Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Wats for Lunch

After spending a day lost amid the tumultuous frenzy of Chinatown, drinking in the vast array of sights, sounds and smells (not to mention some excellent food), we felt that a slightly more sedate approach might be appropriate for our second day. Yes, Bangkok is a manic city but it is possible, thanks to the influence of the predominant religion of Theravadin Buddhism, to escape the chaos and the noise in any one of a number of blissful oases. Temples, or Wat, rise up out of their surroundings and provide delightfully serene pockets where perfumed incense replaces the more familiar smells and a gentle calm pervades.

Buddhism is a visible and welcome influence in Thai life, one that segues its way, almost effortlessly, into virtually all other aspects of the culture. Where we may be used to taxi drivers hanging air fresheners and fluffy dice from rear view mirrors, here they prefer amulets in the hope that they will bring them safety on the chaotic roads (although I can’t help thinking that if a sizeable chunk of the windscreen wasn’t taken up by nine or ten swinging mascots, they would have less need for such trinkets). I am quite used to buses and trains having dedicated seats for the elderly or pregnant women but doubt whether transport for London would go so far as marking ‘space for monks’, as they do on the river buses. Nor do I envisage the buyers of Tesco deciding to stock monks’ robes or other such religious paraphernalia. And so, with Buddhism such an integral, unavoidable and interesting part of the culture, we felt it necessary to see some of the Wat.

We took an express boat up the Chao Praya (being careful to avoid the monk space), the central river that runs like an artery through Bangkok, and got off within walking distance of the Grand Palace, the former residence of the Thai royal family and now the city’s main tourist attraction. On our way we were accosted at least three times by helpful locals informing us that the temple was closed, despite the hoards of tourists flocking towards a very open looking entrance.

Here I shall digress momentarily to impart some advice to anyone who visits this great city. Unless you wish to spend a couple of hours being taken from gem shop to gem shop and tailor to tailor in a tuk tuk (imagine a golf buggy with three wheels, a frighteningly large engine and a death wish and you are somewhere close), ignore anyone who says that your destination of choice is closed, no matter how official they may look. This is a scam.

(Although I did admire the gall of one wizened looking gentleman who attempted to convince us that the temple was very much closed whilst stood squarely in front of a sign that said in at least four languages ‘The temple is open seven days a week. Ignore any person who tells you otherwise’ – or words to that effect. I toyed with the idea of suggesting he chose his pitch more carefully in the future but he had already moved onto another couple before I could say anything).

The palace itself is, quite simply, stunning. A seemingly disparate collection of buildings each gilded with thousands of tiles of gold or vivid primary colours. The walls are painted with detailed and gory frescos relaying some ancient Eastern legend. Between three of the buildings sits a scale miniature of the great Angkor Wat. Amidst the bright ostentation of the temples that surround it, it looks drab and helpless. I couldn’t help thinking that far from being a mark of respect or admiration, it is perhaps a sly and underhand dig at neighbouring Cambodia. Hopefully the photographs should do justice to this incredible place.

A short walk from the Grand Palace is Wat Pho, home to a 46 metre long reclining Buddha figure painted head to toe in gold leaf. I had read about this in the guidebook but had somehow mis-read 46 metres as 46 feet. As a result I was in something of a state of awe when I saw the sheer size of the construction.

For all the grandiose design and impressive architecture of the Grand Palace, if I had to choose between the two then Wat Pho would be my recommendation. Although still relatively popular and still quite sizeable, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha is more of a haven, a delightful pocket of tranquillity in possession of the largest, and most relaxed, looking Buddha I have ever seen.

Having spent the morning exploring Wats of one sort, we spent the afternoon delving into temples of another – Bangkok has a number of enormous shopping malls, each a stand-alone temple to consumerism, an air conditioned leviathan specifically designed to get you to part with your baht. A trio of these sit next to each other, each jostling for space around the perimeter of Siam Square.

Because of our increasingly empty bellies we chose MBK, a towering eight-floor mall, two of which are devoted entirely to food outlets. Here you can sample sushi, Indian food, Greek grilled meats, Middle Eastern kebabs and, of course, Thai cuisine. Of the two floors the lower one is a slightly more formal and expensive affair where food and drink is paid for on a swipe card and the balance settled on exit.

