Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Bringing home the bacon…

I very rarely cook a ham. It’s not something that immediately springs to mind when I’m perusing the meat counter or stall, although I dearly love all things porcine. Having picked up, then, a piece of bacon collar in Waitrose a couple of weeks ago and stashed it in the freezer quite literally ‘for a rainy day’, I thought on Sunday it might be rather fine thing to have for dinner.

But how to cook it? Somewhere in the back of my mind lingered the flavours of vegetables poached in the ham stock and a parsley sauce was probably a must-have as well as a sugar-mustard glazed crust. But I also wanted mustard and the fresh sweetness of apple somewhere along the line, although I had no cider in. So here’s what we ended up with.

The bacon collar was just under a kg in weight. Now I’m not sure of any precise cooking times and I did want to add in a bit of baking time so, after checking with Delia’s similar cooking method, I decided 45 minutes poaching and then I would bake it in the oven for at least 30 minutes and see how the crust was coming along.

So into a deep pot went the bacon, an onion that I tried to stick with cloves (but has anyone done it without really hurting their thumb and breaking the cloves?) so the cloves rather drifted into the stock of their own accord, a couple of pieces of celery, some parsley stalks and 7 peppercorns and covered the whole with water. Bring it up to the boil, stick a lid on, bring it down to a blipping simmer and from time to time skim the stock of the impurities.

Meanwhile, chop into decent chunks swede and 2-3 celery sticks, clean some young carrots, or chop older ones into chunks as well, and perhaps you might like a potato as well, which we did. And it helps to remember it soaks up a little of the salt in the stock, so you might as well. I also sliced the cheeks off an apple.

After the bacon was cooked, I sieved the stock. I took the rind off the bacon, scored the fat into diamond shapes and coated it with a sugar-mustard glaze. This is best made with English mustard for the heat and a darker sugar for the smoky caramel, but use what you have. I then put the chopped vegetables back in the pot, balanced the ham on top and ladled back over the stock just to cover the veg – you will have some left over, but keep it. I added the apple and put it in a 180C oven to bake.

Once the ham looked golden-crusted I took it out and foiled it up to rest. You might find the veg are still a tad al dente, so just put the casserole on the hob and simmer until they’re tender. Fish out the apple skin.

While the vegetables are simmering, you might want to make a parsley sauce. It’s just a simple white sauce (yes you do know it – tbsp each of flour and melted butter to make a paste, stir in around 400ml of the reserved ham stock and 100ml of milk and stir until thickened and smooth.) I whisked in a good tbsp of grain mustard and a handful of chopped parsley just before serving. 

To serve, spoon the vegetables into your dish, top with a couple of slices of the warm ham and spoon over your hopefully velvety parsley sauce. The leftover ham stock and cooking liquor will make a perfect basis for pea soup (later this week) with ham sandwiches, risotto or even as a soup base for some little cheese-stuffed ravioli perhaps…

(I don’t generally do pictures: I’m a rubbish photo taker and I never have a camera on me. But on Sunday’s walk with MCD Sr and Jr, we saw the first signs of spring. Thank god.)


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