3 June 2004
Iím having a week off from the book. This is entirely not by my choice; with the deadline just passed and three, maybe four weeksí work still to do, itís the last thing I want. But too much other stuff has crowded up against me and has to be dealt with (conspicuously, I have fifteen student portfolios to read, grade and report on; and the little darlings have heard it all already in tutorials, so why do they need to get it in writing when theyíve had the mellifluities of my voice...?), and right now is the time that it has to be done.
Happily, there is beneficial fallout; inter alia, I can cook again, even if I donít have time to eat. Which means, obviously, cooking for storage; which for me at the moment means confit. I lay down duck in goose fat almost without thinking now, but I thought Iíd try something different. I had some nice thick slices of good pork belly (thank heaven for farmersí markets and organic meat), which is a cut I use often; I am a lover of fat, and the more people frown and mutter about cholesterol and leave it on the sides of their plates, the more I revel in it. Lean is fine too, so long as it falls somewhere in the range from pink (lamb and pork) to blue (steak). I am the entire Spratt family in and of myself, but for taste and texture and variety, give me good fat meat every time.
So there I am with this pork belly, and lard is cheap. I rubbed the belly with salt and bay and rosemary and thyme, and let it sit; then covered it with molten lard and left it in the oven on the gentlest heat for the longest time. Then take it out, recover the herby salty meaty juices from the bottom of the dish, put the pork back and pour the lard back over, let it set and top up with more so thereís a good inch above the meat, and leave in a cool place.
Then I start nosing around in my cookbooks, and discover that confit of pork is deeply traditional, I havenít invented it at all - except that all the books stress that one should use lean meat, leg or shoulder. O-kay. I think about this for a couple of days, buy some shoulder and start the process again, pausing only to take the belly out of the confit pot; this is partly so that I can reuse the fat (lard may be cheap, but so am I, and itís too nice to throw away, with all those herby flavours) and partly to test the belly by eating it, see how weíre doing here.
So I made a dish of Puy lentils with diced onion and celery and leek and carrot, and mixed in those herby meaty salty juices mentioned above; and I fried the belly slices in their own fat till they were golden and crisp outside and melting within, and then I tossed a handful of greens into the pan to deglaze it (does this sound weird? Trust me, it works; cabbage, kale, chard, any of these just soak up the fat in a pan, along with all its flavours) and ate same. And the consequence? I am scratching my head in bewilderment and staring at all these books, and wondering what is wrong with the French. Iím sure the lean-meat confit will be nice; I will try to remember to report back; but pork belly confit is just gorgeous, unctuous, divine, and I canít imagine why itís not a standard in the repertoire.
Oh, and talking of repertoire, another reason why I donít have time to write this week: weíre having a wee orgy of opera. Our regional company, Opera North, is doing a run of double-bills, eight one-act works over four nights; my beloved Gail has press tickets and will share, so Iím seeing six of them. This must be another candidate to rival Sidney Smithís foie-gras-and-trumpets; an evening at the opera, a few glasses of wine, and home to eat confit for supper. My days may be a grind just now, but my nights are not bad at all, at all.
© Chaz Brenchley 2004
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.