We picked two curries and watched them being made in the open kitchen, one of six each with a team of chefs sweating over woks, burners, ovens, rotisseries and pans. Our steaming food was presented to us and we were shown to a selection of condiments with which to flavour our lunch as we saw fit. Thai cuisine is about balancing acidity, saltiness, sweetness and heat and virtually everywhere you eat you see this philosophy borne out in the same way: four containers holding white vinegar (with chilli), fish sauce (with chilli) sugar (without chilli) and, yup, chilli.

I spooned some of each into a dedicated sauce tray and we took a seat close to the bar, for obvious reasons. Despite my affinity for street food and desire to embrace the culture of wherever I happen to be as wholeheartedly as possible, there was a real element of luxury in eating sat at a table in an air-conditioned shopping centre as opposed to huddled on a pavement with the heat and dirt from a thousand cars enveloping your being. And the food here was good. It was fresh, tasty, as spicy as you want it to be and wonderfully satisfying, especially when washed down with an icy cool Singha. Perfect fuel for exploring the shops, of which there were hundreds.

At the time I felt as if we had split the day firmly into two separate parts: culture and shopping, but hindsight would suggest otherwise. Seeing the malls of Siam Square was as much of a culturally relevant experience as seeing the gilded temples and jewelled Buddhas, perhaps even more so. There are purists who would suggest otherwise, that it is a shame Thailand has bowed so eagerly to consumerism and perhaps lost its core elements along the way but I disagree. It is just another wonderful manifestation of the multifaceted nature of this diverse country, two sides of the very same coin.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Aw shucks

I’m delighted to announce that I have been presented with my very first award. Dave Sacerdote, from the excellent blog Dave's Cupboard, deemed me worthy of the Arte e Pico award (details here) passed on from blogger to blogger and given to those who ‘display creativity, present interesting material and contribute to the blogging community in some way.’ As a result, I am honoured and get to pass on the award to five like-minded foodies. And so, in no particular order:

Matt from Wrightfood is clearly a talented chef and his photographs do justice to some wonderful creations. I am always delighted when I see he has updated his blog.

I discovered Kate’s blog, A Merrier World, when she invited me to write a post about free-range chicken. The post hasn’t (yet) been written but it did allow me to discover a great blog.

Taste Bud Travels is a great blog from Cheeky Spouse who documents her adventures on the ‘grow-your-own’ front, many of which strike an eerily familiar chord with me.

Darlene from Portland, Oregon is the author of Blazing Hot Wok– an awesome blog which I always delight in reading, thanks in part to her love of Thai food.

And finally Foodycat, is a London based Aussie who write about some of the finer things in life including, amongst other things, pork scratchings. Anyone who respects pork scratchings deserves an award (plus it's a really good read).

Oh, and the rules are:

1. Pick 5 blogs that you consider deserve this award with their creativity, design, interesting material, and also contribute to the blogger community, no matter what language.
2. Each award has to have the name of the author and also a link to his or her blog.
3. Each award-winner has to show the award and put the name and link to the blog that has given her or him the award
4. Award-winners and the one who has given the prize have to show the link of “Arte y Pico” blog, so everyone will know the origin of this award.
5. Display these rules on your blog.

I'm also going to take this opportunity to mention again my new blog where you will be able to read musings of all descriptions. It is here


Food dominates life in Bangkok in a way I have not witnessed in any other city. The residents of this vast urban sprawl appear to be engaged in a near perpetual hunt for the next meal. A while back I was discussing the nature of being a ‘foodie’ with my girlfriend. The conclusion we reached was that a ‘foodie’ is one who is thinking about their next meal even before they have finished the one they are eating. If this is the case then Bangkok is a city of six million bona fide foodies.

Couple this desire for eating with an almost natural entrepreneurial bent and you have a city where it is possible to sample a new taste or textural sensation every five metres, or so, whatever the time of day.

Restaurants and cafés per se don’t really exist. This is a city that ebbs and flows like a vast ocean and the food carts and nomadic street vendors are the living embodiment of this philosophy. Even the markets, which appear stationary, evolve and shift, tide like. It is, in short, a paradise for any gastronome.

We headed straight for Chinatown. A heaving, sweaty, tightly packed part of the city next to the river. There is no centre, as such, to Bangkok and it is easy to get hopelessly and wonderfully lost in this alien world. So that is exactly what we did. The market here swallows you hungrily, quickly enveloping you in a seemingly endless collection of stalls. The streets are narrow and covered making it even more difficult to navigate your way through the labyrinthine warren.

