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With St Patrick’s Day on Friday in 2017, a few readers have been eyeing my homemade brisket recipe from 2012:

Brisket and salt — corned — beef dos and don’ts

That post explains what to do. Anyone doing this from scratch will need to start on March 15. The prep work — brining and the rub — requires 48 hours.

Brisket is cheap. However, the cost of low-and-slow cooking can outweigh the savings on the meat.

Therefore, doing this yourself, as appetising as it looks on television food shows, might turn out to be more expensive and labour intensive than anticipated.

It is better to buy prepared salt — corned — beef from a supermarket or butcher.

Best wishes for a happy St Patrick’s Day!



BBC logoIf you’re a home cook who peruses the BBC food site for recipes, it’s time to print copies now before it closes.

On May 17, The Guardian reported that recipes and food articles are already being ‘archived’ and eventually will no longer be visible.

The site has 11,000 recipes, some of which have been available for 16 years. After these food pages are ‘mothballed’, one of the only ways to see them will be via the Wayback Machine using this link, which a Guardian reader helpfully shared:*/

Of course, you won’t be able to search on it and will have to remember approximately when you saw the recipe first appear.

Recipes from current television programmes will be on the BBC site for 30 days after they are broadcast.

The move comes after George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, said that the BBC was being ‘imperial in its ambitions’ by having so much online content. Articles on travel destinations and local news output are also likely to disappear or be scaled back in the coming months.

Other BBC services, channels and coverage could be consolidated or even ended as the broadcaster attempts to save money.

It is odd, though, that an online recipe collection — and the travel archive — can’t be saved. The pages are static. The British people paid for that via their television licence.

Guardian foodies are dismayed, to say the least. As I write at noontime on Tuesday — 12 hours after the article was published — there are already 1,859 comments!

However, there might be a glimmer of hope: a petition to save the recipe site already has over 41,500 signatures of the 50,000 needed for consideration.

On Holy Saturday, the last day of Holy Week, Catholics and Protestants look forward to celebrating our Lord’s resurrection and preparing a feast for family and friends.

You might find my past posts about Holy Saturday helpful in understanding its significance:

What happens on Holy Saturday?

Holy Saturday and food traditions

Last week, I summarised the first part of English food journalist Mary Berry’s look at Easter food traditions in various countries and denominations, encompassing those in England, Jamaica, Russia and Poland.

The second, concluding part of Mary Berry’s Easter Feast on BBC2 aired this week. Berry’s enthusiasm for Easter as both a religious and gastronomic feast matches mine, which is part of what made the programme so enjoyable.

Christians make special breads at this time of year to recall Jesus as the Bread of Life. Lamb is also popular, as He is the Lamb of God, the once perfect sacrifice for our sins. As the Archbishop of York, the Right Revd John Sentamu explained, ‘Easter is the Passover of the Lord’.

Greece – tsoureki

Berry visited St Sophia’s Cathedral in London, a breathtakingly beautiful Greek Orthodox church.

Fr Savas, the priest who gave her a tour of the cathedral, said that 1,000 faithful normally attend Midnight Mass on Holy Saturday. Everyone takes a lit candle home and blesses their home with the light of the Resurrection.

Fr Savas’s cousin Katarina made the traditional Easter bread — tsoureki — for Berry. It is a plaited (braided) bread with a red coloured hard boiled egg at the top. The three plaits symbolise the Holy Trinity. The egg symbolises Jesus Christ, and the red colour represents His blood that He shed for our redemption.

Tsoureki dough is an enriched one, resembling a brioche. It is flavoured with two spices: one, mastiha, which comes from tree resin and the other, mahlepi, from ground cherry stones which gives it an almond flavour.

Before baking, the tsoureki is glazed with egg wash and topped with sesame seeds. My Little Expat Kitchen has a recipe that looks like the one Katarina used.

The Netherlands – Easter Men

With the help of her grandchildren, Berry showed us the Dutch Easter Men recipe that she makes every year.

She saw them many years ago on a trip to Holland around Easter and was intrigued.

Berry likes the simplicity of the one-rise bread dough used to make this charming little bread of a man holding an egg — the risen Christ — in his arms.

Once the dough is risen, Berry portions it out and cuts into each one to shape the head, the arms and the legs. She secures a raw egg in the folded arms and decorates the heads with raisins or blackcurrants for simple facial features. She glazes the men with egg wash and bakes them for 25 minutes. The egg cooks as the bread bakes.

This is a simple, straightforward recipe that children will enjoy. They can help shape the limbs, once cut, and decorate the faces.

