Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Devilled Kidneys

Back in November, we finally took delivery of Breakfast.  A whole pig's worth of pork* is a lot to deal with in one hit, but although I haven't kept Every Thing But The Oink up to date, it doesn't mean that we haven't been cooking, eating and enjoying our little pig.

I had picked up the meat from Swillington Farm on Saturday but Sunday was the first opportunity we had to eat any of it.  As is was Sunday we had decided to have a traditional roast, leg to be precise, but that was for our evening meal.  Before that there was the little matter of Sunday Lunch.  I'd not had enough time to cure my own bacon** but that didn't matter as there was one thing that I had been wanting to cook since starting this challenge back in January.

For some reason I had never cooked or eaten Devilled Kidneys.  I put not having cooked the dish myself down to the fact that I live in a house that is not overly welcoming to offal.  I can only imagine that I've never eaten them because I've never been presented with the opportunity.  Well all of that has changed as the only offal that I got back from the abattoir when Breakfast was slaughtered were his kidneys.  

As I said, I'd never cooked Devilled Kidneys before so I turned to the internet and was astounded by the amount of variation in the recipes that I found.  Every celebrity chef you can think of has their own take this 'classic' dish.  Given the range of ingredients and techniques, and with the Hairy Bikers and Nigel Slater as my guides, I threw caution to the wind and cooked my lunch.

The first thing to note is that lamb seems to be the kidney of choice, not pork or beef.  But I was not going to let that get in the way, I had pork kidneys so pork kidneys it was.  Preparing the kidney was simple enough.  By the time I had quartered it the white core was easy to cut out with a knife so there was no need to dirty the kitchen scissors as per almost all of the recipes that I found.

I fried the kidney in butter until browned and then added dijon mustard, tomato puree, worcester sauce and a pinch of cayenne pepper.  Just before serving my kidneys on toasted muffins I added some chives and tasted for seasoning.  It was then that I decided that Nige, Dave and Si had been a little coy with their dishes.  I was under the impression that Devilled dishes needed a fiery kick worthy of Old Nick.  I didn't want to overpower the offal but I wanted much more oomph.  I went for tabasco as it was what I had to hand.

I'm please to say that I loved the Devilled Kidneys.  The richness of the offal with the hot sauce was great.  Z wasn't quite so enamoured but it was my lunch not hers.  I think that was a fitting first dish to cook using the meat of my pig and over the last couple of months we have cooked, preserved, and eaten a lot of pork.  There is still a lot of Breakfast left to be eaten too, I'll tell you about that later.

*almost, there was more of breakfast to come.
**there will be bacon.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Saying Goodbye to Breakfast

I'm not going to beat around the bush, this week has been quite emotional.  I've known that it would come ever since I first set eyes on my tiny one week old piglet, but that knowledge didn't make it any easier.  During every visit to Swillington Farm I have reminded myself that ours was only a fleeting relationship and that one day he, along with his brothers and sisters, would be sent to slaughter.

For Breakfast that day has come.  Monday was my last visit to see him running around his field, it was also the only time that I have been to the farm without R in tow.  Still in my work attire of shirt and tie, I donned my wellies and, like a stock footage image of a quantity surveyor, I helped to get Breakfast and 4 other pigs into their trailer.

On Tuesday morning, while most people were tucked up in bed, they made the short journey to the abattoir and that was that.  I had wanted to go along for the ride, not out of loyalty towards Breakfast, but to have a look at one of the places where our animals become meat.  Call it morbid curiosity.  Sadly I wasn't able to make the trip this time.

I spent most of the rest of the week wondering what I was going to do when I took delivery of a pig's worth of meat.  While I have spent the last year trawling the internet for interesting pork recipes I had missed one very vital bit of information, how did I want Breakfast to be butchered.  I had a date on Saturday with Simon, Swillington Farm's resident butcher, and he needed to know what I wanted.

