Thursday, 21 April 2011

Bringing home the bacon. Part 2

I know that I promised this post sooner, but I've been down in London for the last week or so, schmoozing potential employers and pacifying my girlfriend, who seems to be missing me for some reason (probably just for my cooking as she is particularly greedy). In any case the purpose of this piece is to report back on my bacon making efforts and share a recipe using the finished article.

When I left you the pork belly had been salted and was in the cellar awaiting its daily salt rub. This didn't turn out to be too strenuous, as long as you don't mind getting stuck in and have any issues with raw meat. I think that I'm probably a frustrated butcher and actually quite enjoy getting to grips with this sort of thing - nothing like a spatchcocking to release your frustrations. I left the belly in the salt cure for 8 days, which turned out to be a day or two too long for my tastes, as it came out pretty salty (surprise, surprise), and needed soaking before consumption. When you do decide to release the pork from its salty embrace (and next time I will do so after 5 or 6 days) give it a good rinse in cold water and dry it thoroughly. It's now ready for storage and for this I purchased some muslin, which was used to wrap the bacon before it was placed in the cellar, although a fridge will do nicely. You should avoid putting it in plastic apparently as this will cause it to sweat.

My first attack at the pork came in the form of bacon rashers for a weekend breakfast; however, as I said, it turned out to be a bit too salty to eat straight away and so we had to manage a fry up without the main event. But as you can see in the photo, it looked like the real deal.

The Global knife was unsheathed for such a special occasion

My next attempt was a Petit Salé, which is essentially boiled salt pork / bacon with lentils. This is a classic French dish and the decision was inspired by one I had had on a visit to Anthony Demetre and Will Smith's excellent restaurant Les Deux Salons in Covent Garden. Along with pretty much every restaurant critic and blogger out there, I really enjoyed the experience and they have managed to successfully capture the spirit of a Parisian Brasserie without turning it into a pastiche. The cooking is, on the whole, excellent and the snail and bacon pie is worth the trip alone (it's even better when you go in opening week and get the food half price).

London is now pretty well served with restaurants of this type, with Arbutus and Wild Honey (Demetre and Smith's other restaurants); the various offerings from the Galvin brothers; Terroirs, who, I was told by the Maitre d', are planning on opening a couple more London outlets; the Giaconda Dining Room; and Bistro Bruno Loubet to name a few. I used to go to Paris quite a lot for work and the cooking in these restaurants is certainly on a par with what you will find in many Parisian brasseries, and often much more interesting in the use of ingredients and technique.

However, I digress...

Although Petit Salé might not sound or appear the most appetising of dishes I think it is delicious and love the earthiness of the lentils with the rich, fatty pork. This recipe is an approximation of the one I had at Les Deux Salons and goes as follows:

Petit Salé (for 4 people):

4 thick slices of salt pork / bacon
Bay leaves
1 onion (optional)
1 carrot (optional)

200g green lentils (Puy are ideal)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2-3 carrots, sliced into batons
2 sticks celery (optional), chopped
A handful of chopped parsley

  1. The first step, if your pork is quite salty, is to soak it cold water for at least 3 hours. It is unlikely that this will be the case if you buy your pork, but you can follow this step just to be sure. I changed the water a couple of times during soaking as well.
  2. When you are ready to cook the pork, put it in a saucepan with a couple of bay leaves and 5 or 6 whole black peppercorns, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. You can also add an onion which has been quartered and a roughly chopped carrot at this stage. This will add some flavour to the cooking liquor, but I'm a little bit sceptical as to whether it makes much of a difference to the cooked pork.
  3. When the water has come to the boil, turn the heat down to gentle simmer, part cover with a lid and leave to cook for a couple of hours, until the pork is completely tender. 
    The lentils will take 30-40 mins so can be started when the pork is still cooking.
    1. Start off by sweating the onion, garlic, carrots and celery in some olive oil and a knob of butter. Whilst the vegetables are cooking rinse the lentils in plenty of cold water.
    2. When the vegetables have softened and the onions are translucent (you don't want to colour them too much), stir in the lentils and cook briefly, coating them in the vegetable and oil / butter mix.
    3. Then add enough water to cover the lentils by a couple of centimetres. I ladled in some of the cooking liquor from the pork and then topped it off with cold water. 
    4. Bring this to the boil and then simmer for approximately 30 minutes. By this time most of the cooking liquid will have been absorbed and the lentils should be tender. If not you can leave for a bit longer and add some more liquid. 
    5. Just before serving you can check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary, then stir in another knob of butter and the chopped parsley.
    To serve the dish, add a couple of spoonfuls of lentils to a plate and top off with a piece of the pork. Some mustard also goes down well, and if you happen to have some Italian mustard fruit (Mostarda di Cremona) to hand that really would be the cherry on top.

    I should probably have wiped the edge of the plate apologies!

    Et voila.  If you'd like a wine recommendation I'd go with something a bit rough and ready from the south west of France with enough tannin to cut through the richness of the pork, so a Madiran, Cahors, Minervois etc.

    There's still plenty of the bacon left so I might come up with some more ideas and post them in part 3...

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