The Philippines – lechon

Berry visitied a Catholic Filipina, May, who made her a roast pork dish called lechon, an Easter staple in the Philippines.

May explained that, traditionally, lechon is a whole hog roast. Her father used to roast several hogs at Easter when she was growing up in the Philippines. Friends, neighbours and family would then join in for a massive Easter feast.

For home cooks, May recommends pork belly. She brined one with thyme, crushed lemongrass and bay leaves. After several hours, she removed the pork belly from the brine and patted it completely dry, enabling it to crisp when baking.

May laid it out flat, skin side down, and, in the centre, placed a few stems of crushed lemongrass, several spring onions cut lengthwise in half and added a lot of crushed garlic on top before seasoning well with salt and pepper. She then rolled the pork belly tightly and tied it well with butcher’s string.

Once roasted, the lechon had a glossy, dark outer skin. Inside, the meat was moist and tender. The belly fat had cooked out, with some going into the meat. As this recipe has no crackling — the outer skin is too hard to eat — it might be suitable for cooks who prefer less fatty, yet succulent, pork.

May explained that the Spanish introduced lechon to the Philippines centuries ago.

The dish is also popular in Cuba.

England – roast lamb

Berry went to York to watch the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu — a political prisoner from Idi Amin’s Uganda who moved to England 42 years ago — make her own recipe for roast lamb.

Sentamu and his wife Elizabeth both talked about how important Easter was for their large families in Africa. Sentamu’s mother taught him and his siblings how to cook. His father insisted not only on roast lamb on Easter but also curried goat and curried chicken.

He and Elizabeth have been using Berry’s lamb recipe ever since they saw it on television years ago. Berry confessed that she’d long forgotten about it, but it looks very tasty, especially with the touches the Sentamus have added over the years.

The Archbishop cut the main bone out of the leg of lamb. He took several thin slices of deli ham, spread a herb (predominantly rosemary leaves) and garlic mix over each slice and layered them neatly one on top of the other. He rolled the layered ham neatly and inserted it into the middle of the lamb.

He layered his roasting tray generously with tarragon and placed the lamb on top. Around it he put several onion halves. He took a bottle of white wine and poured it until it just covered the onions.

Once the roast was resting, he strained the juices from the roasting pan and made a sumptuous gravy. My mouth was watering. The Sentamu family must surely look forward to lunch on Easter!

Italy – Easter dove bread

Colomba di Pasqua is a traditional Italian bread made in a dove mould, although it can be made in a round one.

The dove symbolises Christ, the Prince of Peace.

To see it made, Berry visited Maria, who cooks for the priests and visiting clergy at St Peter’s Italian Church in London’s Little Italy.

The dough is enriched, as for a brioche, and contains currants and orange peel. It requires a 12-hour rise.

Maria placed the dough into a dove-shaped mould and topped it with whole almonds and crushed sugar. This recipe, which includes a picture, resembles Maria’s. The sugar bakes into the top of the bread leaving an appetising topping.

I wished I’d been with the two very happy priests when she served it to them. They tucked in with gusto.

Easter feast

Nearly all of the show’s participants and their families gathered at Berry’s parish church in the Home Counties not far from London for a sumptuous Easter feast.

They brought their special dishes and Berry brought hers. If you can see the hour-long episode, you’ll agree with me that it was a once-in-a-lifetime, unforgettable occasion. I would love to have been there.

Everyone got along famously and tried to learn each other’s language. It was a beautiful sight as many promised to keep in touch with each other.

I hope that everyone’s Easter feast is as special as Mary Berry’s.

As we eat, may we remember the risen Christ and give thanks for His resurrection from the dead and His promise to us of life everlasting.

On Monday, English home cook, author and former food journalist Mary Berry — star of The Great British Bake-Off and her own television shows (BBC) — introduced the British public to the traditions behind Good Friday and Easter foods.

The first of two episodes of Mary Berry’s Easter Feast on BBC2 saw her explore traditions in England, Jamaica, Russia and Poland. I highly recommend it. Below is a synopsis of the first programme with additional information from other sources.

Berry, an Anglican, told us that she is a regular churchgoer. She said she goes to Sunday services because ‘it is important to give thanks’. Easter is her favourite religious feast. (Finally, there’s someone who loves Easter as much as I do.)

Easter is the Church’s greatest feast. It has always been celebrated, from the earliest days after Christ’s death and resurrection. Christmas celebrations did not come about until much later.

Hot cross buns

Berry went to St Albans Cathedral to find out more about hot cross buns.

