Pigging out

In whatever language, nothing beats meats with sweets
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The Independent Culture
In the Caterer and Hotelkeeper magazine (essential reading for those who charge or dressing salads and making beds) the other week, there was an article on the very fine French chef, Jean-Paul Lacombe, from Lyon - the richly gutsy gastronomic capital of France.

Monsieur Lacombe has long been a campaigner of traditional Lyonnaise dishes. I first went to his restaurant, Leon de Lyon, as long ago as 1981, and still remember the plate of gras double - the truly wonderful way with tripe, melting, rich and deeply favoured with onion and sharpened with good vinegar. If you, like me, are a tripe lover, this is one of the very best ways to eat it; and, sadly, a lot nicer than our bland and misguided tripe and onions using milk (the tripe in France is also not as thoroughly blanched as ours, resulting in a more earthy flavour).

However, the dish that really caught my eye was one called Saint-Cochon, with, oddly, a subtitle in brackets, "St Pork" (perhaps a helping hand here with the translation by the ever helpful Caterer and Hotelkeeper). This was a collation of black pudding, a chunk of cured pig's head, Sabodet sausage, apples, creamed onions and some boiled and sliced potatoes, which were prepared as for a warm salad. Sabodet, incidentally, is one of the great sausages of this region, and particular only to Lyon. It is a strongly flavoured mix, taking in a higher percentage of offal products than most other well-known Lyonnaise sausages: whenever you are there, search some out and bring a couple home with you.

But it was the particular combination of ingredients of this Saint-Cochon that brought memories rushing back of a favourite lunch that we invariably had on a Saturday. That is, on arriving home, after the folks had been to the pub, leaving my brother and me in the car with a packet of crisps and a tomato juice. It was as perfect a meal as I can remember: grilled pork sausages, mashed potato, apple sauce and a creamy onion sauce. Initially, one might think it curious that such a similar association would ring true, but really, it is all to do with knowing what tastes good with what.

So it is not as strange an alliance as it seems; good cooking and good taste, in essence, are common to all things culinary and each and every culture. But it is interesting to note that when you simply translate that homely weekend lunch of ours into French - saucisson grille aux deux sauces, pomme puree - it instantly turns into a dish of some sophistication. But you only have to look at the picture to see it is just a family lunch at home. Oh! the lure of the descriptive French language when it comes to food. Will we never let it go?

The secondary gist of this natter is to do with meats eaten with sweet tracklements. I have always loved this combination, as long as it is intelligently thought-out, so as not to make enemies of either component. The classics such as pork and apple sauce (or sausages, obviously), duck and orange, turkey and cranberries (but why never with chicken? - though, I have to say I probably wouldn't) lamb and redcurrant jelly and hamburgers and ketchup. Yes, this is a contender, because, if you think about it, tomato ketchup is one of the very sweetest sauces we know, and anyway, tomatoes are, strictly speaking, of the fruit family.

Ham and Cumberland sauce is another example of great feasts of English cooking. Its distant cousin would perhaps be a thick slice of Canadian bacon with maple syrup. The latter is eaten for brunch and breakfast all over that continent, usually accompanied by waffles. It is a very sweet thing, this one, and much restraint and judgement is needed when pouring from the glass pitcher of nectarous sap. Here is an idea that marries the two.

Baked smoked gammon with sweet and sour citrus sauce, serves 4

900g/2lb piece of smoked gammon

a smear of dripping or butter

1 large, peeled onion cut into quarters

pepper

2tbsp pure maple syrup

3tbsp good quality red wine vinegar

4tbsp port

the zest of one and the juice of 2 small oranges (the zest cut into thin julienne strips)

zest and juice of 1 small lemon (ditto the zest as above)

2tsp English mustard powder

Pre-heat the oven to 375F/190C/gas mark 5

Put the piece of gammon in a heavy-duty roasting tin or cast-iron frying pan that will sit on a flame as well as being suitable for the oven (choose a size that will take the meat quite snugly). Smear with the dripping or butter and grind over some pepper. Tuck the onions around the meat and cover with foil. Bake in the oven for 1 hour. Remove the foil (but keep it), pour off any excess fat and spoon the maple syrup over both the ham and the onions. Continue roasting, uncovered, for a further 30 minutes, basting from time to time with the syrup.

Once the ham is cooked through and glistening, switch off the oven, wrap the meat in the foil and keep warm in the waning heat of the oven, with the door ajar (put some plates in to warm through as well). Pour the vinegar into the roasting dish and put onto a moderate flame. Bring up to a simmer and reduce down until almost all the vinegar has boiled away and the onions have become really soft and dark. Add the port, orange and lemon juice and bring back to a simmer. Allow to cook for 5 minutes.

Put the lemon and orange zest into a small pan of boiling water. Bring back to the boil, strain into a sieve and refresh under cold running water. Reserve. Tip the sauce, onions and all, into a food processor together with the mustard. Blend until smooth, then pass through a sieve into a clean saucepan. Add the orange and lemon zest and gently re-heat but do not boil.

Slice the gammon thinly onto the hot plates and spoon over the sauce. Decorate with clumps of sprightly watercress and eat with boiled new potatoes and buttered spinach. Hey ho! said Anthony Rowley.

Grilled sausages, mashed potatoes, onion and apple sauces, serves 4

For the apple sauce:

2 large Bramley apples, peeled and sliced

3 tbsp water

2 cloves

2 tbsp caster sugar

scant juice of half a small lemon

Put everything into a small pan and cook gently for about 20-25 minutes until the apples have collapsed and the mixture has become a chunky puree; I personally don't like it too smooth. Pour into a bowl to cool to room temperature.

For the mashed potatoes:

900g/2lb floury potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

salt

75ml/3fl oz creamy milk

75g/3oz butter

freshly ground white pepper

To make the mashed potatoes, boil the potatoes in salted water until cooked. Meanwhile, warm together the milk and butter in a small pan. Drain the potatoes well (dry out in the oven if they seem excessively wet). Pass the potatoes through a mouli-legumes or potato ricer. Beat the potato with a manual or electric hand whisk, adding the milk and butter mixture in a thin stream. Season with pepper and nutmeg and check for salt. When all has been added, give the mash a final energetic beating to lighten it.

For the onion sauce:

200ml/7fl oz milk

2 sprigs fresh thyme

1 bay leaf

salt

2 medium onions, peeled and very finely sliced

25g/1oz butter

1 level tbsp plain flour

75ml/3fl oz single cream

freshly grated nutmeg

pepper

Heat together the milk, bay, thyme and a little salt. Simmer for a few minutes, remove from the heat, cover, and allow the flavours to mingle for 10 minutes. In another pan, melt the butter and add the onions. Cook very gently until completely soft but uncoloured. Stir in the flour and gently cook together for a minute or two. Strain the milk into the onions, stirring continuously until thickened. On the lowest possible heat, preferably with a heat-diffuser pad, set the sauce to cook. Stir, from time to time, with a wooden spoon and then add the cream, nutmeg and pepper, mix in thoroughly, check for salt and cook for a further 2 minutes.

Take twelve sausages, the best ones you know, obviously, but of the commercially produced brands, I like Porkinson's the best.

Fry the sausages in the usual way, until well crusted and brown and serve with the mash and sauces as depicted in Jason's nice picture

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