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"Significantly, the charge (if it is a charge) has been levelled at the gastronomic essay and the 'learned' cookery book that they have an affinity with pornography. Certainly, both gastronomy and pornography dwell on pleasures of the flesh, and in gastronomic literature as in pornography there is vicarious enjoyment to be had." 

Stephen Mennell

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Chinese crisp-roasted pork belly with soy and ginger dressing, steamed pak choi and rice


On Monday I promised to share the recipe for the crispy pork belly that went down so well with the smoky eggplant and chilli relish. Those of you who read that post might be surprised that the relish is not included in the title. My dinner guest, Katy, may beg to differ (she was rather taken by the relish), but I think the recipe has enough going for it as a standalone dish. Of course the relish made it all the more special, but it would have been pretty damn fine without it. 

The recipe for the pork is another from Stephanie Alexander’s trusty tome, The Cook’s Companion. I had made crispy roast pork belly in the past, but was looking for an Asian twist. Alexander’s method is much the same as my own, except that she boils the pork belly for two minutes before marinating and salting it.  I am not sure why this helps, but it seems to work wonders for the crackling, which was the crispiest I have ever achieved. As my colleague Thomasin said when I told her about it, “If I'm going to eat fatty pork (which is one of life's greatest pleasures), I want a nice crisp skin on it.” Agreed. 

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Smoky eggplant (aubergine) and chilli relish

Inspired by David Thompson's Nahm and Longrain's Martin Boetz

I’m all about the relishes at the moment.

This one was inspired by a recent meal at Nahm, David Thompson’s Michelin-starred Thai restaurant in Mayfair. One of the dishes we had was grilled Chiang Mai chilli relish served with trout and lemongrass, pork crackling and herbs. The relish was the highlight, not only of the dish, but of the whole meal. Sadly, its accompaniments were rendered rather bland and tasteless beside it. The pork crackling should have worked, but there was little of it and what there was had been cut up so fine you would be forgiven for missing it entirely. I would have happily foregone the trout in favour of some chunky, salty, crispy strips of crackling for dipping.

Inspired to right these wrongs, I decided to make the relish at home suitably accompanied by lashings of crispy pork belly (more on that in a subsequent post). I did a search online, but was unable to find Thompson’s recipe at the time. Instead I ended up with Martin Boetz’s Roasted eggplant (aubergine) and chili relish from his book Modern Thai Food. I had an eggplant in the fridge that needed using so I decided to try out his recipe.

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Tomato relish with ginger, coriander and chilli

Does anyone know the difference between chutney and relish?

I have tended to use the terms interchangeably, but with a preference for ‘relish’ since I think the double meaning is rather fitting; I certainly take delight in eating it.  I have always called this recipe a relish, but before posting it I wanted to check that I was using the right term.

I started by looking in the River Cottage Handbook No.2: Preserves by Pam Corbin. She begins by explaining that we “learnt about chutney-making from our Indian colonies in the nineteenth century, and authentic Indian chutneys are usually fresh preparations served with spicy foods”. So far so good, on this point I can find a general consensus. She continues,

The British interpretation of chutney is rather different: rich, highly spiced, sweet-sharp preserves, based on vegetables and fruit which are chopped small and cooked for a long time to create a spoonable consistency and mellow flavour. They often feature dried fruits too, which contributes natural sugar and textural contrast.

Relishes she defines as sitting somewhere between pickles and chutneys,

these are made from diced or chunkily cut fruit and vegetables but they are cooked for a shorter time than a chutney. They can be spicy, sweet, sour (or all three), may be eaten soon after making and should be kept in the fridge once opened.

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Prison lunch

Updated on Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 11:19AM by Registered CommenterVix

Today I had lunch in a prison.

It was just as vile as you might imagine.

A choice of meat pie, pasty or samosa with rice or potatoes (at least I think that is what they were, I can’t be sure). There was not a fresh vegetable or piece of fruit in sight. There was a "vegetable casserole" but I am not counting that since the only discernable components were peas and corn; ergo, it looked more like something that one’s body might expel than something one should be consuming. (Perhaps not so) sadly, I do not have a picture I can show you as we were not allowed to take cameras into the prison.

You would be forgiven for wondering what on earth I was doing eating lunch in a prison. The Howard League for Penal Reform is a charity which campaigns for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison. They advocate that in most cases prison is ineffective in rehabilitating offenders and inevitably leads to reoffending, suggesting community sentences as an alternative for people on short-term sentences or for those that have committed non-violent offences. They also provide a legal advice service for children and young people in custody.

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Smoked salmon fettuccine with dill and capers

Last week I posted a recipe for prawn spaghetti. This is another of my favourite pasta dishes which is quick and easy to make and always pleases. I would have no reservations about serving this at a dinner party, people always ask for the recipe when they taste it and are blown away when I tell them how easy it is. The basis of the sauce is much the same as for the prawn spaghetti; a white wine reduction with shallots, lemon juice and capers, but with cream. While the prawn spaghetti is more of a summery dish, the simple addition of cream transforms the smoked salmon fettuccine into a rich and hearty pasta best enjoyed when it is cold outside.

I use (responsibly sourced) smoked salmon trimmings for this pasta. You could use a higher grade of smoked salmon, but I think it is wasted on such a dish. There is nothing wrong with smoked salmon trimmings, as the fish fanatics online shop explain, “The flavour is just as good as our other Smoked Salmon products but cheaper per kilo as it's not in perfect slices."  When you buy a smoked salmon dip, it is almost certain they are made from these and by purchasing them you can feel good about doing your little bit for the environment by using bits that would otherwise be wasted.

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