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Pork brain nuggets in panko breadcrumbs

Zombie Nuggets: or Brainsss!!

Pork brain nuggets in panko breadcrumbs

 

As you probably know from reading the blog, we seem to have unofficially become offal crazy. For me it’s partly because I’m on a tight budget and offal is cheap and partly because there’s an excellent stall at Brixton Farmers’ Market that sells all kinds of bits of wild boar and pork and I can play offal roulette while picking up some sausages or a roast. In fact, this is where I buy nearly all my meat these days and the woman who runs the stall often encourages me to try weird and wonderful bits (possibly to liven up her Sunday mornings). At my last visit, she slipped a package out from under the trestle and whispered brains in my direction. Or the most challenging thing I’ve ever been offered to eat.

She’d got them for me specially and I didn’t have the heart to refuse the little pink filled pouch. I asked what on earth one does with a bag of brains (if you don’t have a dog) and she told me that her Irish granny breaded and fried them and told them they were chicken nuggets. Wondering why I’m probably less scared of eating mechanically recovered meat than certain parts of fresh offal, I took them home to nugget up.

I don’t eat much in the way of nuggets or goujons or other crumbed things, but on a recent trip to Hawksmoor, I had some of their shortrib nuggets and was blown away by the melting interior and crispy crumby exterior all bound together with a tangy garlicky spicy kimchi dip on the side. I decided to steal the dip idea for my homemade nuggets, blending up some shopbought kimchi with a splash of vinegar and some ketchup til I got the right dippy texture.

Then I tackled the brains, cutting out some weird bits that didn’t look very edible, chopping them into fairly bite sized pieces, but not too small so they would burn on the outside before the middles were cooked. They were floured, egged and breadcrumbed in panko and fried til golden in hot oil. They looked lovely. All glisteningly crispy and very appetising indeed.

Turns out that fried breadcrumbs can make anything alluring and brain nuggets are as nice as you expected them to be…chewy, bouncy and very very offally in taste and texture, these were a bar too far even for me. I managed one, well dipped in kimchi ketchup and got no further. Pleased that I’d challenged myself this far, I regretfully threw the rest away feeling bad about wasting food and had a sandwich instead. My lesson is learned. If food makes you feel scared of it, you don’t have to eat it. Even if it makes a good blog post…

raw pork heart

I heart pork!

Pork heart new

It may have come to your attention that Valentine’s Day is upon us again. My reaction to the sea of helium balloons, fluffy teddy bears, reduced priced fizz, enormous boxes of chocolates and red roses in the shops is to say ‘stuff it’…

Not just because I’m a grumpy 30-something woman who happens to be single, but because I found some suckling pig hearts from wild boar at the farmers’ market last week and felt my customary urge to make and use stuffing coming on again, especially since it would be somewhat apt this week.

The cold weather at the moment makes it the perfect opportunity to make long slow cooked meals rich with flavour and red wine and served with roasted seasonal veg and after a trip to The Fruit Garden in Herne Hill where I came across some excellent beetroot and the new-to-me salsify, I had the makings of an excellent meal for one.

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A tail of pork pie…

After our all too brief dalliance with summer, autumn is upon us once more. Some might moan, but it’s my favourite time of the year. Crisp sunny days, scuffly crunchy leaves, purple tinged sunsets, the smell of bonfires and an excuse to indulge in a few more carbs. Have I converted you yet?

I decided to take advantage of this first really cold snap this week with a pie for dinner. What could be better than lots of seasonal ingredients topped with flaky puff pastry? What about accessorising the whole thing with a boar’s tail and beating Fergus Henderson at his own game? Not so much cow pie as pig tail pie…

I got the tail at the stall* in Brixton Farmers’ Market for the bargain price of a pound and couldn’t resist its curly charms, especially since there’s a fair bit of meat on one. You can also get them smoked at the Colombian butcher in Brixton Village.

To fill my pie, I used diced pork leg as I couldn’t stretch to wild boar this time. For a seasonal sensation, I added shallot, leek and some seasonal mushrooms, all sweated off in butter and coated in flour and bathed in Henney’s Herefordshire cider before simmering it all for 40 minutes on a low heat. When it thickened up, I added fresh tarragon, a pinch of mace and a good grind of black pepper. Like all the best pie fillings, it can be prepped in advance and then given a lovely lid when needed.

My lovely lid came courtesy of Jus-Rol. I wanted to do puff pastry and with butter the price it is, I did not feel inclined to experiment. Instead I failed to read the instructions for use properly and ended up having to defrost one sheet in the microwave. This was a bad idea. It ended up brittle and with greasy patches. I had to use the other sheet instead and allow it to come to room temperature naturally. Feeling deflated that I could mess up bought pastry, I turned attention to the tail.

