Wednesday, 30 June 2010
My husband N is a lapsed vegetarian, totally, utterly and slavishly committed to the cause of eating meat*. When Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's 'Meat' cookbook came out a year or two ago, it became N's bedtime reading. Even though we live in a London flat, N obsesses about an idea to cure hams in our spare room. Apparently we could fit in several salting barrels...who needs a spare bed anyway?
Last weekend, when N had his annual birthday bash in the Hertfordshire countryside with his mate C, the pair of them decided to focus the whole event on procuring a chunk of beast, building a fire and slow cooking it outdoors. N was like a man possessed, planning the perfect hog roast that would take us all to nirvana...
First of all, N had to a procure a spit. He searched the internet looking for something suitably outdoorsy that looked as though it could take a serious slab of animal. And lo! 'The Iron Dwarf', a seller on eBids, came to the rescue. This guy makes armour for battle reinactments and bushcraft. If you happen to be holding some kind of outdoor Tudor bloodfest at the weekend, The Iron Dwarf wants you to go the whole hog (sorry) and cook for your troops in the authentic manner, using one of his cast iron spits made to match the occasion, not some shiny new rubbish from Argos. Too right, Iron Dwarf! This proved excessive temptation for N, who got the spit sent over by a courier (shame it wasn't delivered by a knight on a horse) - it was a beauty.
Then to the butcher: Eastwoods of Berkhamstead, a fine establishment where most of the meat is organic and free range, and they give you free wire to attach your hog to the spit. N had 25 people to feed that night: the butcher recommended a massive slab of pork leg and another lump of pork spare rib. I could barely lift the bag off the counter.
Once back at the party venue, N found that all the blokes wanted to get involved. It was as though they had reverted back to cavemen. They all pitched in to build a bonfire, then monitored the meat on the spit for FIVE straight hours. The women typically retreated to have fun elsewhere. Hilariously, during the cooking, the men all bickered constantly about whether the spit needed turning yet, how hot the embers were, the correct way to rake the ash, and whether or not the meat was cooked yet. I wondered to myself if this would have been the same in the caveman era - the men dragging back an elk and then arguing about how to cook it.
N: I think it needs turning again
M: Nah, dude, we just turned it
S: What you raking the ash that way for?
J: What are you on about, it's just fine
N: Turn it towards me, not away from me
S: I think it's burnt
N: Not it's not...etc
Possibly the cavemen wouldn't have been completely trashed on ales after drinking for five straight hours, or wearing fancy dress costumes and head torches, but those are mere details.
What a beautiful sight:
In any case, the result was gorgeous. Five hours of slow spit roasting above an open wood fire and a kick-ass marinade made of chipotle chillies, fennel seeds, muscovado sugar, garlic and other delights infused the meat with a sweet, smoky aromatic flavour. It was cooked perfectly. The hungry hordes devoured almost everything in 20 minutes, before dancing the night away under a disco ball. Hurrah for summer weather, outdoor disco gazebos and spit roasted pork. Five hours well spent, boys!
* Not just any meat - it has to be from animals that have enjoyed happy, cruelty-free lives and reared on farms that respect the environment, you dig!
15 Gravel Path
Hertfordshire HP4 2EF
Tel: 01442 865012
Monday, 21 June 2010
Theatrically camp waitors: check. Belting house music: check. Randall & Aubin is a Soho institution - a seafood restaurant bursting at the seams with rowdy twenty-somethings all chucking back white wine, necking oysters and yakking away exuberantly. There is atmosphere in bucketloads, and did I mention that the food is also very good? The decor is also very cool in an old school sort of way: I lusted over the white bathroom tiled walls, marble bench tables and the flickering candles. Great for meal out where you don’t feel the need to have a hushed conversation, and you don’t mind shouting into your partner’s ear above the din of Ibiza party classics! Beaucoup de fun – passez la mayonnaise...
This is what we ate:
Fried whitebait with mayo:
Scallops with fennel - dreamily good, amazingly caramelised:
Sole fillets - like very posh fish fingers:
Zucchini frites with basil mayo:
Randall & Aubin
16 Brewer Street