Economy Gastronomy: Collar of Gammon

Grizzled and warier from my last outing into the world of Economy Gastronomy, I was determined not to make the same mistake twice. This time the pedigree of my bedrock ingredient would sing from the proverbial rooftops to all that would care listen!

And so I began my search, first punching in the number for our dear friends at William Rose Butchers to sound them out for their finest 2.5kg specimen. However, I was told in no uncertain terms (but incredibly friendly and polite, as is there way), that they didn’t stock uncooked collars of gammon. A tragic shame.

My hand was therefore forced into calling our not so dear friends at Moen Butchers for the same request. Again, I was told they do not carry this item in stock. I was informed that perhaps I was “better off trying one of the large supermarket stores”. Did I imagine a hint of a sneer accompanying that statement down the phone line? Possibly. Is the humble collar of gammon looked down upon by independent butchers en mass? It would appear so.

With my tail between my legs and the thoughts of a painstakingly reared ham diminishing fast, I scurried off to Sainsburys to salvage the situation. The best I could do in the end would be a £10 2kg Dutch unsmoked gammon. Smaller than I had in mind and certainly not as romantic. Paltry even, I thought as my mind flitted back to that blockbuster but ultimately hair-singing Brixton afternoon this summer past. The crackle of the skin over the open charcoal, the fatty smoke billowing out across the yard and the first bite of the flame-licked and juicy flesh still laced my senses. Staring down at the limp offering in my trolley, surrounded by bacon’s watchful eye, I felt a porcine sadness threaten to overwhelm me.

Fortunately, words of warning from my erudite lower sixth form English teacher, Dr.Greenhalgh, chose to materialise at this moment. “Beware the trappings of nostalgia, for it is a false emotion.” Steeled by this I pushed on to gather the rest of my ingredients.

A wise man indeed. And incidentally now published by Penguin.

A wise man indeed. And incidentally now published by Penguin.

The gammon, plus a variety of other ingredients, cost around £30 (same as the pumpkin) and yielded the following:

3 portions of Boiled Ham with Spinach Dumplings, Root Vegetables and a Grain Mustard Sauce (all eaten).

Spinach and Ricotta Dumplings

Spinach and Ricotta Dumplings

3 portions of Honey and Maple Glazed Ham with Cheesy Champ (all eaten).

4 portions of Spinach, Ham and Ricotta Gnocchi (2 eaten, 2 frozen)

And finally 2 absolutely belting ham sarnies with h0me-made bloomer bread.

The money shot.

The money shot.

All in all that’s 12 portions of food at roughly £2.50 a go. Not as good value-wise as the pumpkin bedrock, but still pretty amazing and cheaper than most ready meals that you would probably consider eating. With the remaining ham stock I also made about eight portions of freezable Sausage and Lentil Soup which was absolutely delicious. Lentil (or any pulse based soup) being the only option as ham stock is too salty and strong flavoured to use in most other ones.

However, the big question following the pumpkin was how did it taste? Did the £10 gammon stand its ground in the face of a thrice-time cooking? Definitely.

Everyone knows a glazed and baked ham is a treat of the highest order. That’s just a fact of life and I won’t waste both our time by preaching to the choir. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how tasty and decadent the boiled ham dish turned out. Boiled meat is often something I turn away from, mainly due to the texture, but this was juicy and succulent. Plus the mustard spice sauce gave it that needed bite.

The ragu was the simplest of an already simple batch of recipes. I pretty much inhaled it and its frozen relations over subsequent nights. Indeed, coupling it with the leftover pumpkin risotto made me reach a Nirvana-esque level of smugness.

Laura’s faith is also restored. That is, at least for now.

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This Massive Piggy Went To Brixton

Proud Father

I think the sheer prospect of doing justice to our efforts on that temperamental day back in August had intimidated me into a three month writing hiatus. Plus, lets not forget my inherent laziness as a person. And GTA V, of course. Many an hour on GTA V.

However, I will now proceed to give it a go and do what I can to chronicle with mere words the day that was Yamb, Lamb and Ham…Please Sir, I Want Some More.