Rain had leaked through the canopy during the night making the ground underfoot dirty and treacherously slippy, especially for any idiot wearing flip-flops with little grip. Unfortunately that idiot was me. Thankfully, the sheer busyness of the place made it impossible to fall over. I was also a good foot taller than the vast majority of people around me allowing me to be able to see when an impossibly laden cart was heading directly for us, seemingly bending the known laws of physics with its ability to slip lithely through the throng.

The market appeared to be loosely organised into sections although at each junction, and at many places throughout, the system deviated and a wandering hawker would be proffering some tasty treat or other: sliced fruit on ice pepped up with chilli and sugar, skewers of non-descript meats grilling over hot coals, chicken frying in vast woks of spitting oil, steaming bowls of noodles complete with various bits of duck or pig – the choice was so vast as to be almost paralysing, as long as one wasn’t too concerned about the apparent lack of health and safety and basic hygiene precautions.

I take a philosophical view when it comes to such matters. Here in the UK, as in much of the western world, we live in a disinfected cotton wool shroud that appears to be doing us more harm than good. The human body is much more resilient than we give it credit for and if being seared in boiling fat doesn’t kill whatever bugs might be residing in my plate of rice or noodles, then maybe it deserves to have its fun inside my gut.

Suffice to say I am not squeamish about street food. Far from it. I simply adore it and think it gives a better indication and insight into a nation’s culinary culture than any three star restaurant or sanitised hotel kitchen. The streets are where people eat. Together. There is something wonderfully democratic about individuals from all walks of life heading to the same cart to get their Khao Phad or noodles. Street food is the soul of a city and I have never, not once, fallen victim to any malevolent bug caught from a roadside eatery.

In Thailand, street food is an institution. It isn’t a whim dreamt up to please the hoards of tourists that descend upon the country, many of whom refuse to eat anywhere other than their hotels – it is a 500-year-old tradition that exists because the Thais love to eat and they love to share this base pleasure with as many people as possible, as often as possible. The notion of three square meals a day is as alien to the Thais as the idea of near constant grazing is to us. Well, most of us at least.

For our first taste of this gloriously simple food we went by smell alone. It was nearing lunchtime so the fried eggs that appear at carts all over the city first thing in the morning had made way for more savoury and filling wares. It was too early for Phad Thai - more of an evening dish cooked when the sun has set – and we didn’t quite feel confident enough to test the noodles yet. Amid the heaving market was a tiny woman knelt by a large flat pan in which she was frying cubes of what looked like green jelly. We had no idea what it was but the smell alone was enough to convince us to part with thirty baht and sample the strange foodstuff.

Ten of these cubes, each one a large mouthful, were piled into a small plastic tray and sprinkled liberally with dark soy sauce, flecked throughout with the deep red of dried chillies before a wooden skewer was thrust into the steaming pile and we were sent on our way.

I have no idea what we ate (the first of many times during our holiday) but it was delicious: a crispy outside and a savoury dark green jelly inside with an intense saltiness thanks to the soy sauce. But they were filling and we struggled to finish the tray. I closed the clear plastic bag around the remains and we carried on through the market, pondering what we just ate in a happy and content fashion.

That was until heavy traffic forced us to stop outside a stall. A young Thai man, presumably the proprietor of the shop, looked at the bag in my hand, pointed at it then glanced up at my face before breaking into uncontrollable laughter. Still, it tasted good.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

New blog

Recently I’ve been writing an increasing number of non-food related pieces, some of which have found there way onto this very blog. Whilst these have been well-received, I’ve decided that they have no place under the Just Cook It umbrella and so I’ve decided to start posting them here, on a brand spanking shiny new blog:

There is no theme, no unifying factor and no agenda. They are simply my non-food related thoughts. So, please feel free to pop over and say hello. It would be great to see you over there.

NB – Facebook users, these posts won’t show up on the site so you’ll have to go here directly. Assuming you want to read them, of course.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Thailand - A brief introduction

I really don’t know where to start. My usual existence plays itself out in a satisfyingly sedate fashion: the occasional domestic duty punctuating an otherwise relaxed approach dominated by growing food, cooking food and writing about (mostly) food. There might be the odd day when I go for a run, wander into town and buy a new album or amble around the flat countryside that surrounds our house. But most of the time I am beavering away, attempting to eke out a living by doing the things I love most, the things listed above.