The cathedral’s historian explained that, in England, the precursor of this bun was the Alban bun. In 1361, Brother Thomas Rocliffe, a monk at St Albans Abbey, made highly spiced buns which the monks gave to the poor who appeared at the refectory door on Good Friday. The historian added that Brother Thomas was likely making peace with the locals who resented the Church. Monasteries at that time held an enormous amount of power.

St Albans Cathedral website tells us that their hot cross buns are still made locally — at Redbournbury Mill, which the abbey once owned. Anyone interested can find them the old fashioned way, by going to the Abbot’s Kitchen. They are available throughout Lent to Easter Monday.

The historian gave an Alban bun to Berry, who said it was much spicier than conventional hot cross buns. There is also no pastry or paste cross on the Alban bun, rather one which is formed with a knife before baking.

Although Berry and the historian did not discuss the significance of the bun’s ingredients, the spices symbolise those used to embalm Jesus after His crucifixion. I cannot find anything about the meaning of the dried fruit in them, but years ago, I read that it represents the gentle character of Jesus. I have also read that the fruit pieces suggest the drops of blood He shed for us.

For centuries, people ate hot cross buns only on Good Friday in contemplation of the Crucifixion. These days, sadly, they are available nearly all year round.

During the Reformation, England’s Protestants — and, later, Puritans — condemned the eating of hot cross buns as Catholic superstition. During Elizabethan times, one could only purchase them in London on Good Friday, Christmas or for burials.

Historians point out that fruit breads with a cross existed in ancient Greece. The cross made it easier to divide the bread into four pieces.

A number of superstitions about hot cross buns abound. As for them not going stale, I can assure you that they must be eaten within 12 to 18 hours. They get hard as a rock after that. And, yes, they also go mouldy.

Mary Berry makes hot cross buns for her family during Lent. The BBC has made her recipe available.

Jamaican bun

Berry spent time with Bettina, who is originally from Jamaica and belongs to a Baptist church in Nottingham.

Bettina makes Jamaican buns for the ladies at her church during Lent. They are actually large cakes, served in thin slices, often with Jamaican cheese. The buns are also very dark, because they have stout in them. This recipe looks like the one Bettina uses.

Escoveitch fish

Bettina also made a standard Good Friday dish of escoveitch (ceviche) fish for Berry to try. After marinating in a ceviche manner, Bettina pan fried the fish, basting it regularly. It looked delicious.

She served it with peppers, chocho and chilis. This recipe is like Bettina’s.

Bettina explained that marinating fish in vinegar dates back to the Moors, who introduced it to Spain. The Spanish, in turn, took the technique with them to the New World.

Russian devilled eggs and pascha

Berry met with a Russian Orthodox home cook and a priest, who explained how their Church observes Lent.

Father Peter explained that church members continue to follow the centuries-old vegetarian Lent, which starts two weeks earlier than the Catholic and Protestant one. They do not consume any food at all on Good Friday. Lenten fasting does not end until the Easter Vigil service ends, which is sometime between 3:00 and 3:30 a.m. Afterwards, everyone — including children — enjoys a feast.

Holy Thursday, which the Orthodox call ‘Clean Thursday’, is a busy, yet contemplative day, Father Peter said. It is the traditional spring cleaning day and it is also when the Easter cake, pascha, is made. Pascha is the word for Easter.

Pascha is a cheesecake with dried fruit. It is put into a pyramid mould with a Russian Orthodox cross on one side and ‘XB’ (‘Christ is risen’) on the other.

Another Russian Easter favourite is the devilled egg. A home cook made this for Berry. It involves peeled hard boiled eggs which are left to steep in beet juice. The programme did not mention this, but the red juice symbolises Christ’s blood. After several hours, the eggs are cut in half, the yolks devilled and piped back into the egg white centres. Caviar is a favourite topping.


Berry went to meet a Polish family in Cambridgeshire. They explained the importance of getting their Easter food blessed at church on Holy Saturday. I wrote about that in 2010.

In addition to coloured eggs, onto which the children were busy etching designs, olives are also an important Easter food for the Poles, probably because of their egg-like shape. Both symbolise life.

The husband made Berry a babka, the traditional Easter cake, which takes three days to make properly. Most of that time involves the rise of the enriched dough, similar to a brioche. He used a babka mould, similar to a kugelhopf mould, and added a chocolate insert. You could use a bundt cake mould.

Those who do not care for chocolate can add dried fruit instead.

A number of babka recipes exist, however, I have not been able to find the one this man used, which is the traditional one. He used his mother’s and, watching him make it, that’s definitely the original. Beware of ‘quick’ or ‘easy’ babka recipes. If anyone can point to one, please share the recipe or a link by commenting below. Many thanks!

