I’m hardly going to write “MaltJerry does Pig in a Day”, even if “Pig in a Day” was the name of the course I took part in at River Cottage HQ. Might boost the views, though… Surprisingly, it took the whole day before anyone mentioned David Cameron, that’s how foodie we participants were.
The River Cottage HQ cookery course “Pig in a Day” was a birthday present from my wife. Eight others were on the course for reasons unconnected to the anniversary of my birth. Four were on a stag do. Either lost, or the most Waitrose stag do ever.
A day at TV-chef-famous River Cottage HQ in the hills (and a river) near Axminster in Devon, not with Hugh, but cohort Steven Lamb, author of Curing and Smoking. Not the memoirs of a Rastafarian GP, but one of those excellent, in-depth, niche cookery/husbandry/foodie little books that come out of the River Cottage stable (barn?). And very amenable, knowledgeable and involving he was. A day with Steven Lamb and a pig. A dead pig, I’d like to point out.
Video collage of photos from Pig in a Day at River Cottage
Respect for the animal: and not just in the kitchen
The sight greeting me as I enter the barn: half a dead pig on a slab and eight chairs, is more Reservoir Dogs than charming-old River Cottage on Channel 4. Idyllic countryside, charming property. A bit Peter Greenaway meets Midsomer Murders. Instead of a strangled art historian on the kitchen table, 40 kilos of organic pork. Half a pig and a whole pig’s head. The Cook, the Thief, the Wife and her Blogger?
As if to complete the porcine symmetry, the first task of the day was to saw the head in half and remove the brains. Yep, if it weren’t already obvious, you can’t make bacon without killing a pig. There are ways and means, though, as Steven emphasises. Above anything, Pig in a Day is about respect for the whole animal in life, death, and in the kitchen. Not just snout to tail, but conception to tail.
We do justice to the pig, I hope, even if we are far from master butchers. We transform it: loin and chump cuts for roasting, removing the skin and back fat (with the tell-tall middle layer showing off its maturity), hind leg for prosciutto, removing the tenderloin. The first tasks, but not for starters.
Then there was the forequarter for traditional British sausages and Spanish-style chorizo. Parts of the mince went for paté (with back fat, and offal), reserving some liver for “straight” frying. Dry-curing the entire belly for bacon. And not forgetting the halved head: brain and ears removed, to appear later. And we pupils were guided through it all.
Please tell me there is bacon
It’s not just a butchery course, there’s the food, and as promised, we didn’t go hungry. Second breakfast included bacon and home-made sourdough. Elevenses were three different types of bacon: back, cheek, and pancetta-style. A two-course pork-centred lunch: all-night, slow-roasted shoulder, glazed in a massively reduced stock, with spring veg plucked that morning form the River Cottage garden and variously lightly pickled or roasted. Dessert was, thankfully, pork-free: a Pavlova and summer fruit.
Matt, from the kitchen emerged periodically after lunch, with platters of deliciousness that had originated from our butchery efforts: roast tenderloin stuffed with our paté, slivers of liver fried for 30 seconds with just the right amount of fresh sage. Crispy slices of braised then fried ear, with a tomato, strawberry and chili ketchup, deep-fried goujons of the brain (a texture thing: Camembert, perhaps). And lastly, as we were ready to depart, a chance to sample the 3-hour roast pigs head (succulent and intensely porky).
After lunch it is more about cookery. Or preparing for cookery. I loved filling and linking the sausages, even if I did feel like I was in the Generation Game. I loved eating them the day after, just as much, with accompaniments inspired by Matt.
Count me in for Curing and Smoking
Best of all, I got to understand pork on a much deeper level. I thought I would learn some techniques for making cuts and joints, and I did. I will make my own bacon and at some point, my own sausages. But it’s the appreciation of the animal and how I want my meat to be farmed that will stick with me.
There is so much information to suck in. Pig in a Day is not for the squeamish, but it is not much more than you will encounter at a butcher’s. I would do it again – I need the practise. And I’m angling for Curing and Smoking for Christmas.