A side of Breakfast I hadn't seen before.
Along with the usual chops and roasting joints I did have a couple of more unusual requests.  T-bone steaks, leg steaks cut in an Osso Buco style and double thickness loin chops were all on my wish list.  I have been fantasising about making my own bacon since before this adventure started, so I made sure that I had the thick end of belly prepared specifically.  I knew what the trotters were destined for so they were the first things to be bagged up for me.

It took Simon, a professional butcher, almost two hours to deal with Breakfast.  I'm sure he would have been faster without me standing over his shoulder taking photos and making stupid requests.  I'm also sure that it would have taken me a couple of days to get anywhere close to what he achieved.  There also would have been a whole lot of wastage, especially if I had attempted to bone out the shoulder.

But sadly, even with Simon's expertise with a knife, there was a lot of wastage.  Of the 5 pigs that went to slaughter from Swillington Farm on Tuesday, the only offal that came back was Breakfast's kidneys.  Simon put this down to a lack of common sense on the part of the abattoir's vet.  In years gone past the slaughterman would cut out potential bad meat from livers, hearts and kidneys but now everything is discarded if the vet, in the interest of hygiene, decides that there is potential for contamination.

Not quite all of Breakfast.
I was lucky to get the kidneys but this does leave Everything But The Oink on a knife-edge with only a couple of months left of 2013.  I can't see how I'm now going to secure (and find the time to cook and eat) the more unusual cuts of pork.  While I'm trying to work that out, at least I have a house full of pork to process and eat.  That all starts tomorrow.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Captain's Table

Last Wednesday night I made significant inroads into eating Everything but the Oink at The Captain's Table, in Outlaws Yacht Club.  It was the first pop-up restaurant that Outlaws had hosted and the guest chefs were the team behind The Greedy Pig, a wonderful cafe on North Street.  As you can probably guess, Jo and Stu from The Pig are lovers of all things porcine and their menu for the evening promised to be a nose to tail dining experience.

I saw the menu in advance but I had kept it from Z as I knew that she would have a problem with at least one of the courses.  I was right and sadly it was the first out of the block.  I thought that the savoury beetroot jelly containing morsels of ear, trotter, tongue and cheek was a brave and tasty way to start the evening, I get the impression others weren't convinced.  To give Z her credit she ate about half of her serving before giving up.  It wasn't the cuts of pig that put her off however, she just doesn't like jelly, neither sweet, savoury or infused with vodka.

The next course was more conventional, a rustic pate of shoulder, belly, liver and pistachio nuts.  Aware of what was still to come, I only took one piece of the proffered bread, but that meant that my bread to pate ratio was out.  That didn't really matter as the pate bore more than a passing resemblance to rillettes and I have been known to eat that by the bowl full.

I'll admit that I was a little bit disappointed with the next course.  Due to no fault of The Pig or Outlaws, the advertised spleen was no longer on the menu.  It turns out that the man from DEFRA had decided that this little piggy's spleen wasn't fit for human consumption.  Not only was this disappointing but it was a stark reminder that I might not get all of Breakfast when he does go to slaughter.  Everything is in the hands of the vet.

On the Yorkshire tapas plate, the spleen was replaced with tripe rolled in cured ham.  It was accompanied by grilled heart skewers, quails egg scotch eggs, and a celeriac remoulade.  All three were fantastic but I could have eaten a mountain of the heart kebabs.

Next up was "Three Little Pigs", a trio of boudin blanc, chorizo tortilla and the daddy of all sausages, black pudding.  Unlike the tapas plate, this one was bulging with piggy goodness.  I can only imagine the fun Stu had in making his own black pudding.  It is something I want to try, but I have a feeling that blood may be one of the items of Breakfast's anatomy that I am denied.

By the time the final savoury course arrived, protien fatigue had begun to creep around the room.  I for one was not going to be defeated and soldiered on.  I'm glad I persevered as the slice of rolled roast belly pork was sublime.  It actually reminded me of the Bath Chaps that I made earlier this year, without having been cured.  The bitter kale and the creamy mushroom and kidney sauce really set the pork off too.

