As I write this, we’re only at the half-way point of the Autumn Pop-Up run, but it seems like its already time to think about endings. I spent a lot time selecting the dishes I wanted to wrap up this run with – hoarding a few of my most delectable, delightful and delicious for Autumn’s last bite.
Pork belly with celeriac puree and Rainbow coleslaw
In almost all cultures, the darkest part of winter is marked by some sort of festival that revolves around a meat-laden feast. A big practical reason for this is that, historically, surplus livestock needed to be slaughtered while they were still fat from the autumn harvest in order to save having to feed them with the dwindling winter stores. And when you’ve got a whole pig or a whole cow that needs eating, might as well invite the neighbours round to give you a hand and make a party out of it. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that shortly after all the good food is eaten and gone comes the date for making resolutions to eat less.
The striations of fat in the pork belly gives it a self-basting quality that makes it my favourite cut not just of pork but possibly of any animal at all. And this is the best way I know to cook it – supercharged with the flavours from the cure, honey glazed and slow cooked to create a sweet, sticky, meltingly tender slab of meat. This November I’ve balanced all that unctuousness with a warming celeriac puree and a garnish of colourful veg in the form of my rainbow coleslaw.
Chicken liver pate
There’s no accounting for taste. This goes double for delicacies. Don’t get me wrong – I like truffles, caviar and champagne just fine, but there’s no rational basis for the abnormally high desirability that drives fish eggs, fungus and fizzy wine to their infamous price tags. For example, if you’d told me after the first time I’d tried them that chicken livers were an expensive delicacy, I’d easily believe it. Chicken livers, like most types of offal in fact, are both exceptionally tender and have a bold, distinctive flavour of their own. Plus you only get one liver, maybe a couple of ounces, per chicken. So if they taste amazing AND they’re limited availability – it makes perfect sense that they would be a rare delicacy with a price to match.
But no. Chicken livers are one of the cheapest cuts you can buy. And I don’t understand why. Are they difficult to prepare, or do they take a long time to cook? No, you can fry them and have them on toast with a sherry cream sauce inside of ten minutes – easier than a steak. Is it hard to turn them into something that both looks elegant and tastes luxurious? Nope – pate is beautiful and almost dangerously simple. Are they slimy and disgusting to handle when raw? Well, yes, but that hasn’t stopped oysters from entering the echelon of extravagance, they must be EATEN while they’re slimy, disgusting and raw.
Are chicken livers totally capable of being something completely decadent, a cut fit for a king at a price suitable for a pauper? Yes. I don’t know why they aren’t considered more of a delicacy. But I’m taking advantage.
Sweet Potato Bread Pudding with Bourbon Cayenne Sauce and White Truffle Ice Cream
My last culinary adventure to New Orleans introduced me to many a strange and wonderful flavour combination, but none so much as this sweet, spicy, smoky little number. My first experience of the sticky sweet potato bread pudding was at an outstanding Creole/French restaurant called Patois. This pudding remixed its components in ways that I had never imagined. In New Orleans, sweet potato is as normal a dessert flavour as, say, apple, or plum. This shouldn’t be that hard to believe (the word “sweet” is right there in the name…) but it threw me through a loop at first. Once I tried it though, I was mostly just surprised at how weird it isn’t.
At Patois they served it with a toasted marshmallow ice cream. Marshmallow and sweet potato are a familiar and classic combination in the states, especially at Thanksgiving. Despite the nostalgic associations (sadly lacking from my British sensibilities) I decided to experiment with a variety of ice cream flavours, finally landing on the perfect elevation: a remarkably simple white truffle ice cream. You’d think this would overpower the dish entirely, but it just shines as one of the stars in the constellation.
But what made this dessert stand out from the pack was the chilli spice notes of the bourbon-cayenne syrup. The confusing, warming sensation of the cayenne is tempered almost immediately by the ice cream, but it’s still a hard left turn down an unmarked swamp road right into the heart of flavour country. Also, since nothing is made worse with a little bourbon in it, the syrup gets a good dose of that too.
The name and the flavours might make it quite a mouthful, but in my humble opinion, if you can’t do six impossible things before breakfast, you should consider eating at least three of them for dessert.