Hamming it up
With these warming pork recipes, you won’t be able to resist pigging out in the coming winter months
Simon Hopkinson cooks ham
‘There would be splendid hams, terrines and smooth, pink pâtés’
MY last Continental holiday with my parents, when I was 16, was taken in France in 1970. Ostensibly a motoring and camping trip in Dad’s comfy Renault 16 with a tent and sleeping bags in its roomy boot, there was also a vague promise of ‘a couple of nice hotels here and there, where the cooking will be worth the stay’ from Mum. To be honest, I suspected that she had been as keen as I for this to be more than ‘perhaps a couple’. Most creditably, the parents had recently become quite excited over my growing love of cookery, so this trip was both a pleasure for them (they had always enjoyed fine French food and had passed it on) and an education for me. Voilà—gagnant-gagnant!
Apart from one simple hotel stopover en route from Boulogne, it was the Loire Valley that would be our primary destination. The magnificent and historical châteaux for Mum, the regional cuisine for me and the hope of not too much hotel accommodation for Dad, the paymaster general. Although, to be frank, he was with me on the food and not quite as lithe as he used to be in the early 1960s, when we tentatively pitched our first tent on a Spanish Costa Brava site in the dark.
We did, of course, camp out a bit in sites scrupulously vetted by Mum before checking in— imagine a quieter Hyacinth Bucket, with better French. For our under-canvas food, we headed to the nearest and best charcuterie. There would be splendid hams, mosaic-like terrines, smooth, pink pâtés and salads—both grated carrot and celeriac in mayonnaise were soon to become firm favourites. There were cold vegetable dishes, too: tiny mushrooms in an oily tomato sauce, green beans or artichoke hearts in vinaigrette and tiny onions stewed to a sweetand-sour stickiness. Also, the most wonderful crisp radishes still with their green stalks attached. My eyes were on stalks, too.
Most of the above, together with baguettes, a wedge of pale, fresh butter wrapped in waxed paper and some cheese, would usually adorn our lunch table under the shade of a useful plane tree, along with a couple of bottles of cold Kronenbourg for Dad and a glass or two of chilled Anjou for me and Mum.
One may take this kind of lunch for granted now, but let me tell you that this particular picnic was a new treat for this burgeoning teenage cook. And then there were the réchauffeés (cooked dishes to reheat), too. One of these, in particular, had caught my eye: ‘petit salé aux lentilles’, as the little enamelled label indicated. My kitchenfrench voice asked, the prim charcutière answered ‘salty pig with lentils’ or some such. ‘And you will need mustard’, she insisted with a kind smile, plonking down a small jar of Dijon as Dad re-counted his francs. A hot supper under canvas had never tasted so good.
A piquant, juniper cream sauce to serve with cooked ham
Elizabeth David’s loyal readers may well recognise the prosaic recipe title above as that of Le Saupiquet des Amognes. The latter is an old French community lying between the town of Nevers and the Morvan region (particularly famous for its hams) of central France and the former is originally believed to be a contraction of ‘salt’ and ‘piquant’.
However, it is this beautiful sauce that you need to know about, more than that which it may anoint—apart from the traditional ham, it is also a happy lubrication for rabbit, pheasant, quail or pot-roasted veal, perhaps.
4 peeled and finely chopped
shallots 100ml white-wine vinegar Several crushed juniper berries 3 roughly chopped sprigs tarragon 200ml white wine 30g butter 1tbspn flour (level) 275ml hot stock (ham broth,
poultry or veal) 200ml double cream A little salt and freshly ground
To make the sauce, put the shallots, vinegar, juniper berries and tarragon in a small, stainlesssteel saucepan. Simmer together until the vinegar has all but boiled away to nothing. Add the white wine and reduce by about a third, then put to one side.
In another saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour. Mix together with a wooden spoon and cook very gently, stirring slowly over a low heat for a few minutes, until it turns pale golden in colour.
Gradually add the stock to the roux, whisking after each addition, until the sauce is perfectly smooth, then strain the shallot /vinegar/wine reduction into this and bring all to a gentle simmer. Cook for a further 10 minutes over a very low heat to harmonise the flavours and ‘mellow’ the sauce. Finally, add the cream and seasoning, whisk together and simmer for a couple of minutes more or until the sauce is velvety and a beautiful ivory colour.
Salt pork with lentils Serves 4
For the picture above, I took the trouble to make my own salted belly pork, which was very nice