp up.

It’d also be a good idea to ladle off some of the porky cider juices from the pan, pour into a saucepan, boiling vigorously, reducing to make a nice syrupy gravy to pour over your meat when you serve up.

Of course, while all this was going on, and your pork was cooking away in the oven for hours, you had ample time to knock up your accompanying green sauce and mashed potato.

Green Sauce
Serves 6 (generously)

Half a bunch of curly parsley
Half a bunch of flat leaf parsley
Half a bunch of mint
A quarter bunch of dill
Couple of sprigs of tarragon leaves
1 small tin of anchovy fillets – finely chopped
12 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 handful of capers, roughly chopped (if extra fine, keep whole).
Extra virgin olive oil
Black pepper
Lemon juice (optional)

Chop the herbs finely, but not too finely, by hand (if you blitz them up by mechanical means, you’ll end up with a slurry).
Mix with the anchovy, garlic and capers. Add olive oil until it’s a loose, spoonable consistency. Season with black pepper and salt if it needs some.
Diverging a little from the original St John recipe, we added a squeeze of lemon juice at the end.

Dan’s Famous Mashed Potato
Serves 6 (Easily)

9 maris piper potatoes
400ml full fat milk
150g butter
12 tbsp double cream (180ml)
Sea salt
Freshly ground white Pepper

Peel and dice the potatoes into rough 2cm cubes.
Place in a pan, cover with cold water, bring to the boil, add salt and simmer for 12 minutes or until tender.

Drain well, and then using a potato ricer crush back into the empty pan. (If you don’t have a ricer, get one, they’re awesome. Otherwise, mash wildly in a traditional fashion with lots of elbow grease…. don’t leave any lumps).

Put the pan back on a low heat, for two minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon.
In a separate saucepan, heat the milk till it’s almost boiling. Gradually pour into your potatoes, stirring it in.

Add the cream. Keep stirring whilst on the heat, for three or four mins.
Turn the hob off.

Cut the butter into cubes, and gradually stir into your mash until it’s been absorbed.

Taste and season generously with salt and white pepper. The choice of pepper is important, mash must have white pepper. Don’t ask why, just accept it.

Your mash should be creamy and oozy, but still form a nice generous dollop when slapped onto a plate.

Do this now.

Place a generous, inch thick slab of pork astride it, at a jaunty angle. Spoon some green sauce over the pork, drizzle over a tablespoonful or so of your reduced cider cooking juices. Don’t forget the crackling.

Eat it all up.

Tuesday 5 June 2012

St John - London

There can be no doubt that St John is a legendary British restaurant. Chef, Ferguson Henderson’s austere, stripped back style is widely credited with almost singlehandedly kick-starting a renaissance in eating offal with it’s ‘nose to tail’ menu policy. Chef and outspoken ‘no bullshit’ food pundit, Anthony Bourdain credits St John as being his favourite restaurant in the world and describes Fergus Henderson as a ‘reluctant spiritual leader’ to a whole generation of chefs.

Back when I worked in London, for years I was ensconced in an office, just a few minutes down the road from St John. In fact, I walked past it at least twice daily. That’s the closest I ever got. I never ate there once. I wasn’t confident enough. I often stopped on the pavement outside to study the menu. It seemed pretty expensive and I didn’t know what most of the dishes were, in fact, some of them sounded positively horrific, words plucked from abattoir sweepings and deposited straight onto a plate. I always backed away, intimidated.

Last Friday, finally, I returned to my old stomping ground, older, wiser, fatter. Lunch for one booked at St John and far from being intimidated, I was incredibly excited.
The restaurant itself, housed in a former bacon smokehouse has an unusual feel to it. You initially enter a cavernously high ceilinged, blinding white, bare walled, factory space, flooded with natural light. This area, houses the bar, a bakery counter and a few tables. Just to the right, up a small flight of stone steps is a door marked ‘dining room’ and this is where I headed.