Our Porcine Muse(s)

There is a healthy element of debate between the three of us (Skinny Pete, Pete Croft Baker and I) as to who’s idea this was in the first place. I can only vouch for my portion (Michael Pollan) but, if there is an ancient barbecue deity out there somewhere, I imagine he had a greasy  hand to play in bringing us all together with a glorious vision. To roast a whole hog on a homemade BBQ in a small Brixton front garden.

Naysayers were certainly not scarce (“What’s the point?”, “Why don’t you just pay someone to roast it for you?” “You’re going to poison everyone!”). Actually, these were all from just Laura but there were plenty more. I like to think we won them round in the end.

The pig (a Gloucester Old Spot) was sourced from a great little place called Keythorpe Valley Farm in Leicester. Due to a slight miscommunication, the old fella was slaughtered a week early. This was fine at first as it could be kept on the farm in the fridge for five days. However, it then had to be released to us a day early which resulted in an overnight stay in Skinny’s bath tub (below).

Just chillin'

Just chillin’

Again (as would become a recurring theme to the next 36 hours), this was a perfectly agreeable solution in theory. What Skinny failed to realise though was the plumber (hence the tools, great time to redecorate) had detached the bath. This meant that come 2 a.m, pig juice and ice water began pouring through the ceiling. Grim yes, but the Tarantino-stylings weren’t to stop there as we moved into the prep the next evening.

The Prep

The Cleaver. Great new addition to any kitchen.

The Cleaver. Great new addition to any kitchen.

Aside from what proved to be the relatively straightforward job of lopping off her legs and tail, it all got a little weird for a while at this stage. In retrospect, it was a heady combination of the beer, the late night and lugging around a 50 kg pig corpse. But what tipped the transition from a little weird to downright surreal was PCB putting on our backdrop music Seasick Steve Never Go West.

It was to this soundtrack, which reminded me of the True Blood theme song on crack, that we proceeded to hammer in our (sanded and sterilised) scaffolding pole into the pig. I literally mean hammered with a sledgehammer. The hole wasn’t big enough. Picture that if you will and listen to Seasick Steve and you’re someway there.

But huzzah! We got there eventually!

Effortless.

Effortless.

I should at this point mention the oven itself. This was an incredible feat of ingenuity and all credit must go to Skinny Pete for its design and build. We’re all glad that those four years studying Mechanical Engineering have finally been put to good use. This was certainly his Magnum Opus.

And hardly cost anything. Cashback.

And hardly cost anything. Cashback.

The Big Day

As I cycled down to Skinny’s from Clapham at 5.30am, BBQ grill strapped to my back, I remember a distinct feeling of nerves and excitement. In theory (that phrase again) everything was accounted for.

The pig was fully primed, we had a fat drip, there was ample booze, Laura was on apple sauce duty, there was lamb for non-piggers, it only promised to shower occasionally etc etc. But I couldn’t shake a feeling of apprehension. We had one-hundred people due round for food at 3.30 pm and a completely raw pig spread eagle of Skinny’s lounge floor, violated by a scaffolding pole. Aside from the responsibility, I think a big part of the nerves was wanting to do the pig itself justice and cook it properly.

Part of the reason we had all agreed we wanted to do this was to get closer to our food, away from the endless packs of chicken breasts and sausages that are arguably a far cry from meat in its honest form. Anyway, enough of the amateur philosophising. We stoked the first of many (many) bags of charcoal, hoisted our good lady onto the pit and away we went.

Men at Work

Men at Work

Although Skinny’s rolling joints for the pole were another spot of genius, it did mean that every 10-15 minutes for 12 hours we had to manually turn the pig. It was also a two man job. Labour heavy, sure. Would it be worth it? Absolutely.

All went swimmingly for some time. Not a drop in the sky, skin crackling up nicely, fat tray working like a beauty.

Golden Wonder

Golden Wonder

Even when it started to rain, we took it in our stride. Constructing not only a practical, efficient shelter but one with some panache.

Pride before the fall...

Pride before the fall…

Looks too good to be true at this point. And it was. Ten minutes later, only a couple of hours before she was ready to serve, one too many coals plopped into the increasingly clotted fat tray at the bottom of the pit.

I have never seen a fire so quickly erupt from nothing in all my life. It took the tarpaulin, the board and half the top of my hair with it as well.