Incidentally, he explained that ‘babka’ is also a complimentary word for a woman and a gracious name for a grandmother.

I’ll watch next week’s show and let you know what else Mary Berry discovers in the world of Easter food traditions.

In the UK, Laetare Sunday is Mothering Sunday. In 2016, it falls on March 6.

These two posts give the history behind this association between Laetare Sunday, the Church and mothers:

Laetare Sunday, Mother’s Day and the Golden Rose

Laetare Sunday is Mothering Sunday

My posts this week focussed on food: beef, pork, microwaved potatoes as well as gravy and sauce in the hope that some of my British readers will consider cooking for their mothers this Sunday. If they can manage it without too much stress, their mothers would no doubt appreciate that much more than being taken out for lunch or dinner, no matter how elaborate or filling.

What follows are my tips for foolproof crêpes, which make a delightful and convenient dessert. They can be made in advance and reheated before serving.

Foolproof crêpe recipe

I use Delia Smith’s crêpe recipe, which requires no ‘resting’ of the batter. It calls for:

110g (4 oz) of sifted flour

2 eggs

7 oz (207 ml) of milk mixed with 3 oz (89 ml) of water

Pinch of salt

2 tbsp (30g) melted butter (omit the pinch of salt if using salted butter)

This will make six crêpes.

As this recipe does not call for sugar, the crêpes can be used for savoury fillings.

Cooking tips

I use a copper crêpe pan but cheaper alternatives are available. In addition to the crêpe pan, you will need a dinner plate, a soup ladle (large enough to provide a small cup of soup), a long thin metal spatula and several sheets of aluminium foil.

Make sure the pan is hot (medium heat) before pouring in the crêpe batter. Because my pan is so heavy, I begin heating it before I start the batter.

Once you have mixed the first three or four ingredients well, melt the butter in the crêpe pan, tilt the pan so the butter covers the bottom and sides, then pour all of the butter into the batter. Stir well.

Use a soup ladle (large enough to provide a small cup of soup) to spoon the batter into the pan. Fill the ladle almost to the top, leaving 1/2″ (1 cm) empty.

Put the ladle close to the centre of the pan and pour the batter into it. Quickly tilt the pan so the batter reaches the edge and is evenly distributed.

The first crêpe takes the longest, twice as long as the last one. Be patient, increase the heat slightly from medium to medium-high and wait. My first one takes five to six minutes, but that is normally when my kitchen is cold.

Crêpes are ready to be turned over for cooking on the other side when you can slide the spatula under it and the crêpe holds its shape. If the crêpe moves or starts to bunch up, it is not ready to be turned over and will tear.

Once the crêpe is turned over, it should only need a minute or two of cooking time.

Cooked crêpes look golden brown in the middle of one side and often have a mottled appearance on the other. When serving, show the more attractive side.

When the crêpe is cooked, lift the pan and slide the crêpe onto your dinner plate. Cover tightly with a sheet of aluminium foil and ladle the next bit of batter into the pan.

You should not need to add any butter to the pan when cooking the rest of the crêpes. If you do, add just a tiny bit and rotate the pan so it distributes evenly, then add your batter and repeat the rest of these steps, remembering to place a sheet of aluminium foil on top of each crêpe.

Be prepared to turn the heat down if your crêpes are in danger of burning. I start on medium-high and turn the heat back down to medium by the time I make the fourth.

When all your crêpes are made, cover the uppermost tightly with aluminium foil. If you are making these in advance, let them cool thoroughly before refrigerating. Take them out of the refrigerator and let them get up to room temperature before reheating in a 150°C (325°F) oven for 10 – 15 minutes or, having removed the foil, microwave them for one to two minutes. You can fold them up before placing in the microwave to make room for several on a plate.

The first crêpe

Many British cooks, including the professionals, say the first crêpe is never any good.

I disagree. I have only ever thrown out a first crêpe once. Had I been more patient, I could have served that one, too.

Part of the reason for the first crêpe theory is because people leave too much melted butter in the pan. You need just enough to cover the surface and sides, no more than that.

Serving suggestions

Most Britons prefer their crêpes topped simply with sugar and lemon juice.

I prefer my Amaretto sauce and whipped cream.

You can also use a variety of fruit coulis, other sweet sauces, ice cream or sherbet.

A popular trend in France now is to make a layer ‘cake’ of the crêpes, putting Nutella between each layer. The cake is then cut into wedges for serving.

And, of course, let’s not forget the classic Crêpes Suzette for which there is a Jacques Pépin recipe (see steps 3 – 5).

