I've nothing against turkey -properly reared, hung for a few days and cooked with care, the big bird can be quite delicious. It's just that my family prefers pork and, in particular, this week's fantastic pot roast, which is our regular Christmas lunch. The same goes for the poached pear pudding, too.
You'll need to start the preparation a few days beforehand, but the advance work is only straightforward stuff and you won't have to do any fancy cooking, such as making stocks. Domestic cooks can sometimes feel at a disadvantage in not having a battery of stocks to hand - how often have you read down the list of ingredients for a recipe that you were planning to make, only to find that you're short of a litre of stock? The joy of a joint of meat or whole chicken, if cooked in a certain way, is that it will yield enough juices for everyone.
At the restaurant, we've moved away from using stocks as bases for our sauces, anyway, as they have a tendency to make many sauces taste the same. Where veal stock is used as the base, for example, the resulting sauce is often sticky and cloying, masking the purity of the flavours. So instead, we now use the juices rendered from cooking joints of meat. Unfortunately, it's not a cheap alternative, because this produces only small quantities of pure, intensely flavoured gravy, so I wouldn't recommend you do the same at home.
The pork recipe itself may appear a little long-winded, but all of the information provided is there to make your life easier. And after all, if you're not going to take trouble over your cooking at Christmas, when will you?
Recipes serve four.
1 four-rib rack of pork (free-range), taken two ribs back from the best end (ask your butcher, he'll understand; the reason being that the first few ribs' worth of meat are usually too lean)
For the cure
1 large bunch fresh thyme
1 clove garlic
Salt and pepper
1 large bunch fresh sage leaves
For the cooking
1 large onion
2 medium-to-large carrots
3 cloves garlic
100-150g unsalted butter
50ml groundnut oil
1 bunch fresh thyme
1 bunch fresh marjoram (optional)
For the glaze
3 egg yolks
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp Indonesian soy sauce
Two to three days before serving the dish, make the cure and prepare the meat. Chop up the thyme leaves, mix with the salt and set aside. Peel the clove of garlic and cut into matchstick-thin batons, making sure that you have at least 18, then blanch them in water for a minute, drain and refresh. Repeat this blanching process twice more, then pat the garlic dry. Put some salt and freshly ground pepper into a small ramekin (one teaspoon of salt to a dash of pepper), and drop in the batons. Stir, then wrap each baton in a sage leaf and set to one side.
Now prepare the pork joint. Turn the joint upside down, so that you are looking down on the flat, bony side. With a small pointed knife, make two parallel rows of incisions across the meat, about 1.5cm deep, and insert a sage-wrapped garlic baton into each. On the same side of the joint, make three similar incisions in the fat connecting the skin to the meat, and insert three more batons.
Turn the rack so that you're looking down on the ribs. Cut two rows of incisions between each rib, and place a baton in each cut. Turn the rack one last time, so that it's sitting on its flat side and you're looking down on the top of the bones. Make three incisions in the fat that runs alongside the skin, and place a baton in each. This is all far easier than it sounds, honest: the important thing is to have 18 evenly spaced batons pushed into the fat or against the bone.
Lay out on a work surface a piece of clingfilm that is big enough to wrap around the meat twice over. Cover an area of clingfilm about the same size as the joint with half of the salt and thyme cure. Place the pork skin-side down on top, then cover the sides, except for the exposed meat ends, with the rest of the cure. Wrap the joint twice in the clingfilm, taking care that the salt stays in position and does not all slip to the bottom. Put into the fridge for two days, and forget about the dish until the day itself.
