Hog Roast

The season finale for the Hand & Flowers.

Welcome to another issue of Le Cordon Bong, a newsletter about recreating Michelin star meals at home. You can get in touch with me via the comments or by email. All of the previous content is up on the website (which I personally find to be a more enjoyable reading experience than the email format).

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Week 10, vol. 1

Clockwise from top right: pig’s head croquettes, rolled pork belly, crispy pig’s ears, stuffed trotters, chopped ribs, and a sack of salt-baked potatoes.

Setting the Table

It’s been a fun 10 weeks with the Hand & Flowers cookbook by Tom Kerridge, and I thought I’d close out with a quick book review. We move on to Rogan by Simon Rogan next week.

Firstly, it’s a gorgeous book in itself, with beautifully shot, full page pictures for every single recipe. The recipes themselves span a wide range of skill levels, but I really liked the clean, multi-component design of each dish, which means you can pick and choose the components you want to make. The challenge for most dishes was often the sheer number of components, rather than any particularly difficult individual component.

I thought the instructions were clear, and the measurements and timings were generally accurate (not always a given with this type of book). Every recipe has a full page introduction to the dish, and having pictures for every recipe was extremely helpful to help me visualise what the end product was supposed to look like.

While some recipes were less accessible given the required equipment (Thermomix, Pacojet), and ingredients (pig’s heart, veal tendon, squab pigeon, meadowsweet), there are a good number of dishes an intermediate home cook could certainly tackle, such as the Smoked haddock omelette, Salt cod scotch egg, Halibut in red wine, Spiced tuna, and Fillet of beef to name a few (or you could cook my simplified adaptations!).

Away from the recipes, the rest of the book was a highly insightful read - there’s a lengthy introduction about the history of the restaurant, 24 hours in a day, as well as Kerridge’s thinking and philosophy around menu design, drinks, tableware, decor, so that was really interesting for a restaurant geek like myself.

In total, I cooked 4 out of 21 starters, and 11 out of 30 mains from H&F1 - my favourites to eat were probably the Treacle-cured Chateaubriand and Pork Tenderloin. Whilst this chapter may be coming to a close, I’m certain I will be cooking many more recipes from the book in the future.

Hard recommend, 5/5 stars.


If you’ve been here before, skip ahead! For the benefit of first-time readers, write-ups are structured thusly: (1) Amuse-Bouche - the history and provenance of the dish; (2) Starters - an intro to the fancy Michelin version of the dish I’ll be cooking; (3) Main Courses - the actual cooking process; (4) Desserts - thoughts and conclusions on what worked, what didn’t, and most importantly, what tasted good; (5) Petit Fours - footnotes and references.


Amuse-Bouche

The tradition of the whole hog roast goes back millennia (pretty much as soon as humans were able to stick pigs on metal skewers, i.e. the Bronze Age), and can be found in myriad food cultures across the globe - Balinese babi guling, British hog roast, Chinese roast suckling pig, Cuban caja china pig roast, Filipino lechon baboy, German spanferkel, Hawaiian kālua pig, Serbian praseće pečenje, Spanish cochinillo asado, the list goes on and on.

There’s also a great episode of Chef’s Table BBQ on Netflix where Rodney Scott cooks South Carolina-style whole hog barbecue (the whole season is fantastic, especially episode 2 with Lennox Hastie in Sydney - his restaurant Firedoor is definitely one on my bucket list.)


Starters

Traditionally, there are several ways to cook a hog roast - a spit over an open fire pit, on an upright rack over coals, in an underground pit, or in a roasting box.

Firstly, I don’t have 60 people to feed, and I have little intent of digging out a roasting pit in my back garden. Fortunately, Kerridge’s ‘hog roast’ feeds 4, and uses conventional kitchen cooking equipment.

I was drawn to the recipe because it uses some of the humblest cuts of the pig - the head and the trotter. They contain lots of building blocks for deliciousness - fat, connective tissue, flavour - but it takes a lot of work to transform those building blocks into something that actually looks and tastes good on a plate. It’s one of my favourite things about cooking, taking a scrappy ingredient and surprising people with what you can make out of it.

While nose-to-tail eating has certainly become trendy in recent years, personally, I hope it’ll be more than a passing fad. If we buy steaks, chops, and roasting joints at the supermarket or butcher’s, I think there should also be a recognition that meat comes from animals, and we should make the most out of the whole animal. It’s about respect and appreciation for the animal, as well as the effort of the farmers who raised the animal, and everyone else involved in the animal’s life cycle. Just a thought.


Main Courses

Braised pig’s head

1. Torching off hairs; 2. A quick anatomy lesson; 3. Blanching the pig’s head; 4. Making the stew; 5-8. Various stages of flaking the meat; 9. Mise for the croquettes.

The much-hyped pig’s head had arrived. Big thanks to the butcher for sawing it in half (a task I wasn’t particularly keen on).

To be honest, if you can get over the fact that you’re cooking the head of a highly intelligent animal, it’s really the same as any other braise. I triple-blanched the head to clean things up, then simmered with a regular roughly-chopped mirepoix (that’s French kitchen lingo for onion, carrot, and celery), fresh herbs, and whole spices.

Just like any other braise, it was cooked until the meat was tender and falling off the bone (well, in this case, falling off the skull). Once all the meat (including brain and tongue) was picked off and pulled apart, it looked more or less like regular pulled pork.

I decided to go a little off script and spice up the pork with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, and paprika to complement all the rich gamey flavours of the meat. It’s a flavour profile I really like with duck (I often use it to season leftover duck confit to make stuffed pasta).

After that, I was on the home stretch, running through the motions to make croquettes - setting the meat overnight, coating in flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs, and deep frying until golden.