One of my readers, Flyinthesky, has an excellent recipe for gluten-free white sauce made with cornflour.

I have tried it and it works beautifully.

He posted it in a comment in January 2016, and is well worth reproducing here for anyone who has problems with gluten.

Flyinthesky’s gluten-free white sauce

Bring required amount of milk with the desired amount of butter to the boil.

Dissolve, at a guess, two tablespoons of cornflour in a small quantity of water.

Slowly add while stirring the cornflour water mixture into the liquid until the required consistency is achieved. [Note from Churchmouse: when the cornflour is cooked, it will have lost its opacity. At that point, the sauce thickens.]

Apart from the fact this tastes near the same as roux base it has two advantages, it’s gluten free and it’s heat stable.

I use this for pepper, basic cheese, Stilton and all savoury sauces including gravy.

Top tips for gravy: white pepper to taste as well as sugar and milk. When I put sugar and milk (full cream, of course) in gravy I get puzzled looks from guests, but they love the result.


Mr Fly and I had a disagreement about flour-based sauces. He says they return to a watery state if heated for a long period of time. I said that I’d found that true of cornflour-based sauces.

In retrospect, I had problems because I was not adding enough cornflour.

My cornflour box states that the proportion should be 1 tbsp for every quarter litre (8.8 oz.) of liquid.

Besides being gluten-free, other advantages of using cornflour are that it gives gravies and sauces a lighter texture and lends a translucent look.

I’m using cornflour in all my sauces now, thanks to Flyinthesky.

It is surprising that more food sites do not mention the time and money saving tip of using Chef Mike — the microwave — to cook potatoes.

I’ve been doing this for several years. Perhaps you have, too.

Here are five takes on potatoes à la Chef Mike.

Please note that these are instructions for medium-sized potatoes. Larger potatoes will require longer cooking time, but experiment by extending cooking time by one-minute intervals until you have found the perfect length of time.

Parboiling for roasting

Wash the potato(es), then dry with kitchen (paper) towel.

Using a knife, make a shallow slit in the potato so that it does not explode in the microwave.

Cook for 4 minutes.

Remove from microwave and let cool thoroughly before roasting, so that all the steam can evaporate.

Baked potatoes

Wash the potato(es), then dry with kitchen (paper) towel.

Using a knife, make a shallow ‘X’ in the potato so that it does not explode in the microwave. Place the potato ‘X’ side up in the microwave and cook for 5 to 6 minutes.

Alternatively, cook for 4 minutes and finish in the oven at 170°C (or 325°F) for 15 minutes.

The only downside with cooking the potato completely in the microwave is that the bottom can get a bit hard, which is unappetising.

Mashed potatoes

Follow the first two paragraphs of instructions for baked potatoes above, cooking for 6 minutes.

Let the potato(es) cool enough so you can peel it then break or cut it up in a wide-bottomed bowl. Add salt, pepper and enough butter (and/or milk) to mash with a fork. A fork works really well as a potato masher. It gets rid of all the lumps quickly.

Warm the potato up in the microwave for one or two minutes. Stir the mash again and serve.

Twice-baked potatoes

Clean and dry the potat(oes) as stated above.

Carefully cut a flap around the top of the spud but leave the flap on for cooking.

Microwave for 6 minutes.

Remove and let cool. Remove the flap and discard.

Carefully scoop out most of the potato, but leave enough in the bottom and around the edges to stabilise it.

Mash the scooped out portion in a bowl using butter or — my favourite for this recipe — mayonnaise. Season well and add herbs or Old Bay to the mix. Mash away any lumps. Some people like to add grated cheese and cooked bacon lardons.

Spoon the mash back into the potato and bake at 170°C (or 325°F) for 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

Sliced potatoes

The French cooking site I visit, which is part of, has a recipe for sliced potatoes. My translation follows.

Wash and peel the potato(es). Finely slice it.

Arrange in a shallow dish, drizzle a little oil over the potatoes, season with salt and pepper then cover with cling film (plastic wrap). Make a few holes in the cling film. Alternatively, one can use a microwave cooking bag.

Microwave for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove and test with a fork or knife. If the potato slices yield easily, they are done.

If not, microwave for another minute and check again. It is better to microwave by the minute and recheck rather than wrongly overestimate cooking time.

You can top the potatoes with chopped parsley or chives and, if you like, a warm cream or cheese sauce before serving.

Following on from yesterday’s post on cuts of beef, today’s looks at cuts of pork.

