Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Feast without the fuss...

..is something of a personal mantra and reflects my own style of cooking. Never more so than last week when I cooked for three very individual occasions (argh - I always get the spelling of that word wrong. Repeat: two c's. one s): A 50th birthday party with a huge hog roast, grazing food throughout the day and then a midnight snack as fireworks exploded overhead; a smaller 60th celebration with friends and family gathered around Lunga's beautiful dining room table for a feast of shellfish and some dip, drizzling and dunking; and finally a wedding for a very international gathering of guests who none the less were treated to a generous helping of local produce - simply served in a ballroom bathed in evening sunlight.

I do the cooking myself. It's the bit I most enjoy. But life is short. Which means that I need to work out menus that aren't going to kill me! The same should apply to anyone who is entertaining in large numbers and the secret, I think, is to do less to the food that you cook, rather than more; to grow herbs in abundance;  to use seasonal whenever possible; and to have fluid 'staples' that can double up. Making extra portions of pea pannacotta for the mid week party meant that with the addition of some extra cream and just the tiniest grating of horseradish I had a bruschetta topping for canapes for Saturday's wedding.

One of the most flexible dishes I have recently re- discovered is Rillette - a kind of retro potted pork (Nigel Slater refers to it as 'deliciously old fashioned') that keeps for a good couple of weeks and can therefore be used in endless ways. I first tasted this many years ago sitting outside a french bar in Normandy. It was lunchtime and we were under the shade of a large tree, enjoying a glass of rose and sharing a table with an elderly French couple who were spreading copious quantities of this delicious confit on roughly torn baguette. They first of all spread the duck fat and butter 'seal' on their bread and then piled the coarse textured rillette on top, adding a grind of pepper and dipping into the olive oil that they had generously poured onto their plate.

We ordered some too, discarded the buttery seal and omitted the olive oil (the former I believe should be primarily for 'preserving purposes'; the latter because it was a particularly pungent local oil that didn't appeal then, but probably would now) and enjoyed the marinaded kick of 'very mature calvados which came from the farm down the road', we were reliably informed by our chatty companions.

I'd never made rillette until last week - it was specifically requested as part of the grazing menu for the 50th birthday party -  and have now added it to my 'staples'. Given my own mantra of 'feasting without fuss,' you might consider the long list of ingredients, and the cooking method, slightly time consuming - pork shoulder cubed and slowly braised for hours until the meat literally falls apart. But trust me - this is such a flexible dish that if you make enough of it, it can easily keep a large party happily 'grazing' for at least a weekend. I flavour it in the traditional way with thyme and juniper - but I use lemon thyme for a bit of an extra kick - and use duck fat. Don't be alarmed by the fat content. It's no different to a pate. Just cooked differently. Cleverly, Nigel Slater's recipe uses pork belly instead of shoulder, and therefore







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