Finally we had reached the last plate, dessert.  Pear poached in elderflower cider with brown bread ice cream is the kind of desert that I would probably choose from a menu but I was finally full.  Z on the other hand, who had bitten off more than she could chew a couple of mouth fulls into the roast pork, suddenly found a bit more room for pudding, washed down with a glass of mulled cider.

We got the chance to say thank you to Jo and Stu before wandering off into the night to sleep it off.  We needed to relieve our babysitter so couldn't hang around and chew the fat with them.  I know that Jo had been worried about giving people enough food and Stu had been working like a Trojan to get everything prepared.  Jo needn't have worried, there was more than enough food, if anything the three little pigs could have been littler.  It was clear too that Stu's efforts in the kitchen had really paid off.

I don't know if the next Captain's Table at Outlaws Yacht Club will feature The Greedy Pig, but whoever it is that next takes up the tiller will have to go some way to match the standard that has been set.  You could say that I have almost finished the nose to tail challenge that I set myself for this year, but Breakfast is still running around his pen at Swillington farm and until I've sampled all he has to offer, the challenge is still on.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

School Report

It has been a while since I posted anything here but that's not to say that I've stopped eating pork.  I haven't given up on the Everything but the Oink Challenge either.  The last time we visited Breakfast was on Open Farm Sunday. He was doing well and a week away from being weaned from his mum. 

Today I found him sheltering from the heat on the shady side of his pen with his brothers for company.  To avoid unwanted bacon making the sows and boars are separated once they are weaned so Breakfast is hanging with the boys from now on.  This, I think, is why Breakfast has been playing up.  Everybody that I spoke to at the farm was full of the same stories.  Breakfast has been a bad boy.

I felt like a parent who had been summoned to see the headmaster.  It turns out that my little piggy is something of an escapologist.  He is free range, but to make sure that pigs don't run amok they have large areas fenced off for their own enjoyment.  Chickens and turkeys wander in and out of their field but the pigs are meant to stay put.

It's bad enough that he has been getting out but once beyond the fence he has been letting himself into the chicken sheds and eating the their food.  Part of me thinks that he's doing this to show off.  Perhaps, as one of the smaller pigs, he just wants to catch up to his brothers and put some extra weight on.  Maybe he's just clever.  Either way, I have chosen a pig with character and I'm even more determined to make the most of him when the time comes.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Bath Chaps

Just because Breakfast is a few months away from becoming breakfast doesn't mean that I'm on a pig free diet, far from it.  Since the start of the Everything But The Oink challenge I have been trawling cookery books and the internet to find recipes for some of the more interesting cuts of pork.  The problem is I have found so many recipes that I want to try, Breakfast just isn't going to provide me with enough ingredients. 

A prime example of this is trotters.  As it stands Breakfast is fully equipped with the usual four feet.  I want to make Trotter Gear and the recipe I have requires six trotters so I will have to get hold of another half a pig's worth.  I am also in the market for more than one head.  I love pigs' cheeks, stewed slowly until they almost fall apart, but I also want to cook brawn.  I was having this conversation with a good friend who told me that I should definitely give Bath Chaps a go as well, so a third head was looming onto my shopping list.

Bath Chaps are formed from the meat from the cheek and lower jaw of the pig and, for some unknown reason, have almost disappeared from British cuisine, even in Bath where they originated.  I filed the knowledge of their existence for future use and promptly forgot all about them.  That was until last week when I was visiting my in-laws in Windsor.

For me, no trip to Windsor is complete without a visit to the Royal Farm Shop.  This is usually to get one of their fantastic pork pies, but I always have a nose around to see what else I can lay my hands on.  And there, in the reduced section of the butcher's counter was a pair of Bath Chaps.  Without a second thought I purchased them and stuck them in the freezer until I could get them back to Leeds.  With my Chaps in the bag I started some proper research into what I was meant to do with them.  It turned out that I needed to do quite a bit.