Suffice to say that the last fortnight has provided something of a departure from this genteel life. The sweaty streets of Bangkok, so alive in so many ways, the soft beaches of Phuket and the sinister underbelly of Patong are a world away from the small, sleepy Cambridgeshire village I call home. And what a wondrous, living, breathing, pulsating, vibrant world Thailand is.

A slow and relaxed karmic paradise that lives in a manic frenzy. The sweeping hills flecked green with lush trees overlook heaving polluted city streets where the concept of a carbon footprint is unheard-of. The peaceful tranquillity of the Buddhist tradition exists amidst a tumultuous ferocity of a sprawling metropolis. The gentle curves of traditional Thai architecture sit alongside the harsh angular regularity of a modern city block. The intricate delicacy of old artwork appears soft against the brutal realism favoured by the nation’s contemporary artists.

Thailand encompasses all these things and more with an indescribable grace: everything and nothing that you expect. During the two short weeks that we spent there we saw many sides to this disparate yet cohesive nation; a country developing both within and outside of itself, finding its place in the world; struggling with and embracing the many facets of its intricate existence.

I have no doubt that we barely scratched the surface – the north of the country remains a mystery, as do many of the outlying islands, not to mention the complex traditions and formalities that pervade Thai life – but I like to think that we managed to at least begin the process of unraveling this incredible, fascinating and wonderful nation.

And the food? I suppose you’ll just have to wait and see.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Holiday time

The wonders of the East are beckoning, softly calling in hushed and gentle tones. In a few short hours I will be stepping out of the cool capsule of an aircraft and into the oppressive humidity of Bangkok. And I cannot wait.

Consequently, this is likely to be my last post for a while. I may try to jot down a couple of lines whilst I am there but I shall not be making any promises.

I should also mention a very worthy blogging event going on here, at A Merrier World. I will be writing a last minute entry as soon as I am once again ensconced in the warm bosom of home, two long weeks from now.

In order to keep this little entry vaguely food related, we had some really good mackerel not long ago. It was bought only hours old in sight of the ocean that had a short time ago been the fishes’ home. It was cooked in the simplest fashion possible over the barbecue and adorned with nothing more than a few sprigs of rosemary and a squeeze of lemon juice. The taste was made all the more satisfying thanks to the knowledge of its provenance and guaranteed freshness.

Monday, 7 July 2008

A hundred down, many more to go

While I haven’t really been counting, I knew I was fast approaching a glorious century of posts – 100 food related musings. And, I suppose, I’d been thinking about how best to celebrate this achievement. Should I follow conformity and bake a cake? Perhaps a perfectly cooked steak frites with a béarnaise sauce would be more appropriate? Or maybe just a little mention, like above?

Ultimately it proved to be a moot point because according to my records, the last post I made was, in fact, my hundredth. I managed to forget my own blogging birthday. But in hindsight maybe it is better that way. There was no fanfare, no bunting and no over the top glorification. Just a simple pasta dish eaten in the sunshine, which is perhaps more in keeping with my general philosophy.

However, I’m not willing to let this milestone go completely unmarked so it is my great pleasure to welcome you to this, the 101st Just Cook It culinary tale. And how did I celebrate this epic feat? I barbecued a bunny.

A while back we were driving through the vast countryside of East Anglia and inadvertently came across a sign pointing the way to a game dealer. It was advertising all sorts of delicious items and there was little we (I?) could do to resist the lure of the wild. We followed the sign. And another one. And another one until a fourth directed us to a large farm.

We were greeted by a smiling and buxom woman who was a living caricature of a stereotypical farmer’s wife. I reckoned she had milked many a cow and churned countless churns of butter. She led us to a large outbuilding containing five enormous chest freezers which were flung open with happy abandon to display the staggeringly vast array of game within.

All the usual suspects were there – pigeon, pheasant, rabbit – but amongst the vacuum packed bits of flesh were other, more unusual animals like squirrel and boar. I was almost rendered silent by excitement before the disappointing realisation that I had just ten pounds in my pocket punctured the happy reverie I was in.

We chose judiciously, vowing to come back with deeper pockets and an empty freezer at home. Our final, but small, haul contained a couple of pigeon pies, a selection of mixed game with which to make a casserole, and a wild rabbit, which I had never cooked before. The pies were eaten that very night, complete with mashed potato and baked beans and the casserole cooked long ago but the rabbit remained in the freezer until last weekend.