This room is also large, but much lower ceilings give it a darker and definitely more intimate quality than the almost industrial glare of the entrance hall. Despite sharing the same spartan whitewashed walls and stripped back utilitarianism, it feels somehow very comfortable. The stark architectural design softened by being well worn and lived in. It’s a fantastic space and in the middle of lunchtime, it was bustling.

One of the most pleasing aspects of eating on your own, despite the fact that it feels so indulgent, is that the whole dining experience is somehow intensified. Your concentration, with no distraction offered by a companion is pin sharp. You take absolutely everything in.

In between reading the menu, I idly scanned the room, watching the waiters and waitresses work, jacketed in long sleeved chefs whites and white aprons. Admiring their professional hustle, constantly glancing in hurried passing at their tables, checking. Well-drilled service is a joy to observe.
Chewing on excellent sourdough bread, I waited for my starter. I’d ordered a St John classic, an iconic dish that is apparently always on the menu, Roast Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad. Before arriving, I’d actually consulted Twitter for recommendations on ‘must order’ dishes, and this one came up again and again, unanimously in fact. Anthony Bourdain has singled this out as the last thing he’d wish to eat if on Death row. No pressure then.

My waiter explained to me that the best way to eat it, is to hold the bone over the sourdough toast, push the marrow through with the supplied pick type implement, spread it, sprinkle liberally with salt and then heap with the parsley salad. What can I say that probably hasn’t already been said? It’s absolutely bloody amazing. It doesn’t get simpler than some roasted veal bones, toast, a parsley salad and some salt but combined together? Oh frigging yes. My first bite of this was a definite eyes rolling back in the head moment, the soft jelly like marrow oozing over and into the crisp, hot sourness of the bread, cut through with the sharpness of the piled on parsley, capers and shallots. Simply incredible.

 I’d asked my waiter for a glass of wine to accompany my roasted bones, and he recommended a ‘Fantasie 2010’ Chateau de Jurque, Jurancon which at £8.10 a glass was a bit more than I normally like to splurge (one could get two whole frigging bottles of Asti Spumante for that) but I decided to push the boat out and it was a great choice, absolutely spot on match.
Roast Middle White Loin, Carrots and Trotter arrived, personifying the admirable St John aesthetic of no needless decoration or frippery. This was a very functional looking plate of food indeed. Middle White is a particularly tasty rare breed pig and here the meat was beautifully cooked, tender and full of flavour with attendant perfect crackling. A whole braised carrot was a surprisingly decent vegetal accompaniment. The trotter aspect of the dish was presumably personified in a small piece of porky jelly. It was all undoubtedly good, but it didn’t blow my socks off, like the previous course had.

Comfortably slipping into the fine dining booze groove and feeling mistakenly affluent, I asked for another recommendation to accompany my pork. A chilled red, ‘Les Copines Aussi’ 2010 at £7.40 a glass was, once again, well chosen by my waiter and would have been a really nice drink at anytime really.

I’ve made the St John Eccles Cake recipe at home, and I was intrigued to see how my efforts compared (pretty well as it turns out). Another stripped back, almost geometric plate arrived in the form of a perfectly spherical cake, alongside a triangular slice of Lancashire cheese. Undoubtedly simple but the genius here being that the two seemingly disparate items complement each other perfectly. Beyond the crisp flake of the confining pastry, the Eccles cake filling was sticky, dry and beautifully spiced. The earthy creamy tang of the cheese was sublime.

After a decent coffee, and a momentary period of reflection and digestation (is that even a word? If not…it should be). I swayed outside onto the pavement swooning from feeling over £60 lighter. For me, that’s a pretty damn expensive lunch. But, you know what, it was worth every single penny.

I bloody loved St John. It’s a one-off and quite obviously continues to live up to its considerable reputation. The whole experience was just an absolute pleasure from start to finish. Every aspect is so perfectly pitched, the dining room, the friendly yet admirably professional staff, and the menu full of interesting, seasonal and often iconic dishes.

St John feels somehow imbued with the stripped back essence of what makes eating pleasurable. That it’s so very British is just incredible. There just isn’t anywhere else comparable.

St John
26 St John Street

Telephone: 020 3301 8069