Where have I been? I wish I knew the answer to that. But I’m back! The last three weeks have been a whirl of deadlines, visits and visitors and, for the first time in years, I had a party. And, although I usually hate having parties, I discovered two things, important things, that make them much more fun.
First, the reason I never have parties is I hate ‘making’ conversation between people who don’t know each other; I always feel responsible for ensuring that everyone gets on and has a good time but it never works and I end up feeling miserable. Solution: invite people who already know and love each other, in this case the Antic Disposition actors, crew and directors that I went to France with this summer, and then you don’t have to ‘make’ conversation; they already have plenty of their own.
The second reason I hate parties is that it is really hard, on your own, to manage both the drinks and the food; you never get to talk to anyone and end up feeling a bit resentful of everyone else having fun whilst you keep going back to the fridge. Solution: invite a friend who knows every thing there is to know about cocktails, let him run that part of the show and concentrate on the food. And it worked! It was just brilliant and I may, I said may, even do it again. I feel like I have discovered a secret, a bit late in life, about how to entertain without trauma.
Yes, yes, you all cry but who cares about you; what’s this about a hog roast? Well, as you may have guessed, I’m not a big fan of fiddly food which is de rigueur, it seems, for a cocktail party. But somehow I managed to find lots of things that really thrilled me and my favourite was probably this: a ‘hog roast’ that can be made in the confines of a two-bedroom flat in winter. It’s dead easy, a real crowd-pleaser and if you are having lots of people over during the Christmas season, carnivorous people that is, it will make your life, or at least your party, much easier.
I was inspired by my friends’ wedding last summer, where a proper version of said roast fed about 90 people. I only had to feed 11 but that’s already a challenge in a kitchen that has standing room for one person and a couple of cats and I would never have imagined that I could create anything even remotely as good as the open-air version. But with slow-roasting (really slow, mind; this is not an after-work recipe) and a bit of a rub a shoulder of pork magically turns into the softest meat with the crunchiest crackling. Throw in some homemade apple sauce and some buttered rolls and you have a sandwich that everyone loves plus leftovers. Not if you’re inviting actors though; then there’ll be none left…
Hog roast rolls with apple sauce (adapted from Waitrose Seasons Cookbook 2009, which is not a cookbook at all but one of those freebie recipe pamphlets I can’t resist)
For 12 with leftovers
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
garlic, 4 cloves
olive oil, 2 tbsp
a knob or two of butter for the rolls and the apple sauce
50-100g caster sugar
fresh lemon thyme, a few sprigs
3kg boneless pork loin or shoulder
4 Bramley apples
fresh rosemary, a couple of sprigs
12 soft rolls (with maybe a few extra for leftovers)
1. Preheat your oven to 150°C/130°C fan-assisted/gas 2.
2. Peel and top and tail the garlic cloves, then roughly chop them. Zest the lemon then juice both halves. Strip the lemon thyme leaves from their stems then put them with the garlic, lemon zest and a pinch of sea salt into a mini food-processor or, failing that, a pestle and mortar. Blend or mash to a rough paste then stir in the lemon juice and olive oil.
3. Dry the pork all over with kitchen paper, especially the skin. Then, if the skin isn’t scored yet, cut it all over with a sharp knife making a pattern a bit like a skewed chessboard. Then put it skin-side down on a board and rub the herb and garlic paste all over the meat (not on the skin).
4. Crumple a piece of foil up into the bottom of a large roasting tin and place the pork, skin-side up this time, on top of the foil. Rub the skin all over with sea salt, cover it with foil then put it into the oven to roast for, erm, 5 hours.
5. Whilst the meat is roasting go out and watch a film or something. Sorry, only kidding; there’s probably a health and safety regulation about leaving your oven on whilst absent. No, carry on making 1400 other things including the apple sauce.
6. Strip the rosemary leaves from the stems then peel, core and dice the Bramley apples. Put them both in a saucepan with a knob of butter and about 50g of caster sugar (the recipe says 100g but I found that a tad too much so I’d start off with 50g then add more if you think it needs it). Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring every so often, until the apples have softened to a purée. If you need to add a little more sugar, make sure you cook it in. I also like to season it with a little pepper, but this is a matter of taste. Leave to one side to cool; it can be warmed up when you’re ready to serve.
7. When the five hours are up, remove the foil from the pork (retain the foil for the resting stage) then crank up the heat to 220ºC/200ºC fan-assisted/gas 7. Cook for another 30 minutes to crisp up the skin; this was the best crackling I have ever made so don’t miss this bit.
8. After 30 minutes, remove the pork from the oven, cover it loosely with foil and leave to rest for about 20-30 minutes.
9. Whilst the meat is resting split and butter the rolls and warm up the apple sauce.
10. Finally, cut the meat and crackling up into roll-size pieces (carving is too grand a word for what I did to it) and stuff the rolls with some pork and apple sauce. Serve with the crackling on the side. Divine, truly; a repeat performance beckons.