There’s one thing I really dislike about recipes... its the way they make difficult things seem easy. It’s as if they compact all the processes and tricky elements of a dish into five or six little concise lines that shout a little ‘hey presto!’ at you. A kind of ‘look what I can make’ type of affair, with an ‘I didn’t even make a mess’ added on. Unfortunately as it turns out it seems that recipes, just like life, are not as simple as we’d like. Take my attempt this week. I was flipping through a gourmet traveller magazine to get ideas for what to make when I spotted this extremely enticing, golden coloured bit of pork with the crunchiest looking crackling on top. It was rolled and stuffed with various items and looked pretty much spot on. Being not one to get ahead of myself I skimmed over the ingredients and method just to gage whether or not this piece of meat was within my realm of skill. Strangely enough it all seemed pretty straight forward: get your stuffing ingredients, combine them, place them on the inside of the pork shoulder, then roll and wrap the piece of meat eventually finishing it off with some tied string. To get the crackling one simply scores the meat and then rubs a good amount of salt and oil on the skin and roasts at a high temperature. The thing seemed possible. So off to the market I went, full of ideas and excitement and my ingredients list ready to gather my needed goods. All was going well until I got to the meat section. When asking the butcher if I could have some string with my boneless bit of pork shoulder the look he returned slightly took me aback.
|looking all nice and approachable|
‘You’re going to tie the shoulder?’
‘Why yes’ I replied ‘I am.’
‘Good luck with that one love.’
‘The shoulder’s practically impossible to tie up. We would do it ourselves but there’s always bits falling out all over the place. I’d probably go for a leg instead if you want to tie it.’
‘Oh no that’s fine’ I said, ‘I’ll be ok’. I figured my trusty gourmet traveller recipe wouldn’t lead me astray.
Back at home I began to prepare for my first attempt at roasted pork. I cooked a little rosemary with salt and pepper to rub on the skin, and got my ingredients all together for the stuffing: pine nuts, sage, and some pear. I then pulled the meat out of the fridge and placed it on the bench. I must admit the size of it was slightly alarming... turns out 2.5kg is a whole lotta pig. I turned it over skin up and got my knife at the ready. With instruction from my recipe I began trying to score the meat. Well, those pigs have got some serious experience in the skin department. That skin is tough! I must have tackled the thing from all different directions with my sharpest knife and could barely make a dint in the thing. After a good 30 minutes of wrestling I managed to indent about eight crooked lines in the animal but then gave up. So much for that bit. I then turned the piece of meat over and placed the stuffing ready to be rolled. Hello problem number two. The meat was so friggin fat that I could barely get it to come full circle. Plus it turned out that all the stuffing got too wet and just slipped and slided all over the place. It was a disaster. There I was, 4pm with nothing done, pinching and hugging and grabbing at this pig on my bench and just wondering what the hell I was going to do because this certainly wasn’t turning out as I planned. After a good mess session and a bit of removal of meat I managed to get the thing tied up, barely stuffed but together, and placed it on a tray. I rubbed the salt into the skin and then left it in the fridge for a bit. To be honest I had gotten sick of the sight of it. My resentment for gourmet traveller was certainly growing.
The other elements of the dinner went a bit better. I cooked some white beans up with some leeks, white wine, thyme and crème fraiche, roasted some parsnips, and sautéed some lovely little bunches of Tuscan cabbage that they were selling at the market with some chilli, garlic and stock. It all started to smell and taste pretty good so relaxation returned for a little while. So much so that I was able to brave the sight of the pork again and remove it from the fridge. That went into the oven for a good 2 hours and seemed to actually hold its shape intact. (At least one of us was keeping it together that night).
For dessert I turned back to the British in me and decided to do good old bread and butter pudding. I added some chopped apricots and dark chocolate in between the layers just for a bit of extra yumminess, and smothered the bread with cinnamon and nutmeg. That part actually went ok, except for the minor fact that I managed to spill all my pre-prepared custard over the bench and the sink right when I was about to put the thing in the oven. ’Ah sorry guys, dessert’s going to be a little longer than expected’.
To my surprise when the pork came out the skin actually semi-resembled crackling, and when I cut through it some nice juicy pieces of meat came off with stuffing still inside. Well I’ll be damned I thought, the thing actually looks ok. I was even able to mix up a bit of gravy from the juices and serve that alongside it.
It certainly wasn’t the most carefree dinner ever prepared. But the flavours were good and the company was even better, so I will say it was worth it. If there’s one thing to be learnt it’s that things certainly don’t always go to plan no matter how prepared you think you are. And also that recipes really need to have footnotes on the bottom of them with a little bit of advice attached. Something along the lines of:
*note: this recipe may cause serious levels of frustration and no, your food will not turn out like this.
Just another culinary adventure...