We waited for an opportune moment to cook this magnificent creature. Having only eaten rabbit once, I was a little unsure what to do with it but was certain I wished to keep it as unadulterated as possible, much to the chagrin of my girlfriend who had her heart set on satay bunny. Not being too keen on the sweetened peanut taste of satay, I exercised my power of veto and announced that it was barbecue time.

Although it had been eviscerated and skinned, the heart, liver and kidney had been left in situ so these were carefully removed before the rabbit was jointed into legs, shoulders and loin. The whole lot was marinated overnight in a little white wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic and rosemary.

Whilst the barbecue heated up, some potatoes were par boiled and two of the courgettes from the garden thinly sliced, ready to be grilled over the hot coals. Our little barbie, an ideal size for two, sat on the ground outside the kitchen – a chair either side of it – and we warmed ourselves in the quickly cooling summer air. The larger pieces of rabbit – legs and shoulders – were cooked for about twenty minutes, the loin for about ten and the skewers of heart, liver and kidney for no more than three or four.

These were all kept warm while the potatoes and courgettes blistered and darkened over the hot coals. The whole lot was munched down outside with the heat from the barbecue keeping us from shivering. Dressed with a little tahini and yoghurt, the courgettes and potatoes were delicious, the slightly charred flavour accentuating the sweetness of the vegetables. The offal of the rabbit was no better than ok, perhaps it had been cooked a fraction too long, but the loin, legs and shoulders were delicious with a slightly porky flavour and a pleasant chewiness.

We ended the evening huddled close to the hot coals and me promising to cook satay rabbit before too long. Perhaps it will make an appearance in the 201st post, we’ll just have to see.

Friday, 4 July 2008


Lunch always used to be a hurried affair. Most days I would wander out of the office and head down to the butcher or fishmonger (unless it was a Monday when both were closed) and see what looked tempting but I would never be more than ten minutes out of the office before I was once again sat in my swivel chair. And I don’t think this is unusual in any way. I know of no-one who takes a full hour, or even half an hour unless they have an ‘excuse’, like having a tooth extraction or undergoing hip replacement surgery. In the UK, at least, the lunch break is something of a misnomer.

Pity the poor French who still have the sacred lunch hour entrenched into their statute books. I expect it is hewn into solid rock, or at least written in indelible ink alongside the one that ensures a thirty-five hour week and instant capitulation in the event of invasion.

Those in Mediterranean Europe don’t fare much worse. Granted, it is rather hot during the midday hours, but there is no doubt in my mind that having a siesta after a lazy lunch is a better way to pass an hour or two than nibbling a sandwich al desko. They may work longer into the night but sacrifices have to be made to enjoy a more sedate pace of life.

So, now that I am no longer shackled to a desk and the sun has returned, lunch time has become a glorious window in the middle of the day. It shifts, tide-like, between the hours of about midday and half past two and often encompasses something from the vegetable patch.

This morning saw me tackling some of the more laborious tasks in the garden. We had neglected it somewhat recently and as a result there was a significant amount of work to do. The pea plants, having been decimated by three nefarious and hungry pigeons, had to be removed. They’d furnished us with no more than a token number of pods which, although sweet and tasty, it won’t be enough to grant them a place in our garden in the future.

In their place I planted some coriander and more beetroot, kale, spring onions and purple broccoli which has also been annihilated by the same pigeons that put paid to the peas. The grass was getting a little out of hand as well so I took the mower to it before heading into the kitchen with an armful of produce from the more productive of the two vegetable patches.

Sitting proudly at the centre of the nest of leaves on the kitchen counter were two shiny courgettes, dark green and still warm from the sun. Food as gloriously fresh as this should be eaten as unadulterated as possible and allowed to sing its own song, not lost amidst a choir of other ingredients and flavours.

Whilst I boiled some pasta, I sweated off half a red onion and some garlic in a generous glug of olive oil. After five minutes, in went the courgette, now roughly diced, and some quarters of cherry tomato. By the time the pasta was cooked al dente, the veg was ready. It was finished off with a few leaves of Greek basil, whose small leaves are packed with the unmistakable taste of basil, a little more chopped garlic and a handful of grated cheese.