Remove the joint from the fridge, unwrap and thoroughly wash off the salt. Pat the meat dry. Now it's time to get cooking. Pre-heat the oven to 175C/350F/gas mark 4. Peel and quarter the onion and carrots. Cut the root and green top off the leek, and cut what's left into four equal lengths. Peel the garlic cloves. In a casserole that is big enough to hold the joint and has a tight- fitting lid, melt 100g of the butter with the oil over a medium heat. When the butter begins to colour, brown the pork lightly all over. (This browning is vital, as it gives a stronger, richer flavour to the sauce.) Remove the joint from the pan. If the butter is too dark, tip it out and replace with new. Lightly colour the vegetables, then place the pork on top, skin-side down. Add the herbs, cover the dish and place in the oven. While the pork is cooking, whisk all the glaze ingredients together, then set aside.
After about 25 minutes, turn over the joint and return to the oven for another 25 minutes. Take the casserole from the oven, place the meat on a board, and turn up the oven to 225C/425F/gas mark 7. With a sharp knife, remove the skin from the joint, taking care to leave as much fat on the meat as possible. Score the fat by running the knife over it in a criss-cross pattern, ensuring that you do not cut into the meat itself, then leave the meat to rest until you have made the sauce.
To make the sauce, place the casserole over a medium heat until the vegetables have caramelised to a lovely golden brown. Pour out the excess fat and add 300ml cold water. Bring to the boil, simmer for 20 minutes, then strain into a smaller pan and, if necessary, reduce a little more until you have the desired consistency. Set aside.
To finish the dish, generously brush the glaze over the fat on the meat and return the joint to the hot oven for around 10 minutes, until the glaze is well caramelised. (If you wish, put the skin back in the oven at the same time, to make crackling.)
Remove the joint from the oven and place it on a board. With a long, sharp knife, cut down and across against the contour of the bone, to leave just the meat intact. Collect any juices that come out of the meat and add these to the sauce, which you can now finish off by whisking in a knob of butter. At the table, cut the meat into thick slices and serve. Fantastic.
Pears poached in red wine
Although pears can be bought all year round, now is their true season. This dish is full of winter flavours, and shares some characteristics with mulled wine, making it ideal for Christmas. As well as a sauce for the pears, the poaching liquid makes a lovely drink, hot or cold. If the liquid is a little thin, just thicken it with cornflour.
These pears are best made a day or two in advance, because if they're eaten too soon, the poaching liquid will not have penetrated sufficiently into the fruit. And, when cooking with alcohol, remember the saying, 'If it is not good enough to drink, do not cook with it.'
I think that the pears look a lot nicer left whole, but this makes them slightly more fiddly to prepare. If you are not inclined to do the extra work, just cut them in half. You'll need a casserole large enough to accommodate the pears in one layer, so you may have to adjust the quantities according to how many pears you can fit in the pan.
1 bottle red wine
200ml crème de cassis (or blackcurrant syrup; failing that, an extra 100g sugar)
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
20g ginger root (optional)
2 sticks liquorice root (optional)
1 orange and 1 lemon, zested
8-10 ripe and unblemished pears (allow 1-2 per person, depending on size)
In the casserole, bring the wine to the boil, flame it to reduce some of its acidity, then add all of the other ingredients bar the pears, remove from the heat and set aside.
Next, peel the pears. If cooking them whole, remove the core: insert the tip of a potato peeler into the base of the fruit, just on the edge of the core, push it into the pear and, turning the peeler around the core, cut it out. If you are halving the pears, use the tip of the peeler to cut out the root and core. Place the pears side by side in the now cooling liquor, and completely cover with a disc of greaseproof paper with holes pierced in it. Press this cover down slightly, so that some of the liquid comes up through the holes, making sure that the pears are completely submerged. If there is insufficient liquid in the pot, add some water.
Place the casserole back on the flame, bring to a simmer, then turn down the heat and maintain the barest simmer until the pears are cooked - insert a small pointed knife into the flesh and, if it goes in with little resistance, they're done. Remove the pears from the liquor and set aside to cool. When cold, transfer the fruit to a sealable container. (If you had to add water to the liquor, reduce the liquid to the required consistency and taste.) Pour the liquor over the pears in their container and store in the fridge for at least a day. They will keep for up to a week. Serve hot or cold, and adjust the consistency of the liquid as required