It occurred to me that one response to these diagrams might well be, ‘So what?’ The dominance of supermarkets and closure of so many butcher shops over the past 30 to 40 years means that we are given a certain number of packaged cuts and that’s it. It’s a no-brainer.

However, the pig is an animal that can be eaten from head to tail. Knowing about the different cuts and their cooking methods will give you more confidence to ask for new cuts if you have a butcher or an ethnic market nearby.

What follows are links to diagrams and cuts for three different countries: Britain, the United States and France.


It seems to me that the British use more of the pig around the shoulder than the Americans do (see US diagram below).

P J and J Moore Butchers have a good diagram (scroll to the bottom of the page). One of my favourite cuts of meat is the collar, which, when boiled, gives an unctuous ham result. The British would call collar a bacon joint, but it tastes just like the boiled ham my grandmother used to prepare many years ago. The collar stock is worth keeping because it turns into aspic. Absolutely lovely. Any Americans living in Britain would enjoy it. And it’s very inexpensive. It should come with a good rim of fat. Cook it with the fat (to get the aspic) and trim it after cooking. also has an excellent diagram with good descriptions and recipe ideas. The Ginger Pig has outstanding descriptions of pork cuts and cooking instructions.

Cook’s Info has a very good page with alternative names for parts of the pig that will be useful when visiting the butcher. I say that, because when I last went to buy ham hocks, ours asked me if I wanted the foreleg or the hindleg. ‘Uhhh,’ was my uneducated response! I walked out with two of both, although the hindleg definitely has more meat as you can see in the diagram. I would have taken more hindleg, but the Chinese families had already bought them. Our butcher said, ‘You have to get here early on Thursdays for hocks.’ Duly noted.

Speaking of butchers, if you want a professional perspective on all things pork, Pork for Butchers has what looks like a basic diagram until you click on one of the pork sections and drill down into the various cuts. You’ll then see a complete description of how they cut that piece of meat for the customer.

United States

The National Pork Board, which markets The Other White Meat® brand, has a helpful diagram. Run your cursor over the pictures to see what part of the pig the meat comes from and a brief description of the cut. Click on the picture and you will be transferred to a new page with more information on that cut of meat.

I shall now illustrate the importance of diagrams. My mother used to make the best country-style ribs. The British don’t have that type of cut. A butcher will have to prepare that for you. A couple of years ago, I was desperate for country-style ribs because they are so tender and meaty. I hadn’t seen these diagrams at that point and hadn’t a clue as to where the meat came from. I found a photo of what I wanted on a meat forum and took it into our butcher. He said, ‘These come from the loin, near the shoulder. The usual ribs come from the side.’ The side is the area around the belly.

Country-style ribs are really inexpensive and filling. I would highly recommend them to my British readers who have access to a butcher. If I remember rightly, six thick ribs cost £10 in 2014. I gave them a spicy rub, sliced an onion and put both into a Le Creuset pot with a lid, baking them for an hour at 170° C. I took them out, drained the fat and poured barbecue sauce over them, returning them to the oven — uncovered — for another 30 – 40 minutes at 160° C. Absolutely lovely and melt-in-the-mouth tender.

Clove Garden has an excellent page on every pork cut you can imagine, complete with photos and helpful descriptions. The text for country-style ribs says:

These are made from the rib section at the shoulder end of the whole loin. The spine is removed but leaving the feather bones above and the ribs below. The meaty part above the ribs is cut leaving half with the ribs and half with the feather bones. The two sections sliced crosswise about 1 to 1-1/2 inches thick and packed together. It is a meaty and economical cut for the budget conscious.  

It should be noted that Modern Farmer‘s Pork 101 says differently:

“Basically, it’s from the brisket area of the pig, if pigs had brisket — it’s basically a bone-in brisket,” says [Tom] Mylan [a butcher]. “You get the front part of the spareribs with a lot of meat.” The country-style spareribs contain a combination of dark and light meat.

Interesting. I think I would stick with the shoulder meat.

The Clove Garden page is extremely useful if one wants to step out of one’s comfort zone. It discusses where one can buy these cuts in Southern California.

One useful item for ballotines of pork loin is caul, a lacy, thin, fatty membrane. The British and French often wrap pork loin or rabbit ballotines in caul. The caul not only leaves the meat intact but also adds necessary fat to keep it moist. Clove Garden says:

It is held highly desirable for a number of European recipes as a wrapper that will automatically baste what it is wrapped around. The photo specimen, laid out, not stretched, on a 12 x 18 inch cutting board, weighed 4-3/8 ounces. It was purchased from the freezer cases of a large Asian market in Los Angeles.