I ate it lying on the freshly cut lawn, a fork in one hand and a book in the other, with the sun gently warming the backs of my legs; a world away from a pre-packaged sandwich hastily chewed down in front of a computer screen.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Never say never...

We went to the Chinese supermarket again last weekend (you know the one, where it is possible to get all sorts of exciting produce like this). Sitting in the refrigerator section, along with the wonderful fruit and veg and huge bunches of Thai basil, was a selection of eggs.

As well as white hens’ and duck eggs were some slightly more unusual ova including Chinese century eggs and balut. I’ve never even seen balut before, let alone tasted it but have heard quite a lot about this notorious snack, which is a phenomenally popular streetfood in many parts of Asia.

Balut consists of a fertilised duck or hen egg, incubated for about two weeks and then boiled. It is eaten in the shell, usually with a pinch of salt and washed down with a cool beer. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like eggs. A fried egg on toast is one of the finest meals it is possible to have. And I like chicken. But the thought of mixing the two together and creating a bizarre hybrid snack scares me a little. In fact, it scares me a lot.

I like to think that I am a relatively adventurous eater. I will happily eat a meat and potato pie, but crunching through a chick embryo; feathers, beak, head and all, might just be a step too far. Intrigued, I picked one up from the shelf, glanced over at my girlfriend who gave me that ‘you cannot be serious’ look, thought about it for a second and then placed it back with the rest of its partially feathered friends.

However, it got me thinking about foods I wouldn’t contemplate eating. There are very few things I do not like, but this is different. I cannot abide tinned tuna; even the smell of it makes me gag. I will never eat a bowl of cereal out of a box that has not had the bag rolled down to stop it from developing that horrible chewy sogginess. And as for kidney; anything that smells so strongly of wee does not belong on a plate, even if it is covered in gravy and pastry.

But there is a vast chasm of difference between something I know I don’t like and something that my cultural sensibilities have told me is repellent, which is quite ridiculous. With this in mind, I don’t think there is anything that I wouldn’t try, at least once, just to ensure that my instincts were right and I’m not missing out on some delicious Ambrosia (and I don’t mean custard). It is with such a spirit of adventure that I will travel to Thailand next week and, who knows, maybe even try balut.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Salad Daze

I’ve never been able to work up much enthusiasm for salad. While the concept may be great, the execution is often painfully poor. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been utterly disappointed by the quality of a salad in a restaurant.

Italian eateries are often the worst offenders. A sad bowl full of limp lettuce and a few token slices of tomato dressed in poor quality oil and cheap balsamic vinegar is not a salad. Nor is a handful of withered rocket with a few dry shavings of Parmesan cheese hastily thrown over the top.

A generic ‘salad’ is too small to be sustaining in any way on its own and too devoid of character to be an accompaniment. A salad that looks pretty is often even more disappointing because it teases you into thinking that it is going to taste good whereas, in fact, it offers no more than a few pieces of what may as well be crunchy water.

I have a friend who maintains that the most dangerous item in any kebab shop is the salad. Not because it has been sat in dubiously sanitary conditions for an extended period of time or insufficiently washed. No, salad is dangerous because it invariably ends up on the pavement just outside the entrance where it quickly becomes a slippy and genuine health hazard to the inebriated.

However, there are ways to make the salad appealing, even to people like me. Granted, they do raise the calorie content by a few thousand per cent but to transform a foodstuff from supermodel’s choice into just a super choice, one has to make sacrifices.

So, in the spirit of open-minded experimentation, I crafted myself a salad. Using freshly picked rocket as a base seemed like a good start. The sharp peppery punch that rocket offers is a perfect foundation for any number of dishes. A slice of grilled chèvre topped with some roasted cherry tomatoes and a drizzle of reduced balsamic is a personal favourite. But today I wanted something more substantial.

A while back I made some rillons – slow cooked pork belly preserved in its own fat, like a cross between confit and rillettes – which have been sitting happily in the fridge trying to fend off the occasional attack from my good self. Although good cold, these were fried in a pan until the fat began to render. Into this were added four or five new potatoes which had been pre-boiled. Twenty minutes in the oven was all that was needed to half sauté, half roast the potatoes and turn the pork into chewy nuggets of deliciousness.

The rocket wilted slightly as the hot pork and potatoes were placed on top and a few dabs of pesto and a hint of white wine vinegar helped to provide a sharp contrast and cut through the general richness. If salads were more like this, I’d eat them everyday.