Food for thought: March 2010

 

March 2010: Bringing Home the Bacon

Georgina Campbell

 

St Patrick’s Day brings culinary thoughts around to traditional cooking, and March is a good time to remember the pig. It was probably the first domestic animal to be brought to Ireland and, although its absolute supremacy was later challenged by cattle and sheep, many will remember well that every country household had a pig - and its popularity has never waned until quite recently, when speciality pork butchers began to disappear. In a price-driven market, Irish pork producers are having a tough time competing with imports – you might be surprised how many of those rashers with very Irish names come from outside the country. This is a pity, but it’s always the same when price is confused with value, so shoppers buying pre-packs should look out for the Quality Mark when buying bacon or pork products.

 

However, if the will is there, there’s no reason why Ireland can’t earn a world-wide reputation as specialist producers of top quality foods – GM-free, of course, and including a healthy proportion of organic production. Free-range pork production -  usually rare breed and often organic – is increasing, due to consumer demand, and Euro-Toques chefs are leading the charge by stating a commendable willingness to pay more for quality pork. It’s not easy for the ordinary shopper to find free range and/or organic pork products however, as they are not widely stocked. A solution to consider is online purchase from Nigel Cobbe’s simplysourced.net, which offers an excellent (and fast growing range) of products and nationwide delivery to your door, all at reasonable prices.

However, if the will is there, there’s no reason why Ireland can’t earn a world-wide reputation as specialist producers of top quality foods – GM-free, of course, and including a healthy proportion of organic production. Free-range pork production -  usually rare breed and often organic – is increasing, due to consumer demand, and Euro-Toques chefs are leading the charge by stating a commendable willingness to pay more for quality pork. It’s not easy for the ordinary shopper to find free range and/or organic pork products however, as they are not widely stocked. A solution to consider is online purchase from Nigel Cobbe’s simplysourced.net, which offers an excellent (and fast growing range) of products and nationwide delivery to your door, all at reasonable prices.

 

If you’re looking for ideas for a St Patrick's Day meal, Bord Bia has a range of quick and easy recipe ideas for pork, bacon and other traditional Irish foods (Tel 00 353 (0)1 668 5155 / www.bordbia.ie)

 

Traditional Bacon and Cabbage with Mustard Sauce

“comfort  food at its best” Serves 6

 

1½ kg loin of bacon, preferably dry-cured

1 carrot,

2 celery sticks

2 leeks

1 teasp. back peppercorns

 

Topping

 

1 tablesp. mustard (of your choice)

1 tablesp. oven-dried breadcrumbs

½ tablesp. brown sugar

Knob of butter

 

Mustard Sauce

 

50g butter

25g flour

1 tablesp. mustard

250ml mixture cooking liquid and cream

1 kg cabbage, finely sliced,  (preferably use a lovely crunchy, curly dark green Savoy cabbage)

 

 

 

To Cook

 

Weigh the joint, then place in a saucepan with the chopped vegetables and the peppercorns, and add enough cold water to cover.  Bring slowly to the boil over moderate heat, then turn down and simmer gently for approx. 20 minutes per 500g.

Preheat a fairly hot oven, Gas Mark 6, 200ºC (400ºF).

After the estimated time, remove the joint from the saucepan.  Reserve the liquid; remove the rind and score the fat.  Place the joint on a roasting dish; mix the mustard and breadcrumbs, sugar and a knob of butter and spread this mixture over the joint.  Finish in the hot oven for 15-20 minutes.

To make the sauce

Melt the butter in a saucepan, then blend in the flour and mustard.  Cook gently for a minute or two, then whisk in the reserved cooking liquid and cream.  Bring to the boil, stirring.  Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently. The sauce should have the consistency of thin cream. Taste for seasoning and keep warm while you cook the cabbage and slice the bacon joint.

To cook the cabbage

Just before serving, cook the cabbage lightly in another saucepan with some of the cooking liquid.  Drain well and toss in butter.  Season to taste.

To serve

Slice the bacon and serve on a bed of cabbage, with a little of the mustard sauce and, of course floury potatoes, colcannon or mash.

 

 INGREDIENT OF THE MONTH – DRY CURED BACON

 

What Is It?

This is bacon which has no added water in the curing process, so it cooks without all the familiar white ‘gunk’ (which is basically water and additives water and additives) oozing out of it into the pan. A dry mixture, mainly consisting of salt, spices and flavourings, is rubbed into the raw bacon, and it is then left long enough to allow the salt to draw the natural liquids out of the meat. The curing mixture varies (closely guarded secrets, one and all) and so does the time it is left to cure.

Where Does It Come From?

It is made in Ireland by individual butchers and small producers, who tend to be very particular about the breed and lifestyle of the pigs used; also, as the popularity of dry-cured bacon grows so does the scale of production - so  there are several companies now producing substantial quantities. A few examples to look out for include some from small producers like Fingal Ferguson who makes Gubbeen Smokehouse bacon (made from the family’s own pigs; Tel +353 (0)28 28231, www.gubeen.com); JD Power’s bacon from the renowned butcher’s shop in Dungarvan, Co Waterford (Tel  +353 (0)58 42339);  larger scale producers include the famous Clonakilty brand, from West Cork, Rudd’s from Co Offaly (no longer run by the Rudd family) and the famous black bacon from O’Doherty’s, Enniskillen (Tel +44 (0)28 6632 2152 www.blackbacon.com), which many enthusiasts would say is the best of them all, A more recent arrival is ‘Prue & Simon’s’, operated by Prue Rudd (of the original Rudd’s) and her son Simon.

Where Can You Get It?

The smaller producers usually attend farmers’ markets, so your local one is a great place to look; also available from butchers (often own brand, eg J D Power’s, Clonakilty and O’Doherty’s, as above) and, increasingly, from the better supermarkets – Clonakilty and Rudd’s are now widely stocked in supermarkets. Some, eg O’Doherty’s, are available by post.

What Can You Do With It?

Dry cured bacon is a very versatile product; fried or grilled in the traditional Irish breakfast, it cooks beautifully to make the must-have crisp rasher that seemed until recently to be a thing of the past. It’s most often sliced and vacuum packed, but is also available in a piece to boil or bake; it’s great for warm salads, diced as a garnish, cooked in strips for pasta dishes, made into bacon rolls to accompany poultry or for nibbles with drinks – anywhere where ‘ordinary’ bacon is called for, dry cured bacon is an option worth trying. The difference can be surprising.

www.georginacampbell.com

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Not the full Irish - Katy McGuinness explores the true origins of 'Irish' foods.

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