It struck me as I was standing in the covered market a week ago. One minute I was standing there quite calmly; it was a lovely spring day, I was heading home for a much-needed month away from university, I'd just handed in the last of my term's work, and I decided to get something nice to take home for dinner. The next, I was gripped by it: food-shopping indecision. It's a condition that I find plaguing me on at least a weekly basis. Often when I've headed to the shops or the market with something specific in mind, and then suddenly I spy something quite different and exciting, and then dither for hours over what to do with it and what else I need to buy. Or, often worse, when I have no idea what to cook, am presented with several potential options, and can't settle on one. I'm generally a fairly indecisive person. It drives my boyfriend absolutely mad. Oddly, the more minor the decision, the more difficult I find it. Selecting a film, for example, or choosing between going for a walk in the morning or the afternoon. When you add food to the decision-making process, it's nigh impossible. I've been known to circle the covered market for almost half an hour, weighing up in my head the comparative merits of duck sausages versus pork tenderloin, or mussels versus red mullet. I realise this is deeply tragic, but I've heard that acceptance is the first step towards recovery. The result of this aforementioned indecision last week was a completely unexpected ham hock. Honestly, you may as well have crept up behind me in the street and placed a bag of ham hock in my hand. I have no idea what possessed me to buy it. I only know that it took me about twenty minutes to finally do so.
I've never cooked a ham hock before, which makes the decision even more bizarre. But for some reason I decided that it was a good thing to have. I think my subconscious may have been recalling the rather luscious picture in Diana Henry's Food from Plenty cookbook of ham with parsley sauce: glorious thick, pink, juicy chunks of ham hock scattered on a plate with a dollop of green-flecked creamy goodness. When I turned to the book after returning home, I discovered that on the next page was a recipe for ham hock terrine. Another subconscious moment: only the other day I'd watched Raymond Blanc prepare a ham hock terrine on TV. Given my absolute adoration for all things Raymond, it just had to be done. I feel closer to the great man himself when I am using the very ingredients that he puts his manly hands to every Monday night on the BBC.
What I love most about this dish is its sheer frugality. You take what is essentially a pig's ankle, add a few vegetables, and a couple of days later have a rather fine-looking dinner party centrepiece. All I did was boil the ham hock with celery, carrots and onion, shred the meat after a few hours of slow cooking, mix it with some mustard and parsley, put it in a loaf tin lined with cling film, and pour over some of the braising liquid. The gelatine from the bone in the hock turns the liquid to jelly, so it sets the meat into a loaf shape without the need for extra gelatine. It's really rather amazing how you can create something so splendid with so few, and such cheap, ingredients. The ham hock cost me £2. The herbs and vegetables probably about another pound. The result: delicious, and even more so because it made my inner home economist very happy. The stock doesn't go to waste, either: it makes a delicious pea soup.
To accompany my terrine, I baked a loaf of bread. It was a recipe from one of my Michel Roux cookbooks: celery and herb bread. It sounded odd and not particularly appetising, but I thought the celery would work well with the ham (and I had a load in the fridge - this is definitely a meal in the spirit of frugal cooking), and I trust Michel (after Raymond, he is my favourite Frenchman). I now trust him enough to jump blindfolded off a cliff supposedly into his arms: the loaf was incredible.
I'm not entirely sure how, but it made my whole house smell of cake. I put it in the oven, went to the gym, and returned to probably the best post-gym aroma known to man. I was almost convinced that my mother had put a cake in the oven while I was gone. But no, my virtuous-sounding celery and herb bread had transformed into something moist, doughy, cakey and sublime. It's an incredibly moist loaf; whether that's from the inclusion of celery and onions, or a small amount of butter, I don't know. It could also be down to me placing a pan of water in the bottom of the oven to create steam and stop the loaf drying out. Either way, I'd heartily recommend you try this bread. It doesn't really taste of celery; rather, you get a lovely aromatic herbiness that goes well with meat or cheese, but is equally delicious on its own with butter. Beautiful.
I really appreciate the sheer rusticity of this meal. Bread with vegetables, a terrine fit for a king but cheap enough for a pauper, some chutney and mustard, cheese, green salad, and a glass of wine. Wonderful. The terrine falls apart somewhat as you try to cut it, but I like to think this only adds to the effect. The meat is wonderfully moist from the surrounding juices and mustard, and strongly flavoured enough to work very well with a dollop of chutney. Not bad for about a pound per person, and considering it contains pig's ankles.
My brother pointed out that the terrine looks a bit like cat food. I'm not sure what to make of that. I actually think cat food looks quite tasty sometimes. Be assured that the terrine is good enough not to feed to your cat. What it lacks in appearance it compensates for in flavour.
Ham hock terrine (serves 6):
1 large ham hock
1 stick celery
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic
Sprigs lemon thyme
Bunch of parsley, finely chopped
2-3 tsp wholegrain mustard
Soak the ham hock for 24 hours, changing the water twice. Then place it in a large pa, cover with fresh water and add the vegetables, garlic, bay leaf and thyme. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently for 2-3 hours until the meat is tender. Leave to cool then remove the hock to a bowl, and place both stock and hock in the fridge overnight.
When the stock has cooled, skim off all the fat. It will have turned to jelly. Remove about 250ml of the stock to a small pan and boil to reduce by half. Shred the ham meat (discard the fat and bones) and mix with the mustard and parsley (you can add some leaves of lemon thyme too if you have any left). Taste, check the seasoning, then press into a loaf tin lined with cling film. Pour over the reduced stock so it almost covers the shredded meat, then place in the fridge for 24 hours or so. When ready to serve, simply turn out onto a plate.
(From Diana Henry's Food from Plenty)
Celery and herb loaf:
250g strong white bread flour
250g wholemeal or wholegrain bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp celery salt (optional)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp olive oil
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tsp celery seeds
Juice of 1 lemon
Finely chopped parsley, celery leaves, lemon thyme and mint - a handful of each
Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Place a roasting tin the bottom of the oven.
Mix the flours and salts and bicarb together in a large bowl. Rub in the butter. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a pan and fry the onion and celery until softened but not coloured. Add the celery seeds.
Add the celery and onion mixture to the flour. Make a well in the centre and add the lemon juice and milk. Mix to form a dough, adding the herbs. Knead on a floured surface for a few minutes until you have a smooth but not sticky dough.
Grease and line a loaf tin, then shape the dough into an oblong and place in the tin. Slash the top.
Open the oven door and put the loaf in. Fill a jug with water and pour some onto the hot roasting tin in the oven - this will create steam and make the loaf extra-moist. Bake for 45 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool.
(From Michel Roux's Cooking with the Master Chef)