Don’t mention the chutney

So the 9 year old returned home last Friday from his week(ish) away, a bit whiffy, with a suspiciously itchy head (surely not again), but seemingly intact. Worst bit, he said, was having to make his own bed from scratch, best bit, the low ropes (me neither) and the tuck shop. He was desperate to show us the presents he’d bought with his £10 pocket money (a toy squirrel and rabbit for his cousins, a scorpion for his brother, and for himself, a cool dude with a bobble hat, a fridge magnet and several Mars bars (blimey, with that level of economic proficiency he can take over the Christmas shopping). He was beside himself with tiredness, looking, at teatime, like he wanted to crawl into the hole and snuggle up alongside the toad on his plate, rather than eat them.

Saturday was school fair day – the day of the aforementioned chutney stall and the culmination of two months’ swearing and sweating into my preserving pan. I actually find it hard to say ‘chutney’ now, without prefixing it with an expletive, usually of the ‘F’ variety (my 9yo has the same affliction with the words ‘homework’ and ‘stupid’). My friend S suggested that I use this as my brand and put it on the label, but I’m not sure how well that would’ve gone down with the audience I was trying to sell to.

The stall did OK, no fist pumping or high fiving this year, but we made a tidy contribution to the PTA fund. Nevertheless, I still came home in a slightly deflated mood, weighed down as I was with many unsold jars including 15 each of green tomato chutney and piccalilli. (I’m thinking of rebranding them, not with the F-word, but as ‘Zombie Snot’ and ‘Dog’s Vomit’ respectively and flogging them to children at the summer fair. Better still, I could give them out to unsuspecting trick or treaters at Halloween.)

Do I sound a little churlish? Forgive me. It’s just that all that shopping, chopping, cooking, gagging, sterilising and bottling is only tolerable if people are actually going to buy the darned stuff. If I return home with a shed load of it, I begin to question why I bother – I could just hand over a cheque direct to the PTA, without the slightest whiff of vinegar, and be done with it.

One plateful of chicken tikka and a couple of glasses of white later and my mood had lifted considerably. Consoled by the fact that I could’ve returned home with a lot worse than a couple of trays of chutney, had the 9yo been awake enough to be interested in everyone else’s old toot (sticker books that have already been stuck, chewed Happy Meal toys, Meccano missing the structurally essential part), and that we hadn’t won the 4 foot, 4 stone teddy in the raffle, I nodded off to sleep in the middle of an episode of The Bridge (subtitles plus booze – what did I expect?).

Sunday was an altogether more restful affair. I decided to slow roast a shoulder of pork for the simple reason that it takes six hours, during which time you can pretend to be preoccupied with the Sunday roast while actually doing bugger all. Also, you can’t really overcook it, it doesn’t need carving – in modern parlance, just ‘pulling’ – and has the added bonus of requiring very little chewing. It went down very well with the troops, particularly the 9yo, who quite clearly had eaten very little all week, and there was not so much as a spoonful of fucking chutney in sight.

Slow roast pork shoulder

This is not so much a recipe as a method and if you Google it you will see that everyone from Hugh to Nigella to Jamie has their own way. The key thing with any slow cooked joint is getting the gravy right. Buy a bigger joint and make more gravy than you need and you will have the perfect base for things like burritos and hash during the week. I put this in the oven at 6.30 on Sunday morning and then went back to bed (because my bastard body clock no longer recognises that it’s the weekend) but of course the more sane among you could bung it in the oven at midday and have it ready for dinner at 6.

Serves 4 with leftovers (unless one or more of them has been on a school trip and eaten nothing but Mars bars for a week)

  • 1.5 – 2kg pork shoulder (on the bone will stay juicier, although I bought a boned and rolled joint and it didn’t dry out)
  • wine glass full of white wine or water
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 carrots washed and halved
  • 4 banana shallots or 2 onions peeled and halved
  • 1 apple quartered
  1. I didn’t bother preheating the oven to 130°C (fan) because it was 6.30 in the morning, and I didn’t allow the meat to come to room temperature either because it’s going to spend like 6 hours in the fucking oven, OK, which should be ample time for it to get hot. So just rub the joint all over with a goodly amount of salt, put it in a not-too-big tin, pour in the wine or water, cover with foil, bung in the oven then go back to bed.
  2. Four hours later, throw the carrots, onions and apple in the tin (don’t worry about peeling/coring them as you are not actually going to eat them, they are there only for the gravy), re-cover and return to oven.
  3. One hour later (and therefore one hour before you want to serve up) take the foil off the tin, crank up the oven to the temperature you normally roast your spuds (210°C in my old fan oven) and roast for another 60 mins (less if it looks like its burning).

4. Remove joint from oven, put it on a warm plate to rest, covered with foil. If your crackling hasn’t crackled enough, remove it from the joint and put it on a tray in the oven for another 10 or so minutes.

5. When you are ready to serve, shred the pork with two forks and then pour over some of the gravy to keep it moist. Serve with your usual Sunday roast line-up, with the crackling and extra gravy.

Gravy tips

(I wanted to put this bit in a neat little text box but I don’t know how to, so sorry.)

This is how I made the gravy on Sunday, but it really depends on taste – what needs adding to make it right – and what booze and condiments you have lying around. So, I poured away all but 1 tbsp of the fat from the roasting tin, taking care not to throw the veg and meat juices in the sink as well, then added 1 tbsp of plain flour to the tin, gave it a good stir and cooked it on the hob for about a minute on a medium heat. I then poured in a glug of Madeira, although you could use white wine, Marsala, cider, or simply bypass the booze stage altogether, and stirred that around for another minute or two until most of the alcohol had burnt off. Then I added about a pint’s worth of boiling water, let it come to the boil, and then simmered it for 5 minutes.

At this point, taste, and add what you think it needs – almost certainly salt and pepper, but perhaps a teaspoon of dijon mustard or a dribble of vinegar (anything but malt) for acidity, a pinch of brown sugar for sweetness, or if it is completely lacking in meatiness, a teaspoon or two of concentrated liquid chicken (or at a push, beef) stock (I use Touch of Taste which actually, like, has animal bones in it). When you are happy with the taste and consistency, drain the gravy through a sieve into another pan, giving the veg a little squeeze to get the last remaining flavour out of them. (You might want to add a little extra stock or water if what you are left with is too thick). Et voila!






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