I wanted it to partly inside the pie to cook the meat and allow the bone to infuse the gravy. This is surprisingly difficult. Pig’s tails are incredibly flexible and not especially easy to position. I put the pastry lid on the pie and slit it open to wedge the tail inside. This took longer than I thought and led to an interesting moment where I stopped while holding a floppy tail in one hand and wondered how exactly my life turned out this way…

Eventually with some ingenious overlaid pastry stars holding the tail in place, the pie went in the oven at 220C for about 40 minutes. I peered in after 30 or so and marvelled at how much it really had puffed up. It also smelled tremendous. I boiled some spuds and did some peas to go on the side and rushed to get at it.

The tail had crisped up at the very very end and the meat inside was nicely cooked. It might be better to skin it first as there was quite a lot of slightly flabby skin to wade through, but it was surprisingly tasty to gnaw on and it had added a meaty kick to the pie filling. Pork leg wouldn’t be my first choice of cut usually, but it softened up nicely and was delicious. The cider and tarragon worked well and the pastry was great. I had two helpings straightaway (and forgot the peas both times!)

If you can get hold of a tail or two, try not to be put off by the cute factor. It’s a tasty thing perfect for a bit of stock or to make people’s eyes open wide when you serve this pie. I just wish I’d gone the whole hog and bought a snout in the market too…

*I’m really sorry, but I cannot remember the name of the boar people at all, but they are there every week and super helpful and very friendly.

All Boar, No Bore…

Up bright and early and filled with the joys of summer on Sunday I headed into Brixton to take advantage of the season’s finest. Already chuffed to bits about getting some very reasonably priced donut peaches and baby plum tomatoes at the fruit and veg stall opposite the back of Brixton Village on Coldharbour Lane by the bridge, my day was made when I discovered a stall at the Farmers’ Market selling, (amongst other things) wild boar and duck eggs. Almost before I knew it, my money had found its way out of my purse and a bag with a rolled wild boar loin and two double yolked duck eggs was nestled in my hand. Suddenly dinner seemed a long way away…

Back home, I tucked into a delicious cooked breakfast with the eggs and the tomatoes and set to reading the Sunday papers. Seeing Jay Rayner compare Red Dog Saloon and Pitt Cue Co in the Observer got me thinking that I just can’t have enough pig and pulses in my life and that slow roasting the boar loin over beans would be the perfect twist on that American classic this Independence Day weekend.

Being all organised when I made the root beer beans a few weeks ago, I soaked and cooked more haricots than I needed at the time and then froze them. So while the oven heated to the maximum temperature to blast the boar skin into crackling, the beans defrosted and I prepared a rub of salt, butter, oilve oil and home grown fennel seeds for the skin. Once the meat was at room temperature I slathered the skin with the rub, working on the premise that the only thing better than pork fat, is pork fat with butter on it!

The loin went into a very hot oven for 20 minutes to crisp up. I also chopped up fennel, red onion and some of those baby plum tomatoes and some cloves of garlic to mix with the beans as a bed for the meat to slow roast on.
I then took the meat out, set it aside, deglazed the pan with some water and then tossed the beans and veg well in the juices, put the meat on top and popped in the oven at 160℃ for about two hours. Or until I remembered about it again…

It smelled amazing when I opened the oven, but I was worried that the fennel was the wrong side of caramlised and would just taste burnt. But the meat looked so mouthwatering moist and tender I didn’t really care. Slow roasting on the bone had turned this into something really special. I left it to rest to make sure I didn’t miss those precious juices and chopped up a quick slaw of white cabbage, fennel, carrot and golden beetroot to go on the side.

If you aren’t just as fennel obsessed as I am, feel free to leave it out of the beans. But do keep it in the slaw where the anise cuts through the sweetness of the beets and carrot and tempers the mustardiness of the cabbage. The fresh crunch of the slaw is its selling point, so don’t be tempted to chop too finely or drown it in dressing like a shop bought version. I used a tablespoon of yoghurt, a dessertspoon of mayonnaise, cider vinegar, fish sauce and a tiny bit of Dijon mustard to make a light yet flavoursome dressing that coats the vegetables well without being overwhelming.

Then after all the chopping, shredding and roasting, I dug in. It was so good. The meat was so juicy and tender even compared to the equivalent piece of pork, falling off the bone beautifully. The crackling wasn’t just as shatteringly crisp as pork can be, but the slight chewiness and caramelly finish from the butter made up for that in abundance. The beans were deliciously meaty whil even the slightly burnt fennel was very enjoyable. Everything just burst with flavour, especially the boar itself.

And best of all, it didn’t feel like a heavy dish thanks to the refreshing crunch of the slaw and the fresh flavours of the beans so you could eat a hefty portion of the meat with feeling defeated. It’s dishes like this that remind me why seasonal food is so worth the wait…