This week, a cross-channel recipe; a European Union, if you will.
The politicians might be trying to ruin everything for their own venal purposes, but I’m happy to be defiantly European, fiercely proud of both my country and the continent to which it belongs.
I will always consider myself a European – it is a continent which has informed the entirety of my life so far, culturally, linguistically and artistically.
From those first Spanish holidays, through my time as a young factory worker in Germany, to my year at university in Bordeaux, Europe has been where I’ve always felt most comfortable. Not to say I’m not a proud Briton, but I see that as a facet of my European-ness.
I like multiculturalism – it’s given me my love of and fascination with languages, and for much of my life it has provided me with my passion for cooking. Those early trips around Europe with my parents were such a whirl of intriguing languages and cuisines, I couldn’t help but fall in love with all things European, and my passion for discovery is still as strong as ever.
Politics aside, we’d all be culinarily impoverished without the influences of foreign cooking, wherever we are in the world.
Many of our traditional recipes contain elements from Roman or Norman writings, and our recipes have also gone the other way across the Channel.
It’s widely accepted now that the classic Crème Brûlée is actually English, pre-dating its French counterpart be many years as Cambridge Burnt Cream. Of course, many recipes are subject to the erosion of time, and it’s often impossible to precisely pinpoint where dishes truly originated, but that’s part of the allure. And I’m really not bothered whether the Yorkshire Pudding was invented on this side of the Pennines or the other, or in Tuscany, frankly. We know how to cook them, and they’ll never go away. That’s the important thing.
People can waste a lot of their lives getting huffy about such matters. Let’s just get along, shall we? So, in this spirit of unity, I thought I’d cook a dish that seems to be at once very continental but very definitely familiar and British.
The classic French jambon persillé can be a bit of a hit and miss deal a lot of the time, it must be said. It can be a bit gristly and tough, depending on where it’s served, but on other occasions it’s just as it should be, a wonderful tender mosaic of soft, tasty ham, flecked with emerald shades of parsley and set in a pale golden, richly-flavoured jelly.
It’s a wonderful way to start a meal, or as a lunch in its own right, especially with some crisp salad-y things and, for me, the essential addition of a sharp pickle, be it cornichons, pickled onions, a chutney or, as we’re making today, a blob of beautiful piccalilli.
That sweet, tangy, mustardy pickle is just about perfect with the saltiness of the ham, and makes for a most harmonious plateful.
It’s not hard to make, just a bit fiddly.
Set yourself aside a few hours of uninterrupted kitchen time, and you’ll progress with ease, ending up with a delicious terrine, bouncing with flavour.
For the terrine:
3 ham hocks, on the bone, weighing abut 1 – 1.2 kg each
2 large carrots
4 sticks of celery
4 cloves garlic
1 bunch of thyme
2 bunches of curly parsley
5 leaves gelatine (or 1½ x 12g sachets powdered gelatine)
For the piccalilli:
140ml white wine vinegar
75ml golden malt vinegar
50g unrefined golden caster sugar
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
10g English mustard powder
1 tablespoon cornflour
75g small pickled silverskin onions
75g baby cornichon pickles
A little fine salt
A suitable terrine or similar mould
A suitable jar for the piccalilli
Salad leaves, tomatoes, for serving
First, make the piccalilli; cut the cauliflower into small, bite-sized florets. Spread them out on a large tray or plate and sprinkle generously with fine salt. Cover the tray with clingfilm and leave in a cool place overnight.
The next day, rinse the florets well and drain in a colander. Put the two vinegars into a wide saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10–15 minutes until reduced by a quarter. Mix the sugar, turmeric and mustard powder together then add to the pan and whisk until the sugar has dissolved and simmer for a few minutes. Slake the cornflour with a tablespoon of water to make a creamy liquid. Add this to the pan and whisk as it thickens. Bubble gently for 5 minutes to let the flouriness cook out.
Rinse the onions and cornichons and pat dry. Add the cauliflower and onions to the pan and stir well. Simmer for 2 minutes then take the pan off the heat and add the cornichons. Stir well and spoon into sterilised jars. Seal immediately and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve. It will improve in flavour as the weeks pass.
Now for the terrine; roughly chop the carrots, celery, leek, garlic and onion. Place the hocks in a large stock pan. Cover with cold water and slowly bring the pan to the boil. Remove the scum with a slotted spoon as it rises to the top.
When the water comes to the boil, remove the hocks and rinse well in cold water. Discard the boiling water and wash out the pan. Pop the hocks back in, and add the chopped vegetables, along with the thyme. Cover with cold water and set over a medium heat.
Bring to a simmer and bubble gently for 3-3½ hours, until the meat is tender and just beginning to fall from the bone. As the hocks cook, finely chop the parsley. Remove the hocks, and place in a bowl.
Cover with clingfilm to avoid excessive drying, and strain off a litre of the poaching liquid. Pass through a very fine sieve into a clean pan and reduce by half to 500ml. Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water until soft, then squeeze out the water and add them to the reduced poaching liquid. If you’re using powdered gelatine, allow it to soak in a tablespoon of water and heat gently to liquefy, then add to the poaching liquid. Set aside.
Prepare the hocks by removing the meat from the bones and picking off the soft fat, reserving this to one side. Discard the bones and sinewy parts.
Pick the meat into small chunks, a couple of centimetres in diameter. Chop the fat into very small pieces. Line the terrine mould with a double layer of clingfilm, pushing it into the corners neatly. Cover the bottom of the mould with plenty of the chopped parsley. Layer up the ham, chopped fat and sprinkles of parsley until the terrine is filled evenly. Pour in the jellied stock and tap the terrine gently to release any air bubbles. Top up with stock if necessary, and transfer carefully to the fridge. Chill until set, adding a little cooled stock if necessary, then chill until set and wrap well.
To serve, unmould the terrine and allow it to come up to room temperature before serving in thick slices with the piccalilli and some good salad leaves.