Tuesday 1 December 2015

Parlour games and barn storming

Watching Wayne
Kalia and Grant
No, not barnstorming, let's manage that expectation right away. There was a barn and I was in it... and there was a storm and it encircled us: Clodagh. More on that later.

But first... ladies and gents, boys and girls... before your very eyes... the wonderful Mr Wayne Fox

Wayne came with Kalia and Grant. I know I say this too often but this was a memorable evening. Wayne's not just quite good, he's a member of the Magic INNER Circle. It's like the cool kids' common room at Hogwarts or something. 

Kalia and Grant arrived about 30 minutes early and after I freaked out (I always do) that nothing was ready, we stood and laughed until magician Wayne arrived and then we laughed some more. I forgot my timings and burnt the bread - this is why I freak out when people are anti-tardy. There are lots of timings just before people arrive: nuts, bread, soup, pancetta, roasting potatoes, resting meat. It doesn't mix well with guests.

Wayne's been before, wowing with his close up magic. It's maybe easy to be sniffy about parlour tricks but we all find our childish wonder when things suddenly disappear. Wayne is a hugely accomplished finder of cards in the most unlikely of places. He does it with wit and warmth too.

Yup. That'll be the card.

The following day was my turn... to do a turn. Emma Lundie had asked me to do a food demo at the inaugural Enfield Food Festival. Of course I said yes. This part of North London is sadly, bizarrely, lacking in food events. I was very happy to support this new venture in Forty Hall. Emma's day job is bringing together producers and customers so this was a logical extension in many ways.

Image courtesy of Forty Hall Farm

I'd decided to do a crowd pleasing joint of simple pork shoulder. A stress free roast, perfect for Boxing Day was the pitch. I needed two, one to show and one 'I prepared earlier'. To accompany the pork I did some sweet and sour red cabbage. This was to be prepped and cooked 'live'.

The pork was supplied, boned and rolled, by Forty Hall Farm (thanks Kate); a rare breed cross cross. No, that's not a typo. This was a Berkshire-Saddleback cross that was bred with a large White - a more commercial animal. Apparently the amount of fat on a pure rare breed is no longer desirable; full of flavour of course but intimidating to our calorie conscious diners. The pork was good, I didn't notice much difference in flavour, maybe it was darker with a more pronounced grain? Mind, I do normally use very good meat from F. Normans.

So Ros dropped off two 4.25kg (just over 9 lbs - a pork baby!) on Saturday. One went in the fridge, the other into the oven. The first half hour at 240°C and then overnight at 90°C. You can leave the joint in the oven until you need it the next day. About an hour before you eat, turn the oven up to 180°C to crisp up the crackling. That's it. There's no secret to this, no byzantine methodology. Tender meat and glassy crackling needs good pig to be cooked slowly.  Well, hot-sloooooooow-hot.

I meant to Tweet the pork's progress but forgot. This is the last shot I managed: a big foil slipper.
Of course... OF COURSE... my 'stress free' joint was anything but. Not because it was difficult but because if you big up your crackling all over Twitter and Facebook and then present something more like biltong... one loses face. The problem with food panic is you start to intervene when you shouldn't. So, yes, I confess I did turn ovens up and down as I prevaricated and I probably pin cushioned the joint with my thermopen... but I think my actions cancelled themselves out. Cooking is all about confidence and mine was tested that day.

Here practising my look of bafflement wearing, it seems, an S handled pot on my head. Thanks to Urvashi for the pic.
That might be the baby Jesus descending above me, just in time for Christmas.

The pork had to be transported to the barn at Forty Hall and sat under foil and a towel for an hour. But any fears I had (many and varied!) that this would compromise my crackling were unfounded. A quick blast in the oven restored everything to shrapnel sharpness.

The event was hosted by Urvashi of Great British Bake Off fame (series 2). She did a great job of keeping me focussed on the audience. It's easy to drift, especially when chopping cabbage with your sharpest knife.

The actual PORK!
Pic from Urvashi again. I think she must be using one of those FatCams that adds a couple of stone.
In real life, I'm actually svelte and tenderloin lean.

Er... the pork. Was.
I'd decided to take Etien with me. I'm not a chef and didn't want to present as one. The dining club is all about the feel: family, warmth, relaxation and, critically, a lack of pretension. Having an eyebrow arching, giggling 15 year old at your shoulder quickly removes any sense of pretentiousness.  But Et delivered in other ways. He really is my right hand man. After witnessing many sweary hours at home, he usually knows what I need now when I stamp around, irritatedly demanding to know who's moved 'thingy'. (It's usually under the oven glove where I left it BTW).

Storm Clodagh, a deep depression over Scotland, threatened to blow the day away with her 70mph gusts. I witnessed more than one multi-gazebo lift: bakers, BBQers and cheese-makers clung to poles while the wind wailed, like a modern day Odysseus. I was lucky to be in the barn, which buckled and cracked like a galleon. The demo seemed to go well. The audience forgave me my humour and occasional sweary slip. No one said I looked like a pirate or shouted 'fraud'. The crackling crackled, the meat was pleasingly lubricious and flavourful. Pork and cabbage disappeared as fast as Wayne's cards. Luckily, unlike the Jack of hearts or the seven of diamonds, none reappeared at any point! 

An entirely unrelated pork pic (this is belly, not shoulder) presented here as a lame attempt to divert attention away from my photographic incompetence.

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