Of course I turned to the internet, but my search lead me to two books.  Fergus Henderson's Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking, and Jane Grigson's Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery.  I already had Nose to Tail and it turned out that my Mother-In-Law had Charcuterie so I was set.  After getting the chaps back home to Leeds and defrosting them, my first task was to soak them in brine.  This is where Fergus came in.

His recipe created enough brine for three whole pigs heads so I reduced the quantities drastically.  Into 2ltrs of water I added 200g caster sugar, 300g sea salt, 6 cloves and 6 pepper corns.  The recipe also called for 6 juniper berries but I didn't have any to hand so I left them out altogether.  I put the pan of water on a medium heat and stirred it until the sugar and salt had dissolved.  Once the brine had cooled I submerged the chaps and put them into the fridge for the first 48hours of their treatment.

800g sugar
1.2kg coarse salt
24 juniper berries, bruised
24 cloves
24 black peppercorns, roughly crushed
8 litres water - See more at:
800g sugar
1.2kg coarse salt
24 juniper berries, bruised
24 cloves
24 black peppercorns, roughly crushed
8 litres water - See more at:
Two days later and with Z still on holiday in Windsor I moved onto stage two.  The chaps were gently cooked in water along with some stock veg for 4 hours, but that wasn't the end of it.  Once cooked I removed the skin from the meat (leaving plenty of fat) and rolled the chaps into two tight cone shapes using cling film, weighted them down and put them back in the fridge.

That was Saturday, Sunday finally saw their unveiling.  Traditionally there are two ways of serving Bath Chaps, either cold, thinly sliced and served with pickles, or thickly sliced and fried.  Z isn't the biggest fan of eating cold fatty meat, so I decided the cooked method would be best.  After all, I'd only been cooking them for three days already, what was a few moments more in a frying pan between friends?

As it was Sunday I decided a that the full Sunday diner treatment was called for.  The three of us were dinning together so I kept the veggies simple to keep R happy.  Roast potatoes and steamed carrots accompanied the meat.  I also made a parsnip purée but only because I had a fridge full of parsnips, not because I was trying to be chefy.

All of the research I'd done had told me that Bath Chaps were a very rich piece of meat and that only a couple of slices per person were required. My pair of wrapped chaps were about the size of two good chicken breasts and I had my reservations about portion control, but I was right to pay attention.  The meat is rich, slightly salty and sweet from the brine, and so tender.  Even Z, with her usual disdain for fat devoured every morsel.

Even with two adults and a ravenous toddler we only managed to get through one of the chaps on Sunday.  Having gone through all the time and effort to make them I was determined not to let the second chap go to waste.  I decided that serving them with a mound of Sauerkraut was the way forward.  I thought that the acidity of the pickled cabbage would be a good foil to the sweet, salty, fatty meat, and I was right.  Served with buttered new potatoes, the chaps made a fantastic mid week supper.

As my first foray into curing pork I call Bath chaps a resounding success.  They were so good that I think Breakfast might be saved the brawn treatment.  If you have the good fortune to find some chaps, or if your local friendly butcher can get them for you, you really should give them a go.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Meet Breakfast

Back in January, when I started talking about this nose to tail challenge of eating Everything But The Oink, I stated that I had no intention of eating a whole pig.  I was content at eating a bit of everything that was on offer and not having to deal with two whole hams and a belly full of bacon.  However, over the last few months I realised that there are some bits of pig that will be very difficult to get hold of unless I befriended a farmer.

Through the wonderful medium of Twitter I had a number of exciting conversations.  Pork farms were suggested left right and centre.  People told me who their favourite butcher was.  The promise of butchery and charcuterie classes were dangled in front of my eyes.  But none of this was going to help me a lay my hands on a pig's spleen.

The only farm that I had an existing relationship with was Swillington Organic Farm.  Along with cattle and chickens, Swillington rear free range, rare breed pigs.  Saddlebacks to be precise.  I've bought meat and vegetables from their farm shop and from various markets around Leeds previously.  I have even had a couple of their monthly meat boxes delivered to my house.

