Leg of pork is something of an anomaly. Somehow, it has become the nation’s favourite pork roasting joint but that’s a supermarket thing – because their pork comes from younger, fast growing, flavourless pigs who’ve been deprived of exercise to the extent that their muscles have barely flexed. In our world, pigs grow a bit slower and have to do a little more work. The meat gains flavour and texture but at a cost in that the leg can, potentially be a little dry and disappointing as a simple, ‘in and out of the oven’, roasting joint. Elsewhere, they tend to rear larger pigs and cure the legs for hams but we’ve clung to the idea that small pigs are best for fresh pork cuts while large ones are better for bacon, gammon and sausages.
I’m not doing a very good selling job here but I’m just telling it the way it is. Judging from shop sales you agree, because we sell far more shoulder, belly and loin for roasting, than leg. Leg of pork is a perfectly good cut but, if you’re intending to roast it, try brining it first. Brining has the effect of sealing the outside, trapping the moisture within. Americans love it (google ‘brining turkey’ and you’ll see what I mean) but that’s probably because most of their meat is so bad. Generally, I’m not a fan – but it definitely works with leg of pork. To make the brine, dissolve 150g of salt in a litre of hot water. Bring another litre of water to the boil and add any seasoning that takes your fancy (juniper, bay leaves, peppercorns, brown sugar etc). Simmer for half an hour, strain into the dissolved salt liquid and cool. Place your pork joint (1-2kgs) in a plastic bag and put in a Tupperware container or bowl. Pour over the brining liquid. Seal with a clip, clothes peg or rubber band and refrigerate for about eight hours. Drain and pat dry with kitchen paper and cook as normal. It works and, surprisingly, it won’t taste too salty.
However, route one with leg of pork, Chez Benz, is always parmesan crumbed pork escalopes. I love them – particularly next day as a picnic. My recipe is below but feel free to experiment with different seasonings in the crumb mix. Check out the Guardian or Taste.com for other ideas.
Leg of pork is also good diced in some of the classic casseroles, stews and thick soups. Try it instead of beef in Polish stroganoff or Hungarian goulash.
And then there’s pork knuckle……
Pork and Mushroom Stroganoff
Traditionally made with steak, this one works just as well with pork.
20 g dried porcini mushrooms
2 large onions, peeled, halved & thinly sliced50 g butter
550 g pork, cut into thin strips
1 tbsp sweet paprika
250 ml white wine
450 g chestnut mushrooms
200 ml crème fraiche
Salt & pepper
Put the dried porcini in a cup and cover with hot water, leave to stand for half and hour then remove the mushrooms – squeezing the liquid back into the cup. Now rinse the mushrooms to remove any grit there might be in them and set aside. Keep the mushroom water.
Gently sauté the onions in butter in a heavy based saucepan until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon.
Turn up the heat, season the pork strips with salt and pepper and fry off in the same butter until browned and sealed all over – it is easiest to do this in 2-3 batches.
Sprinkle the sweet paprika over the pork once it is browned and return the onions to the pan, throw in the soaked porcini, and pour over the mushroom water and the white wine. Bring up to the boil then lower the heat to a simmer, cover and cook for about an hour by which time the meat will be quite tender.
Slice the chestnut mushrooms, thickly, and add to the pot – they will release liquid and increase the volume of the sauce – cook for a further 20 minutes until all is tender then stir in the crème frâiche and check seasoning. Serve over wide noodles or papardelle.
1 kg diced pork
2 onions, finely sliced
2 fresh chillies, deseeded & finely chopped
2 tbsp mild smoked paprika
2 tbsp ground caraway seeds
Bunch fresh oregano or marjoram
5 red peppers, sliced
400g tinned tomatoes
Splash red wine vinegar
Fresh parsley, chopped
Salt & pepper
Preheat oven to 180°C/Gas 4. Heat the oil in a large casserole and brown the pork then put it aside.
Add the onions, chilli, paprika, caraway and herbs and cook gently for 10 minutes, until the onions are golden.
Add peppers, tomatoes and browned pork, stir well to coat in the hot mixture and pour in the vinegar and enough water to just cover the meat. Put in the oven for 3 hours.
Towards the end of the cooking time veg such as carrots, parsnips and potatoes could be added.
When the meat is cooked it will be tender and break apart easily. If it’s not done return to the oven for a little while longer. Serve with rice, and garnish with soured cream and parsley.
Pork leg roast with red cabbage
These days braised red cabbage is considered very seventies, but like chicken Kiev it’s due for a revival. With its sweet and sour taste, it is often a surprising hit with children. It also keeps well, so make double and enjoy the rest with some sausages later in the week.
1kg pork leg
1 large onion, finely chopped
50g lard, goose fat, beef dripping or butter
1 red cabbage, quartered, cored & shredded
3 tbsp cider vinegar
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
2 Bramley apples, grated
1 tbsp flour
4 tbsp crème fraîche
1 tsp English mustard powder
Preheat oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6. Score the pork fat with a sharp knife and pat dry with kitchen paper. Cook the joint for 45 minutes and then at 180°C/Gas 4 for another 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and turn up the temperature to maximum.
Peel off the crackling using a sharp knife (take care as it will be hot – use a carving fork or clean tea towel to hold it) and put it back in the oven until it is really blistered. Meanwhile, cover the meat and leave it to rest.
The cabbage can be done in advance of cooking the pork. In a heavy saucepan, gently sauté the onion in the fat for 10 minutes, add the cabbage, vinegar, sugar and stock, put the lid on and cook in a 140°C/Gas Mark 1 oven for 2 hours. Remove and stir in the grated apple.
In a large bowl, mix the flour with the crème fraîche and mustard powder. Mix in the red cabbage (1 ladle at a time). Return it all to the saucepan and cook on the hob for another 10 minutes (more if it has cooled down) over a gentle heat. Check the seasoning – hopefully the acidity of the grated apple will come through – and the cabbage will be lusciously creamy. Serve with the roast joint and cracking.