Stuffed trotters

1. Making sausage meat; 2. Trotters; 3. First trotter done; 4. Halfway through the second trotter; 5. Both done; 6. Stuffed; 7. Wrapped; 8. Vacuum-seal; 9. Glaze.

Stuffed trotter is synonymous with the legendary French chef, Pierre Koffmann, who most famously served it at his three Michelin-starred restaurant, La Tante Claire in Chelsea (now the site of the also three-starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road).

Which is helpful, because that means there are numerous videos online demonstrating how to debone a trotter (including one featuring Pierre himself). The first trotter took me forever, although I eventually did get the hang of it once I realised the inside of the trotter is almost entirely bone, so there’s no need to be overly delicate. It’s a bit like taking off a sock, if that sock was attached to a bunch of really obstinate tendons.

I stuffed the trotter with homemade sage & onion sausage meat (a blend of minced shoulder, bacon, and liver), popped it in the sous vide overnight for 9 hours, and glazed with a thin caramel.

Rolled pork belly

1. Separating the skin; 2. Post-sous vide cook; 3. Wrapped to set the cylinder; 4. Setting the skin around the cylinder. The pork looks so pretty and tidy here, but sadly that didn’t last.

Fairly routine stuff here, the skin gets separated from the rest of the belly, and they cook sous vide for 24 hours and 8 hours respectively, before being reattached and reheated in the oven. Unfortunately, things kinda unravelled (literally), because I forgot to secure the skin to the belly with kitchen twine when reheating. I also trimmed the edges before the oven reheat stage, which was a mistake; I should have waited until the very end.

I think the idea of cooking the skin for 24 hours is to render out all the fat and get the skin crispy and crackly, but I didn’t get a particularly good result, and the reheating stage made me very nervous because I was constantly worried that the pork belly would overcook and dry out (thankfully, it didn’t).

A sack of potatoes

Round two for the salt crust dough, which we saw in last week’s exploding salt-baked celeriac. The idea is to use the dough to construct a sack around some small potatoes and bake them until the crust is hardened and the potatoes are soft - you get a small hammer to break apart the potato sack if you order it at the Hand & Flowers, which is pretty cool.

I continue to have no joy with this recipe. Firstly, the dough was far too dry2, and didn’t come together at all, despite the recipe telling me I “may not need all the water”.

The second problem was that the dough was very weak. I kneaded in the mixer for 20 minutes vs. the recipe’s 5 minutes, and the gluten formation was still pathetic. This made it difficult to roll out and shape the dough around the potatoes without ripping it constantly. It was a minor miracle it resembled a potato sack rather than the raging dumpster fire it really was.


Desserts

At long last, after two and a half days of cooking, I had assembled a veritable feast. In addition to the components mentioned above, there was a compound herb butter for the potatoes, crispy deep-fried pig’s ears, and some chopped smoked ribs I had hastily whipped up in my perennial fear of not having enough food for everyone.

  • The pig’s head croquettes and stuffed trotters were unsurprisingly, everyone’s favourites. The spice mix worked an absolute treat with the pig’s head. The triumvirate of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves is most often associated with wintery desserts, but it’s highly effective in savoury dishes as well, particularly with rich, powerful, meaty flavours. The texture was perfect - tender, juicy, but with plenty of bite as well - everything you want in a shredded pork dish.

  • Visuals are such a big part of the eating experience, and the trotters are a prime example of this. It’s a dish you simply don’t see every day, which naturally creates intrigue and excitement, because you don’t know quite what to expect. I was probably less wowed compared to everyone else, but I think that was a case of (literally) knowing how the sausage is made.

  • Despite my worst fears of overcooking (and my annoyance at the untidy aesthetic), the pork belly was perfectly fine. Although not quite as good as the confit pork belly from a few weeks ago.

  • The potatoes... Did they taste good? Yes. Could you taste that they were baked in a salt crust? No. Are there easier and tastier ways to cook potatoes? Undoubtedly. Will I be making these again? Almost certainly not.

I’m so glad I made this (yes, even you, unnecessarily tedious salt-baked potatoes). It was a huge learning experience, and I could see myself cooking all the pork components again (although maybe not at the same time). The stuffed trotters are such a showstopper, and I’d definitely try the rolled pork belly again some day, mainly because the perfectionist in me is still annoyed it wasn’t flawless.

No recipe adaptation this week - it takes a special kind of nutjob to cook a pig’s head and stuffed trotters (but feel free to reach out if you actually cook this recipe from the book and want to chat).

See you next week for Season 2 as I cook through Rogan by Simon Rogan. Until then, happy cooking!

Petit Fours (aka the footnotes)

1

The five dishes I haven’t documented on this newsletter were (1) Slow-cooked duck with duck fat chips & gravy (which won Great British menu in 2010), (2) Moules marinière with warm stout foam & treacle bread, (3) Sardines & tomato on toast with black olive tapenade and concasse, (4) Smoked eel & beetroot royale with apple & black truffle potato, and (5) Stuffed lemon sole grenobloise.

2

I’m certain there’s a mistake in this salt crust dough recipe, unless I’m incapable of weighing things accurately (also very possible). Here are the two salt crust recipes from the book (and the celeriac one from last week was fine).

  • Celeriac dough: 330g flour, 100g salt, 3 egg whites, 100ml water. At 30g per egg white, that’s 430g solids vs. 190g liquids, or 44% hydration (technically slightly less because egg whites are about 90% water).

  • Potato sack dough: 500g flour, 150g salt, 2 egg whites, 105ml water. At 30g per egg white, that’s 650g solids vs. 165g liquids, or 25% hydration.