Perhaps I am more of an Anglo Saxon than I had realised. When England was invaded by the Normans, as the elite, they appropriated all the best cuts of meat for themselves. Those mean invading Normans would have been welcome to my pork loin or shoulder. I am happy with bacon. I have never met a sausage I didn't like. (Please feel free to insert your own Carry On joke here).
I've always found pork meat a bit bland. Often a bit dry and chewy. (I suspect that pork is often overcooked for fear of disease.) As a child there was some suggestion in my family that I may have been some kind of changeling. Because what with the fact that I was the only member of my family with straight hair, I was the only one who didn't make a lunch across the dining room table when Sunday lunch's pork crackling was served up. The general consensus of opinion was that this was unnatural. I didn't care. I just didn't like it.
Unless pork has been highly spiced and flavoured, in a Chinese or Thai stir fry or braise, or in an American barbecue, I tend to avoid it. I have avoided cooking pork to such an extent that I have never roasted a joint of pork. Never. Ever.
I changed my mind when I realised my local supermarket had a very generous special offer on slabs of pork shoulder. It was half price and that Sunday I had some rabid pork lovers coming for lunch - the sort of pork lovers in the Jay Rayner mould. Besides it has been raining for about a week and I felt in need of something a little comforting.
I bought the pork but wanted to do things my way. Yes, I wanted a traditional British roast. But I also wanted something that was full of flavour. So what to do?
The Italians have a dish that roasts pork with fennel seeds. I liked the idea of aniseedy flavours spicing up the meat's bland porkiness. Unfortunately I couldn't find any fennel seeds in my larder. I'm guessing the Pantry Pixies had been rearranging things again. But I did have some juniper berries. That should work I thought. Juniper has a bright fresh flavour that helps to cut through the fattiness of pork and bring out the meat's natural sweetness.
A mixture of crushed juniper berries, a crushed star anise, fresh thyme, paprika and brown sugar made the perfect rub.
I try to make the most of crackling too. A good way to do this is to make sure that the skin is dried out before roasting. Removing as much moisture as possible helps give the crackling extra crunch. To do this, place the pork in a roasting tin and pour over boiling water. Drain off the water and then pat dry with a clean tea towel. Then wrap in another clean tea towel and then put in the fridge overnight.
While the supermarket butcher had scored the skin, I went over it again with a Stanley knife. This also adds to the crunchiness and also makes it easier to break up (rather than using a hammer!)
The roast was served up with crunchy roast potatoes (I coat mine in semolina for added texture) and Savoy cabbage. You can’t beat the combination of pork and cabbage and I particularly like the dark, green flavours of Savoy. Homemade Bramley apple sauce, cooked with cloves, added a delicious tart sweetness to cut through some of the fattiness of the roast pork.
It was a resounding success, if I say so myself.
There were some leftovers. I am a frugal sort so I like to use them. It turns out I definitely do not like cold roast pork (unlike other denominations of roast meat), even in a sandwich with lashings of mustard pickle. However, it turns out that what I do like is meatballs!
Spiced roast pork shoulder
Serves: 4 - 6
Skill level: Medium
about 600g boned pork shoulder joint (or leg)
herb and spice rub:
1 tbsp brown sugar
1tbsp chopped thyme leaves
1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed or juniper berries, crushed
1 x star anise, crushed
½ tsp paprika
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp black peppercorns, crushed
¼ tsp salt
- For the best crackling, place the pork in a roasting tin and pour over boiling water. Drain off the water and then pat dry with a clean tea towel. Then wrap in another clean tea towel and then put in the fridge overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 220C / Gas Mark 7.
- Score the fat of the pork in thin lines. (You can use a very sharp knife but I use a Stanley knife).
- Mix the sugar, spices, seasoning, fennel seeds or juniper berries and thyme leaves together.
- Rub the skin of the pork with a little olive oil and the spice and herb mixture.
- Roast for 20 minutes, then turn down the heat to 180C / Gas Mark 4 and roast for another 35 minutes for every 500g.
- Rest in a warm place, covered with foil, for about 15 minutes before carving.
- Serve the pork with traditional Bramley apple sauce, roast potatoes and Savoy cabbage.
- In season, replace the apple sauce with a sauce made from rhubarb. I promise you it is equally delicious.