Roast loin of pork with prunes

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Robin Sutherland was the owner of the Old Compton Wine Bar and a part-time farmer on the Isle of Wight. He also owned a string of Chinese restaurants, for which he grew enormous pigs. These animals were taken, after slaughtering, to one of these restaurants and cut up. The loins were always sent to me, literally filling my fridges to overflowing with wonderful meat. I always wondered why the Chinese chefs opted to send me the loins when they had first choice, until eventually it dawned on me that they actually preferred the belly, shoulder and legs. This made me reassess my attitudes to prime cuts, and to realise that they are only considered the best because they are usually the tenderest and sometimes the leanest. To as gastronomically aware a nation as the Chinese, all the parts of the animal have equal merit in different ways, and appropriate recipes have evolved for them all. This is in marked contrast to British and American cooking which has for a long time concentrated more and more on the ‘best’ bits of the animal. To be fair to ‘Modern British Cooking’, there has been a slight reversal of this trend in recent years.

However, the fact remained that I was stuck with enormous amounts of pork loin and developed this recipe after reading Jane Grigson’s Good Things. In this marvellous book she devoted an entire chapter to prunes, a shock to me when I first read it, because like so many former boarding-school pupils, I had an almost pathological dread of prunes (and of boiled cabbage too). So captivating was this essay on the subject, that I completely missed my tube station when reading it on the way home from Soho one evening.

It is very important that you get precisely the right cut of pork for this recipe to be successful. Ask your butcher to cut an eight-rib section from a loin, and to French trim it. If he seems to be having trouble with this, explain that what you want is for the joint to be trimmed like a rack of lamb (the chine bone removed and the ends of the ribs trimmed to expose them). Make sure that all trimmed meat scraps and bones are included when you collect the meat. The skin should be removed in one piece with most of the fat attached to it, the actual loin itself must still have a thin covering of fat on one side. This recipe does not normally include crackling, but if your guests would be horrified by this omission, by all means ask the butcher to score the skin and include it, albeit cooked separately. A simple method to produce good crackling is given below. Do not be reluctant to boss your butcher around, you are not declaring war, merely giving him the opportunity to show off his skills. Incidentally, I have ordered this cut from the meat counter of my local Sainsbury’s with perfectly satisfactory results.

Finally, pay considerable attention to the quality of the pork. Most pork in Britain is reared to the specifications of the bacon producers, resulting in cheap lean meat with virtually no fat between skin and meat. Pork like this has poor cooking quality, tends to be dry and has at best an insipid taste. Mr Sutherland’s pigs were swill fed and often had up to 3 cm of beautiful white subcutaneous fat. Whilst pork like this may be difficult to get hold of, many butchers and supermarkets are now selling free-range pigs, often from ancient breeds which have not been subject to the nightmarish demands of the bacon companies. Gloucester Old Spot is the breed of pork that I serve today in Frith Street.

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Ingredients

  • a loin of pork comprising
  • 8 ribs
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 stalk rosemary

Gravy

  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • the chopped-up bones and trimmings from the pork loin
  • 1 onion, peeled and coarsely diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and coarsely diced
  • 1 leek, washed, trimmed and coarsely diced
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 1 litre Chicken Stock (but dilute stock made from cubes is fine)

Stuffing

  • 1 tbsp sunflower-oil
  • 50 g pancetta or bacon, diced
  • 1 onion, peeled and finely diced
  • 6 sage leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 sprig parsley, finely chopped
  • 150 g good-quality pork sausagemeat
  • 3 tbsp fresh breadcrumbs, soaked in 1 tbsp milk
  • 150 g stone-less prunes, soaked for 1 hour in a slightly sweetened bowl of tea

Method

Marinating the Pork

Put the pork in a tray and massage with the olive oil, vinegar and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Strip the rosemary leaves off the twig and scatter these on the meat. Leave for 1 hour whilst you prepare the gravy base and stuffing.

Making the Gravy Base

This part of the recipe can be prepared a day ahead if you wish.

Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan and add the bones and trimmings, season and cook on a medium flame until golden brown. Add the diced vegetables and continue cooking until they too are coloured. Turn the flame up high, add the vinegar and sugar, and boil until the liquid has evaporated and the bones and vegetables are beginning to caramelise. Pour in the stock, skim and continue boiling until the liquid is nearly evaporated again. Add a litre of water and skim thoroughly. Turn the heat down to medium and reduce by half. Pass through a sieve and discard the solids.

Preparing the Stuffing

Heat the oil in a frying pan and sauté the pancetta and onions until slightly collapsed and coloured. Take off the heat and add the herbs. Allow to cool completely in a bowl. When cold add the sausagemeat, mix thoroughly then season generously. Add the soaked breadcrumbs and lastly the prunes, then mix again. Do not make the stuffing too far ahead.

Preparing the Pork

Cut the loin into two sections of equal length (4 ribs each). Form the stuffing into a sausage shape, the same length as one piece of the meat, and press it into the hollow made by the ribs. Position the other piece of pork so the ribs are on the other side of the stuffing. Interlock the protruding rib ends to form a neat joint and tie securely, but not too tightly, in four places. If you try and tie it too tightly the stuffing will be squeezed out. Weigh the assembled joint.

Roasting the Pork

Preheat your oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas 7. Place the joint on a rack in a metal dish and roast for 20 minutes. Turn the oven down to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4 and roast for 20 minutes per 450 g. Remove from the oven, transfer the pork to a platter, and keep in a warm place for 15 minutes while the gravy is finished.

Finishing the Gravy

Pour off any excess fat from the roasting dish and put on a high flame. Add the gravy base and bring to a boil, scraping the dish to dislodge any flavoursome residue from the roast. Reduce by half, check seasoning and transfer to a sauceboat. This method produces a rather thin gravy; if a thick one is desired simply stir in a little Beurre Manié about 5 minutes before you are planning to serve.

Carving and serving

Cut the strings and pull the two pieces of meat away from the stuffing. Arrange the stuffing in the centre of a hot serving platter. Cut between each rib to produce eight chops and arrange these around the stuffing. Moisten with a little gravy.

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