During the planning* stage of Everything but the Oink, I emailed the farm to pick their brains.  I was interested in the quantity of pork a pig produces and price per pound.  We continued our chat in person on a snowy Saturday in January.  We had popped to the farm shop to pick up some meat and had an impromptu tour to show R the chickens.  It wasn't long before the conversation turned to pigs and this challenge.

Up until that moment I had no idea that you could sponsor a pig to be reared on your behalf.  I wasn't entirely sure that I wanted a whole pig.  If the truth is known I wasn't sure that I wanted to have a relationship with a pig prior to eating it.  I left the farm that day with more questions buzzing around my head that I had space for.  Firstly this was not a cheap undertaking.  We're talking about a whole pig here, not a chicken a duck or a goose, a whole pig.  I asked around to see if anybody would like to share the cost and the pork but there were no takers.

Even though nobody wanted in on the action, everyone that I told about the piggy possibility was very enthusiastic.  The problem was that everybody assumed that I was going to go through with it and sponsor a pig.  I hadn't made my mind up but the more I told people about the idea the more enthusiastic I was becoming about it.

So today I took R on another visit to Swillington, this time to look at the piggies.  R loves farm animals** so the idea of seeing them in person had him bouncing off the walls.  I did have the ulterior motive of choosing my piglet and paying for it.  The little chap in the photo above is Breakfast.  He's a week old and part of a litter of 10.  There were more traditional looking Saddleback pigs but I needed to be able to recognise him and pick him out of a crowd, so I went for his distinctive spotty markings.

Breakfast will live at the farm with his brothers, sisters, Mum and extended family for between 6 to 7 months before his time is up.  During that time I will be visiting often to check on his progress.  I don't intend on getting too attached to him and I know that giving him a name might not have been the best of ideas.  I am just going to keep in mind the quality of the meat that I have had from Swillington in the past.  I also promise to make the very best use of everything that Breakfast has to offer.  For the next 6 months I'll be cooking as much pork as I can so that when I do get him home there will be no disappointing meals.


I have just heard from the good people at Swillington Farm that Breakfast is a Boar.  This means that I now have a source for testicles which were high on my list of pig bits that are hard to find.  I was under the impression that male piggies were castrated at an early age to make them easier to raise but this is not the case at Swillington.  To make sure there are no unwanted piglets Breakfast will be kept way from his sisters once he starts getting interested in girls.

*let us, just for one moment, pretend that all of this is planned and hasn't just accidentally happened shall we.
**apart from the "big Daddy cows" which were so noisy at Home Farm that he was terrified.  We are not allowed to do cow impressions at home now which makes reading certain bedtime stories interesting.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Vietnamese Pig Heart Stirfry

When I started Everything But The Oink in January there were a number of pork cuts that I was immediately excited about trying for the first time.  I'm really looking forward to curing my own bacon and finally getting around to tackling brawn, but the stand out ingredient that I wanted to get my hands on was heart.

Of all the parts of a pig that I am going to be faced with during this year I think heart is the most instantly recognisable as an organ*.  Liver and kidney are often sold pre-sliced and when they are not it's still hard to see what they are.  A loin chop could be from anywhere/anything unless you know your pig's anatomy.  With heart there is no doubt.

We had come close to having heart in January.  I was on the lookout for trotters one Saturday and noticed pig's hearts on my favourite butcher's counter.  But I was on a mission, so I left empty handed to look elsewhere for the trotters that I desired.  I ended that day with neither trotters nor heart and I resolved to be more spontaneous when it came to picking up portions of pig so that I didn't miss out in future.

