Ham­ming it up

With these warm­ing pork recipes, you won’t be able to re­sist pig­ging out in the com­ing win­ter months

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Si­mon Hop­kin­son

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

Serves 4

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.

In­gre­di­ents

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

white pep­per

Method

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

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