There were no photos of the fire, despite my useless mate Simian standing there chatting on the phone while I tried to rescue the hog single-handedly. You could have at least got a photo, you bell. Here is an artist’s impression:

This, but worse.

This, but worse.

The bad news was, we lost most of the crackling. The good news, the rest of the big was unbelievably unscathed! Onto the service…

The End

5pm. The moment we had all been waiting for. We hoisted our dear friend onto our shoulders once more and carried her into the lounge, placing her on the dining room table that would serve as her final stage.

What a carve up.

What a carve up.

The hog was served and I took a much needed shower, although I didn’t feel clean again for several days. And my hair didn’t grow back for several more after that.

It was juicy and packed full of flavour. At the sagely advice of many pro-hog roasting Youtubers, we had kept the seasoning simple: just salt and garlic powder. It was all it needed. Alongside went the lamb, the apple sauce and the rest. I’d also like to (selfishly) mention my own home-brew with a rather snazzy label designed by Rosie Davies:

I think I drank most of this...

I think I drank most of this…

After the food, there was much merriment and dancing, with our very own wedding DJ Dyson spinning the tunes until the early hours with his disco-ironing board and bushy beard.

I wouldn’t actually know though as I was in bed by 10.30 pm, exhausted and contented by a monumental day of hogging with pals.

One is the Loneliest Number (Part Two)

True story: I walked past Jay Rayner the other day whilst house hunting around Herne Hill.

It was the weekend of the Lambeth County Fair in Brockwell Park. I’m sure it was much to his displeasure that we did not engage in conversation as he headed east and I west to Britxon, ships passing in silence on this scorching hot day. It looked like he had put on a little weight since I had last seen him on the telebox but was still striding onwards with relish, curly black locks soaring majestically behind him.

Definitely would have made a good Death Eater

I don’t cite that he had put on a little weight as a criticism. I’m dead impressed that someone in his profession doesn’t need to be carted around like Pearl the Vampire from the original Blade movie. I would certainly need to be.  Although I suppose Peter Griffin look-a-like Charle Campion is on a slippery slope.

Sorry for the low-blow Chazzer

Anyway the point to this being that seeing Jay Rayner reminded me that since my first entry into this article series, I read a great piece by him in the Guardian about the pleasures of cooking for yourself entitled Cooking for one: it’s food with someone you really loveI’d recommend reading the whole thing but wanted to highlight this part:

‘Don’t get me wrong: I like cooking for other people (and if any of my family are reading this, really darlings, nothing gives me more joy than keeping you fed). But cooking only for yourself, well now, that’s the real deal. I am always baffled when anyone announces they don’t bother bashing the pans about if they are the only person who needs to eat. My conclusion is they’re not greedy enough. Cook for others and, however appreciative, there will always be something they don’t like…Cooking for yourself is…a culinary event without compromise.’

And with that endorsement under our belt, we push on!

One-pot Chicken Pilaf

Speed: 25 minutes
Cost: £7 approx
Taste/variety of ingredients: Pretty uninspiring stuff, but was good to have chicken thighs instead of breast whilst the other half was out for dinner (yes, chicken thighs are a new addition to the malleable blacklist).
Leftovers: Another portion, tucked neatly between 2 eggs and an Innocent smoothie the fridge.

Link to recipe in title above. Fairly average tasting although weirdly got better as it cooled down. I wonder if leaving the lid on at the end for a bit once the spinach has been added to let the flavours stew in together would have brought it together more.

Could also definitely have done with some lemon juice, coriander and a dollop of creme fraiche stirred in at the end. Did liven up with a good dose of cayenne pepper which helped. Still good amount of veg and protein for a very quick, inexpensive and easy dish.

Sri Lankan & Spanish Omelette

Speed: 12 minutes
Cost: £9 approx
Taste/variety of ingredients: Yes, it’s an omelette, but its the best omelette I have ever made and possibly consumed. Details below.
Leftovers: None

All the ingredients below featured but it was the mix of good quality chorizo (Bath Pig) and green chili that really made it sing. I’m sure most of you are familiar with the contents of a Spanish omelette (potato, onions) but we got quite hooked on Sri Lankan omelettes during our hols last year. Its basically just a thin omelette with tons of chili. Beaut.