This weekend was our wedding anniversary and to celebrate we decided to have steak**.  While we were in Leeds we took a detour to B & J Callard's butchers in Kirkgate Market.  We joined the merry throng outside the butchers window to assess our options.  Our assessment didn't take long as we both love rump steak.  I sidled through the scrum at the door and took my place in the queue.  It was only while my steak was being cut from the huge rump in the window that I noticed the tray of pig's hearts on the counter.  Z was still outside so I trusted my instincts and without batting an eyelid, added one to my order.

When I told Z what I had done her face froze.  It has been a while since Everything But The Oink has featured in our lives and it had probably slipped from her mind.  To say that this is my food adventure is unfair.  Z is joining me every step of the way but she is definitely my voice of caution.  Z is an ex-vegetarian who still has some meat hang-ups, especially lamb and offal.  Liver is a particular cut beyond the pale for her so the idea of eating heart was a tricky one for her to stomach.

I had previously done some research for heart recipes and Z had seen the fruits of my searches.  It is fair to say that none of my chosen recipes had done anything to bring Z around fully to the idea of eating heart, but there was some movement in her mindset.  As heart is a muscle she was convincing herself that it would have a much better texture than liver.  That was half of the battle won.

As I had planned to have the heart as a mid week evening meal it had to be quick to cook.  That removed two of the recipes I'd found.  My research had told me that heart, like liver, squid and so many other things, needs to be cooked for hours or for as little time as possible and by the time we have the toddler in bed there are not that many hours left in the day for cooking.

Having never eaten or cooked heart it suddenly dawned on me that I had never prepared one either.  How hard can it be?  Well it wasn't that hard at all.  I cut the heart into 5mm slices and then trimmed the slices of any sinew, tubes and connective tissue.  What I was left with resembled finely sliced venison loin, only with a closer grain to the meat.

I marinated the heart in fish sauce while I sliced the rest of the ingredients for the stir fry.  The recipe I was following [click here] only asked for onion and spring onion to accompany the heart, but as Z was still wary*** I decided to up the vegetable content with green pepper and carrot.  The meat was cooked first in a searing hot wok before being rested while the vegetables are cooked in the same pan.  Everything is then stirred together, seasoned with soy sauce and served with noodles or rice.  The dish, as with all stir fries was simple and fast to cook, assuming you don't count the chopping and slicing as part of the cooking time.

Silence has never filled our kitchen the way it did tonight when I presented the two plates of noodles.  I was excited about the prospect of trying a potential new favourite food stuff but I was also anxious.  What if I didn't like it.  More importantly, what if Z didn't like it.  We simultaneously went straight for the heart and the silence lingered.

It is fair to say that the meal was a success.  We both really enjoyed the heart.  We tried to pin down the flavour of the meat while we were eating and decided that it tasted more like game than offal, which is what I had expected when dissecting it.  Texturally, it was similar to pigeon breast rather than liver or steak.  By the time we had finished we were already planning the next outing for pig heart in our kitchen.  We'll possibly do another stir fry but with fiery black bean and chilli sauce.  We're also keen on seeing how slow cooking alters the flavour and texture.

For me pig heart epitomises the reasons that I'm carrying out this nose to tail challenge.  This was a glorious meal, made with a stunning ingredient that so many people would turn their noses up at without even tasting it.  The blog where I found the recipe talks about how revered heart is in Vietnamese culture.  It is so expensive there that only wealthy families eat it more than once a year.  My pig heart cost only 79p.  That is ten times less than the steak that I bought at the same time and it would have fed more people.

It staggers me that something so delicious is seen as a worthless by-product of the butchers counter.  We have been over sensitised to our food so much that I hear people say that they don't like chicken thighs because they contain bones.  If we are unable to respect and eat all of an animal whose life has been given to feed us, then perhaps we should all become vegetarian.  I'm not happy to take that step but am happy to eat everything that has been provided to me and eat good meat less often.

*Yes I know that we could all spot a head in a line up but you know what I mean.
**I know it's an old cliché but we both love steak and don't have it often.  We were going to have a Mexican feast but couldn't get hold of a ripe avocado for love nor money.
***she was getting quite excited by this point.