Dom at Belleau Kitchen has issued a new challenge - to cook a random recipe from your cookbook collection. That could turn up some horrors, but I thought I’d give it a go. Dom suggests taking all the books off the shelves, but I couldn't quite face that so I used a random number generator instead. That gave me 3 shelves from the bottom and then 8 books from the right.
I found myself holding a copy of 'The Cuisine of Alain Senderens' , first published in 1981 (and out of print, I believe). I had a slightly bad feeling about this – it contains some scary recipes. I've nothing against M. Senderens, of course, especially since he's the man who sent back his three Michelin stars. Come to think of it, how do you do that? Do you put them in a star-shaped envelope and post them?
The random page number (66) took me to 'Ragoût Malin' – this is a ragoût of frog's legs, oysters and langoustines. Dom said we shouldn't cheat and should cook whatever recipe was chosen but I wasn't going to ask the local shopkeepers if they had frog's legs – not after the last time. Added to that, I can't afford the ingredients. So I decided that the random number generator must be faulty and tried again (hoping that it wouldn't come up with page 178 - 'Calf's Head in Champagne').
On the second attempt I got page 163, which is M. Senderen's interpretation of a very ancient recipe – Pork Apicius. Although the book doesn't say so, this is a version of the Minutal of Apricots recipe from the Apicius “cookbook” compiled around the 4th century AD. That’s even a little before my time.
You have to interpret the Apicius recipes quite freely – the compiler was no Delia when it came to clarity or detail – but there is one thing that M. Senderens doesn't try to replicate in his recipe, namely the use of liquamen. Liquamen and garum were types of fish sauce used widely by the ancient Romans and very common in the Apicius recipes. Since they are now long extinct nobody really knows what they tasted like but they were probably intended to add savouriness to dishes (umami, I suppose). Some people have suggested using nam pla as a substitute, but I chickened out of adding any.
Enough history - I think I should get on with the recipe before this turns into an episode of Time Team and a man in a strange hat decides to put a trench through my kitchen. This recipe takes a while but the resulting dish was very pleasing. The amount given should serve 4 people.
100 g raisins
1 tbsp honey
½ tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp dill seed
5 mint leaves, cut into thin strips
15 peppercorns, coarsely ground or crushed
100 ml red wine
100 g dried apricots
800 g shoulder of pork cut into 5 cm cubes
5 tbsp olive oil
150 ml wine vinegar
6 shallots, sliced
1 large carrot, diced
3 sticks of celery, diced
2 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped
bouquet garni of thyme, parsley stalks and a bay leaf
250 ml chicken stock
The day before you want to serve the dish, place the raisins in a bowl with the honey, cumin, dill, mint, crushed peppercorns and red wine. Stir to dissolve the honey, cover and leave overnight. The original recipe suggests soaking the dried apricots in warm water overnight as well, but you may prefer to soak only for an hour or two before you start cooking, if you want to avoid them starting to break down.
The next day, generously season the pork with salt and pepper. Brown the pork on all sides in the olive oil for about 10 minutes, then lift it out of the pan and drain. Pour all the fat away from the pan and put it back onto a moderate heat. Add the vinegar, stirring to get all the flavour of the pork from off the pan. Boil for 3 minutes or until almost all the vinegar has evaporated. Add the shallots, carrot, celery, tomatoes and bouquet garni, stir over a moderate heat until the vegetables have started to soften, then add the chicken stock and pork. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Then cover the pan and continue simmering for 70 minutes longer.
Lift the pork out of the pan and reserve. Strain the cooking liquid into a large, clean saucepan, pressing the vegetables to extract the maximum amount of juice. Drain the apricots and add them to the strained stock, along with the raisins and their marinade. Put the pork back in the sauce and simmer gently, uncovered, for 25 minutes. Skim off any fat that comes to the surface and adjust the seasoning. Although the original recipe doesn’t suggest it, you may want to adjust the sweet and sour balance to your taste as well before serving. M Senderens suggests serving this dish with a celeriac purée and who am I to disagree with that excellent suggestion.