Archive for May, 2005

ring cycle pork

I have a theory. I think that man still has a basic need to hunt, but a 21st Century urban lifestyle doesn’t offer much by way of opportunity to smear oneself in pig’s blood and stalk beasts armed only with a bow and arrow and a copy of Whittingstall’s Meat bible.

So 21st Century urban man has developed an alternative. He heads down to Borough Market on a Saturday morning, his wallet flush with freshly-minted notes, and hands over £35 for a five-kilo chunk of organically-reared pork shoulder. There’s something truly liberating about handling a lump of meat this size, something to do with the fresh scent of blood in one’s nostrils, I expect. And while this transaction may not carry the full thrill of an all-night wild boar hunt through unfamiliar terrain, it does seem to satisfy some kind of primal longing.

And so I made Ring Cycle Pork. It’s not actually called that, of course – Whittingstall calls it the Pork Donnie Brasco – but it’s traditional for cooks to rename dishes if they’ve applied their own twist to the recipe. Mine was to burn it severely, but I figure that’s enough. And why Ring Cycle? Because the recipe calls for a twenty hour cooking period, the same time it takes to listen to Wagner’s authoritarian masterpiece of the same name. I could have called it the ‘Complete Works Of Bruce Springsteen Pork’, but that doesn’t roll off the toungue so smoothly.

So anyway. Here are before and after pictures of the meat, with a list of World events that actually did occur during oven-time.

  • The Eurovision Song Contest took place. Greece won
  • Thousands of Nepalese opposition activists demonstrated against King Gyanendra’s royal takeover
  • Pakistan won a one-day cricket match against the West Indies
  • Mongolia held Presidential elections
  • China announced emergency measures to deal with bird-flu
  • Kimi Raikkonen won the Monaco Grand Prix
  • The BBC announced that Ross Kemp is returning to Eastenders
  • Seven teenage girls drowned in South Africa
  • Former Los Angeles Rams running back David Lang was killed in a shooting
  • Three Romanian journalist hostages and their Iraqi-American guide were freed in Iraq
  • First lady Laura Bush visted Jerusalem
  • The U.N. condemned reported U.S. abuse in Afghanistan

It was delicious.

In other meat-related news this week, I visited a burger bar in London’s West End, and was a little nonplussed by the entire experience. So I wrote to the owners:

I walked past your premises yesterday lunch time and was drawn in by the delicious scent of freshly slaughtered beef. Salivating, I decided to order a burger, but the absence of any staff prevented me from doing so.

After a four or five minute wait, a flustered-looking grill-chef arrived, a bag of shopping in each hand. At any point during this period I could have leapt over the counter and taken a hammer to the till, or sneaked a bite out of one of the fine-looking hot dogs on display.

But I didn’t.

When the food finally arrived it was excellent, but I do worry about the security of your store. Any passing PETA representative could have created havoc yesterday given the opportunity that fell my way. You’re just lucky that I’m a law-abiding, meat-loving citizen, not some crazed, bean-munching nutcase.



Within seconds, a reply arrived. Here’s an excerpt:

We have been aware that some members of staff have not adopted the company character and are not always the ‘jolliest’ of fellows. We have had complaints from other customers regarding service but this is beyond belief. We are in the process of re-stucturing the management and staff at the burger bar, so rest assured that as soon as we can find a suitable replacement, we will sack the miserable incompetent little fucker.

Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is how to do customer care. No messing about. Brilliant.

Scotch Ostrich Egg

Reaction to last month’s mammoth pork pie post was almost universally favourable, but the most intriguing response came from reader JB, who suggested that I construct a scotch egg, using an ostrich egg rather than the more usual chicken’s egg. So I did.

For those who don’t know, the scotch egg was indeed invented in Scotland, where hard-boiled eggs are often wrapped in a layer of sausage meet (possibly to protect them from the cold weather), then dipped in breadcrumbs before being deep fried. While this may sound unappetising, any seasoned scotch egg fanatic will gladly attest that this strange hybrid is one of nature’s most delicious picnic staples.

First, the egg. I managed to procure one from Gamston Wood Ostriches, a Nottinghamshire-based ostrich breeding center. The ostrich hen can lay as few as ten eggs per year, so they’re quite expensive (mine cost £10), but in terms of bangs-per-buck they’re pretty impressive, as you can see from the image below.