I remember the days when pigs’ feet (trotters), either fresh or pickled, were available in virtually every US supermarket. They began disappearing in the 1980s. A good chef can cook them, remove the bone, stuff them with a pork or rabbit farce, braise them and serve with an unctuous sauce. I had them in London 15 years ago — one of my most memorable dinners ever. My American readers might appreciate this British recipe for stuffed trotters, which I’ll have to try. You can substitute other stuffings for the black pudding and chestnut.

Pigs’ trotters are difficult to work with, so I normally just boil them for a delicious aspic-like stock. I highly recommend them. They are also very reasonably priced. Our butcher gave them to me free once.


As with beef, the French also have different cuts of pork.

Clove Garden has an excellent page with four illustrations — North America, British, English and French — of pork cuts. This requires a lot of study and one will learn a lot.

Le Porc, which represents French pork producers, makes understanding French cuts easier, because whilst there are no translations, you can see photographs of what the end products look like when you click on a section.

Pork roasts in France look very different to British ones. They are neat, tidy, small and round — without crackling. They have just enough fat on them to keep the meat moist in the oven. This is very disappointing for the average Briton. What fun is a joint of pork without a thick rim of fat for crackling? That’s the best part!

The perfect crackling – recipe

It seems the only place one can get decent crackling is in Britain, and, even then, you won’t get it from most supermarket joints. Industrialised processing methods don’t produce pigs with enough fat.

If you want perfect crackling, you really need to specially order your pork joint from a butcher or buy it from an independent free range producer. Ideally, the rim of fat should be an inch thick. We ask our butcher to order ours from Orchard Farm Pork.

I use the Gary Rhodes method which he explained in his television show for the BBC back in the 1990s.

1/ Carefully cut off the crackling fat from the roasting joint, leaving just a thin rim of fat for the joint.

2/ Put the joint in a roasting pan and put the crackling fat in a separate, smaller roasting pan with sides.

3/ Sprinkle the crackling with a lot of salt on both sides, ensuring that it gets in between the cuts on the skin side. Rub the salt in so that it penetrates the fat whilst cooking.

4/ Put the crackling in five to 10 minutes before the roast, as it will need extra time to render and become crispy.

5/ Have an old teacup on hand when you drain rendered fat off the crackling. You will probably need to do this two or three times. A teacup is better than a bowl because it has a handle. Reserve some of the fat for roast potatoes to accompany your roast. Leave the rest of fat to cool. You can put it in a container later, preferably with a lid, and refrigerate for future use.

6/ Check the crackling when you take the roast out to rest. It might need more time. If so, leave it in the oven with the heat on at roasting temperature.

7/ Remove the crackling before you carve the meat. It will need time to cool. Make sure it is set aside from humid parts of the kitchen.

8/ High-quality crackling generally needs prodding with a knife to split into strips. If that does not work, use sturdy kitchen scissors with curved edges to cut it into pieces.

9/ When serving, place crackling portions away from gravy so that they do not get soggy.

10/ To reheat any leftover crackling, place the strips or pieces uncovered on a piece of aluminium foil or baking tray. Make sure either has sides (fold up foil to create edges) to collect any excess fat. Warm up in an oven heated to 150° C for 10 – 15 minutes. Let cool for five minutes before serving. galette des rois — king cake — is eaten during the fortnight following Epiphany services.

This means there is still another week to enjoy this beautiful fusion of puff pastry and frangipane.

(Photo credit: Lookmag)

French pastry shops will sell millions of these delights before the middle of January.

Many people will also make these at home. I have done so in the past, and nothing could be easier.

Galette des Rois — King Cake

(prep time: 20 minutes, baking time: 35 minutes, serves 6 to 8)


1 roll of puff pastry

100 – 120 g (3 1/2 – 4 oz) ground almonds

100 – 120 g (3 1/2 – 4 oz) sugar

100 – 120 g (3 1/2 – 4 oz) butter, cut in cubes

1 tsp of dark rum or 1 capful of almond flavouring

1 egg (for frangipane)

1 egg yolk (for glaze)

One M&M or, traditionally, small plastic token and party crown

1 tbsp of icing (powdered) sugar (optional, see step 12)


1/ Preheat oven to 180° C (350° F).

2/ Combine almonds, sugar, rum/almond flavouring and butter in a bowl to stir or mix by hand. Alternatively, blitz these ingredients in a food processor until well mixed.

3/ Add the egg. If you are doing this by hand, make a well in the middle first, then mix thoroughly until you have a smooth paste. If using a food processor, blitz until the mixture comes together.

4/ Roll out the puff pastry. Cut out two circles: one for each layer.

