When my friend Jason Lowe, the photographer, arrived to take the pictures for this piece he brought with him a very special gift. Wrapped up nice and neatly, tied up in a sheet of greaseproof paper, was a rusty-skinned hind-leg pig's trotter from a pedigree pig. Handsome-looking and hard-worked, this porcine extremity immediately prompted the very best of my gastronomic enthusiasm. I knew that I wanted to cook it as part of a meal in itself rather than just use it to aid the gelatinous richness of a stock or braise. I always try to have jointed trotters (from my local butcher, whenever he has them to spare) in my freezer for this very purpose - but not usually of the quality of Jason's offering.
Now then, before I continue, it had already been decided that the two recipes offered up today were going to be a warming, sloppy, slow-cooked Scotch broth and an even slower, delicious dish of milky rice pudding; February fare at its best, I guess, and you shall have them. However, it would seem mean not to tell you how I prepared that trotter, especially as the mood had already been set by the gentle simmer, the enticing wait, the smell and the nourishment of the finished pot of Scotch broth that we sat down and enjoyed for lunch.
So, that evening, I chopped said trotter into six pieces (the butcher would be happy to do it for you), popped these into the bottom of a heavy-based pot smeared with good dripping, generously seasoned them, and added a few spoonfuls of already jellied chicken stock, some sage leaves and a trace of red wine vinegar. Into a low oven for three hours, covered. Removed them, cooled them and then stripped the meat and skin from the tiny bones. Tipped all the flesh into a bowl and then strained over the extremely gelatinous golden cooking liquor. Into the fridge to cool to a bouncy set. Next day, boiled together chopped leeks and potatoes with slices of the trotter meat, some of its jelly and a little water until all was soft, tender and wonderfully soupy - if you like this sort of thing - then chopped parsley and an extra squirt of vinegar to finish. I'm sorry there isn't a picture, but here is a delicious Scotch broth as ample compensation, the broth which so happily inspired a completely new and satisfying 'leek, potato and trotter soup'. What more could the keen cook ask for?
A good Scotch broth should, once thoroughly cooked, have a look about it that says, 'Hmmm ... yes, a dull bowlful if ever I saw one.' Any Scotch broth that looks too colourful [save for plenty of chopped parsley added at the end], too neatly and finely diced - or, heaven forbid, too thin - should be looked upon as an interloper. The lamb should never be 'cooked off' [a meaningless, overused chef's term - at least to the home cook], as many misguided folk now recommend for the making of a Lancashire hotpot, for example, where the meat is first fried in a pan to brown it. Pieces of lamb that simply stew, almost in their own juice, produce one of the most subtle and beautiful flavours I know. And always simply add water, not a pre-made stock, which produces something else entirely.
When a soup - almost a stew, in fact, in this case - is cooking, every single ingredient becomes acquainted with all the others at not much more than a snail's pace. I often prefer to use a quiet oven heat for the majority of the cooking time.
Note: there is much fat attached to a breast of lamb, and this will float to the top of the soup while it cooks. It is up to you how much you wish to remove, using sheets of kitchen paper, as the soup bubbles along. I think leaving a modicum behind is good practice, but if you wish to remove all of it, then make the soup the day before [without adding the parsley], cool and place in the fridge. The next day the fat will have set to an easily removable solid disk. Re-heat, add the parsley and serve. Truth be told, Scotch broth tastes even better after a bit of a sit. Serves a generous 6.
1kg breast of lamb, chopped into 4 pieces by the butcher
2½ litres water
275g carrots, peeled and chopped small
275g swede, peeled and chopped small
350g leeks, trimmed, sliced and washed
250g firm cabbage, chopped
250g potatoes, peeled and chopped small
2 bay leaves
1½ dessert spoon Maldon salt
plenty of freshly ground white pepper
1 medium onion, peeled and stuck with
50g pearl barley
1 small bunch curly parsley, stalks removed and the leaves finely chopped
Put the lamb in a large pot and cover with the water. Bring up to a gentle simmer and then remove the copious scum that forms, using a large spoon. Simmer the lamb for 30 minutes, continuing to remove any further scum which appears, before adding all the other ingredients except the barley and parsley. Bring back to a simmer, again removing any more scum from the vegetables, and allow to cook over the merest thread of heat [or in a low oven], covered, for about 1 hour, or until the meat is very tender.
Using tongs, carefully lift out the pieces of lamb and put on to a plate to cool. Add the barley, stir in, and then pop the broth back on to continue simmering. Once the lamb is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones using your hands - a particularly satisfying, messy job - and then roughly chop it, having discarded the bones. Add the meat back to the pot, stir in well and continue to cook until the barley is tender. Once the soup is good and thick, stir in the parsley. Serve, naturally, piping hot.
Over the past few years I have slightly altered this, my favourite rice pudding recipe. At first I added double cream to the pudding, to give extra richness. Well, I am now not so sure that this is a good idea: it almost becomes too buttery - and there is a goodly amount of that to begin with. So, after having seen a recipe using evaporated milk, an ingredient I have always admired, I decided to replace the cream with a tin of Carnation. It enhances the pudding with an even more milky taste. And what could be better than that? I also now add a little nutmeg to the surface before baking. Serves 4.
75g caster sugar
100g pudding rice, or Spanish paella rice
1 litre-full cream milk, Channel Islands
½ a vanilla pod, split lengthways
1 small tin Carnation evaporated milk
tiny pinch of salt
freshly grated nutmeg
Pre-heat the oven to 140C/gas mark 1 - or even lower if that's possible, depending on your oven.
Melt the butter in a flame-proof casserole dish and add the sugar. Stir around and heat gently until the texture is gooey, almost toffee-like. Add the rice and continue stirring slowly until the rice looks puffy, pale golden and sticky with sugar.
Now gently pour in the milk, which will seethe alarmingly around the rice, causing the volatile rice/butter/sugar mixture to set into lumps almost at once. But fear not. Cautiously wander around this milky mess with the aid of a wooden spoon, so dispersing such lumps into the milk as it heats up, which will dissolve everything over several minutes.
Now add the vanilla pod and squash it around a bit so that it releases its little black seeds. Add the Carnation milk and salt, and bring all to a murmuring simmer. Grate some nutmeg over the surface, slide into the oven and allow to cook for about 2 hours - or until it's just beginning to set but is still slightly liquid-looking; as the pudding cools, it will finish cooking in its own heat.
Serve lukewarm, or cold, but not hot from the oven; milk puddings have very little flavour if served piping hot, rather like quiches and custard tarts.
· Nigel Slater returns next week