I am prepared to travel vast distances and part with a fair amount of cash to buy the best farm-reared pork (the meat of happy pigs reared without growth hormones and steroids is way tastier than that from their pale and uninteresting mass-farmed cousins).
Pork is a versatile meat that enjoys hearty, basic cooking methods and doesn’t do elegance well. Think braaied chops, pan-fried loins, succulent, slow-cooked belly strips, roasts trapped in crusty crackling – and this succulent pot-roasted neck that is perfect for when friends descend and there’s no time to faff about in the kitchen. It pretty much gets on with it while you’re busy doing other things.
Pork is good with a vast range of sidekicks such as root vegetables, white beans and olives. In terms of flavouring, pork adores garlic, a hint of anchovy, citrus juice and zest, and all types of mustard. As far as herbs are concerned, stay with sturdier types like rosemary, thyme, sage and lavender.
Pork and fruit are also good chums, though this can be challenging in the wine-matching department. It’s a good idea to tone down the sweetness with lemon juice, wine, verjuice or whisky, as in this recipe. Good wholegrain mustard (a mixture of ground and half-ground mustard seeds, for taste and mouth-pleasing texture) is another key ingredient. The most famous grainy French mustard, Moutarde de Meaux, made from a closely guarded secret recipe, has a rounded flavour and comes in wide-mouthed jars closed with sealing wax.
Mustard-Braised Pork Neck with Prunes
1 whole boned, rolled pork neck (about 2kg)
Salt and milled black pepper
cup brown sugar
cup wholegrain mustard
Butter and vegetable oil
2 cups good beef or chicken stock
4 T chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 T chopped sage
250g sun-dried prunes
If the pork hasn’t been rolled in a net bag by your butcher, truss neatly withstring. Season with salt and pepper. Mixtogether the brown sugar and mustardand smear over the meat.
Heat a generous amount of butter and oil in a heavy saucepan overmedium heat and seal the meat all over, rolling it about in the pan. Watch carefully; the coating may burn if the heat is too high or if you’re distracted from the job at hand.
Warm half the whisky, pour over the meat, and flame. When the flames die down, add the stock, parsley andsage. Turn the meat in the sauce, cover and simmervery gently for 1½ to 2 hours, depending on the size of the pork neck. Turn the meat in the sauce from time to time so that it flavours and cooks evenly. Add the prunes 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time.
Lift the pork from the sauce, remove the net bag (string can remain on until you’ve carved the meat) and place on a warm platter with the prunes. Cover with foil and keep warm. Add the remaining whisky to the sauce and boil uncovered until it thickens slightly.
Carve the meat into thick-ish slices, pour the sauce over and garnish with prunes.
This dish is slightly sweet and gloriously sticky, gaining zest from mustard and a fillip from whisky. What’s needed is full-bodied and sweet-fruited red. Ever wondered what food to pair with your 15% abv Shiraz? Now you know.