5/ Lightly grease a baking tray and dust with flour. Alternatively, use a non-stick mat (Teflon or Silpat brands) on an ungreased baking tray.

6/ Place the bottom layer on your mat or tray. Spread the frangipane on it but keep the edge of this layer clear to allow the top layer of pastry to stick and eliminate weeping of the filling.

7/ Place the M&M or plastic token — e.g. a bean or tiny Magi figure — somewhere in the frangipane. I have recommended an M&M only because it has a hard coating. I do not know how this will work; it is possible that slice might have a bit of stain in it if the colour from the coating gets too hot.

8/ Using a pastry brush or clean fingertip, dampen the edge of the pastry with water.

9/ Carefully place the top circle of pastry on top of the open tart and press the edge closest to the middle closed. The very outside edge should be able to puff up in the oven.

10/ Beat an egg yolk with a few drops of water until liquid. Brush this on top of the galette.

11/ Make a design using a dull knife or small metal spatula. These Galette des Rois recipes from Le Journal des Femmes have a variety of designs.

12/ Place in the oven to bake for 35 minutes. By then, the galette should be golden brown. Alternatively, take the galette out of the oven after 25 minutes, dust with 1 tbsp of icing (powdered) sugar, then return it to the oven for another ten minutes. The crust will be even shinier with a slight crunch.

13/ Allow the galette to cool thoroughly. Transfer to a plate using a non-stick spatula if you have used a mat.

14/ Share it with your family and friends. The person who gets the slice with the plastic token is King for a Day and can do whatever he pleases (ancient Roman custom). An old French custom involves reserving one slice for a poor person should s/he stop by whilst you are eating the cake.

Although Christmas has come and gone for another year, perhaps home cooks have made notes for next year’s festive lunch or dinner.

I certainly have. For the first time, our household had a hassle-free Christmas Day dinner.

Here’s how we did it.

Vegetables and Chef Mike

We cooked most of our vegetables — sprouts and carrots — on Christmas Eve.

This meant that we reduced Christmas Day washing up by a third. Those pots and pans were out of the way. Reheating involved employing Chef Mike — the microwave. Others might prefer using the oven.

On Christmas Day, the only things I needed to do were to prepare parsnips and potatoes for roasting.

Roast potatoes and parsnips

As a parboiling substitute for the potatoes, I put Chef Mike to work.

After washing and drying two or three medium-sized potatoes, cut lengthwise down each potato — 1/4″ or 1/2 cm deep — to allow steam to escape in the microwave. Microwave them for five minutes then let them cool thoroughly on a chopping board before peeling.

Put a tablespoon of goose fat in a small roasting tin and let that heat for five minutes at 180°C (350°F). By this time, the roast goose should be out of the oven and resting on the carving tray.

Whilst the fat is heating, peel the potatoes. To get rough edges that crisp in the oven, break each potato in half rather than cut it.

I also had another small roasting tin with 1 tablespoon of goose fat heating at the same time for the parsnips, which I peeled shortly beforehand to prevent them from going brown.

Large parsnips can be cut lengthwise into quarters. Smaller ones can be left whole, but cut the thin ends off, because these can overcook and burn.

Potatoes and parsnips take the same amount of time to roast — approximately 20 minutes.

Easy-to-carve goose

This year, I did two things which made the goose easy to carve.

Before I put it in brine — see ‘Roast goose — reduce cooking time with brine‘ — I broke the legs and removed the wings.

Breaking the legs properly will leave them on the carcass, skin intact.

To remove the wings, I used sturdy kitchen scissors. This took five minutes per wing. When cutting through the skin, I left a flap approximately 2″ or 5 cm long that I placed over the gap where the wing was. I secured this to the carcass with a sturdy poultry lacer pin. (When it came time to roast, this worked amazingly well with no loss of meat juice.)

I then poured boiling water over the goose, dried the bird and put it in brine. Afterwards, I dried the goose and let it sit on a rack in the roasting tin overnight. Our kitchen is cool at this time of year, so I left the bird on the counter top.

Using the brine method reduced cooking time by half, once again.

Removing the wings and breaking the legs made carving very easy.

Goose wings = great stock

After removing the goose wings, I put them in the stock pot to caramelise in a tablespoon of goose fat along with the neck and the giblets.

Sear everything, add just enough water to cover, then bring them to the boil. Season the liquid with salt and pepper then simmer it for two to three hours.

I left the stock, with the wings and giblets in it, to cool overnight. This made an excellent base for Christmas Day gravy.

The same method can be used with turkey, another unwieldy bird!

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