Boiling an ostrich egg is not quite as simple as it sounds. For a start, you need a saucepan with a vast capacity. Even using my biggest pan, the top fifth of the egg is exposed during the cooking process, so I keep a close eye on things, rotating the egg frequently and topping up the water as it evaporates.

After 90 minutes, I remove the egg from the heat, cooling it down in a sink full of cold water. Once the egg is cool enough to handle comfortably, I begin to remove the shell, exposing the translucent white interior beneath.

With the egg now ready for its coat of pork, I add some seasoned flour to a kilo of sausage meat, knead it for a bit, then flatten it to a thickness of about half an inch, and carefully wrap it around the now-naked ovum.

Brushing the exterior with a beaten chicken egg to provide an adhesive surface, I coat the moistened, gleaming meat-globe with breadcrumbs. Rather amazingly, it does actually look like a scotch egg.

I decide to roast my creation rather than deep-fry it, mainly because I lack the correct facilities, so into the oven it goes – 45 minutes at 180°C/350°F (gas mark 4) – before being removed and chilled overnight.

Apart from a couple of fissures in the surface, where gravity has pulled away at the coating’s molecular structure, I’m very happy with the result. Cutting the egg in half to reveal its enticing two-tone innards, I carve myself a slice, settle down in front of John Craven’s Countryfile on BBC1, and take a bite.

Perhaps surprisingly, it tastes like a normal scotch egg. Maybe this should not come as such a shock, but it does. The white is slightly creamier that that of a chicken egg, and a solo mouthful of this can be a little disconcerting, but a bite that takes in all the various elements is quite delicious.

All in all, it’s been a great success. Although costing in excess of £15 to make, I can see a day where these creations are vacuum-packed and sold by the half-dozen, with food-lovers the World over delighted by their novelty and expense. Just remember where you read about it first.

fat duck luck

Last week I entered a competition in the Independent to win dinner at the Fat Duck, recently decreed the best restaurant in the World, and home to Heston Blumenthal’s monstrous menu of molecular madness. To enter, readers had to submit a description of their favourite meal in 100 words or less. Here’s mine:

There’s a dozen of us crowded beneath the canvas, the two-mile walk across the Mongolian tundra to the nomad’s tent behind us. We’ve exchanged postcards, sampled snuff, politely enquired as to the well-being of the family’s livestock, and now it’s time to eat. A sweltering block of odoriferous grey cheese the size of a goat’s head is passed round, followed by battered tin cups containing thick, pungent servings of fermented mare’s milk. It’s the most fragrant, extraordinary snack I’ve ever tried, but nearly everyone else looks ready to call an ambulance. The nearest is 250 miles away.

It’s not bad. It’s a true story, and it’s reasonably entertaining. I felt I had a chance of being short-listed.

I wasn’t, of course. Fair enough.

But I decided to complain, mainly because writing frivolous letters to people who have better things to do with their time amuses me, but also because I had spotted a flaw in the competition rules that enabled me to react like a complete prick. Lovely.


I have a question relating to your Fat Duck competition.

In your newspaper, the competition’s closing date was listed as being Wednesday 28th April 2005. This, as most proof-readers will be able to confirm, is a date that does not exist.

I would therefore have thought it prudent on your part to have accepted entries to the competition submitted on the 28th, but you clearly have not done this. Even with my limited knowledge of the printing process, I find it difficult to accept that the early editions of today’s newspaper would be able to carry the results of a competition that had not yet closed.

Would you care to explain this anomaly? As someone who submitted an unusually brilliant entry to your competition in what I thought was in good time to be accepted, I was naturally devastated to discover that I had wasted my time completely.


Fraser Lewry
(Independent reader for 14 years).

In no time at all I received a very nice reply from the Executive Editor (Features).

You’re right to point out that Wednesday 28th April doesn’t exist. It was a printing error, pure and simple. However, we were aware of it, and made a decision to extend the closing date for entries to Thursday 28th. All entries received by 5pm yesterday were considered in the judging process — including your own, which very nearly made the paper this morning. We had so many good entries (hundreds) that we might run another selection next week, space permitting.

Bollocks, I say. I demand my snail porridge and I demand it now.