On Tuesday, I spent the evening at River Cottage in Axminster, alongside a bunch of like-minded ladies. It is a rare treat to get together with such a big crowd of talented people, for the sole purpose of networking, catching up, learning cooking tricks, sharing ideas and eating the most delicious Christmas food you could possibly imagine.
I sometimes have to pinch myself when I get ‘money can’t buy experiences’ through this little blog of mine. Very few opportunities can top exclusive event like this. I got invited to through Foodies100, so huge thanks to Sally and Lindy for all their hard work.
It is a lot more work than you would imagine to keep a blog going, writing regularly, developing recipes, ensuring each post has relevant photos, negotiating with clients, building and audience and promoting on social media but at the end of the day, it is such a great way to document our lives and keep a record of my recipes.
Last night, a few collaborations were discussed, photos were taken, fruit and veg were prodded (fun game!), wine was drunk and I also learnt about brining meat. What more could you wish for? A nap was had on the train this afternoon and I am buzzing with ideas, the prospect of exciting cooking ‘firsts’ and new projects with amazing ladies.
I will try not to bore you to death with the details, but basically, my friend Vicki and I arrived at River Cottage HQ at 3 p.m. yesterday, where we joined a cheerful group for a bumpy tractor ride.
Photo Credit: The Intolerant Gourmand
We explored the gardens, the yurt and the kitchens.
I had coffee, a good chat with Emma and Nath before festivities started. The evening kicked off with Andy, one of the senior chefs on the farm, telling us how to do things a bit differently for Christmas, and go back to basics. He taught us how to brine our own meat, which is something my great-grandmothers would have done, and as a firm believer of cooking from scratch, I loved every minute of it.
Brining is an easy way to preserve fish, cheese, meat and even vegetables. The curing process, using salt and water as the main ingredients, is totally natural and does not need any chemicals. It is also safe for allergy-sufferers like Jumpy. Win, win!
On a commercial scale, the ham you buy for Christmas would be on a conveyor belt. The brine would be injected into the meat, alongside preservatives and chemicals, to save time and give the meat an appealing colour. No thanks!
Here are a few questions you might like the answer to when it comes to brining your own ham:
What piece of meat should I buy to brine my own ham?
An organic hand or leg of pork
How long does it take between the time I buy the meat from the butcher’s and the time I can eat it?
The meat has to be left for 3 days in the brine for every kilo of meat. You then have to boil it and if you wish, roast it.
What container do I need to use?
You can use a large earthenware pot, a plastic bucket, a zip bag (it would have to be huge!), but no aluminium pot (it would taint the flavours).
How much salt do I need to use?
To brine pork, beef or venison, you need 20% of salt per litre of liquid, so for every litre of liquid, you need 200g of salt (400g of salt for 2L liquid, etc.).
Why do I need so much salt?
Salt opens up the cells of the meat and gets rid of pathogenic bacteria naturally, with no chemicals. It will not all go into the meat and you have to discard the brine when the meat is ready.
What should I put in with the salt and water?
The flavours you introduce in the brining process will be subtle, but you could use cider or apple juice (or both) as part of your liquid to salt ratio. Sugar, an optional extra, is also a preservative. Black treacle or muscovado sugar work well with pork. How about adding roughly crushed black pepper, bay leaves, chilies, cloves, Rosemary…
Once the meat is brined, can I keep it for a week before cooking it?
Yes! Pat dry the meat after curing it and keep it uncovered in the fridge, leaving air circulating around it. It will keep or a week or two.
What if the meat is too salty?
When the meat is brined and you are ready to cook it, it is advisable to first boil it in plain water. After a few minutes, taste the water and if it is overly salty, discard it and replace it with fresh water, then boil and roast your ham.
I don’t know about you, but I cannot wait to brine my own ham for Christmas!
After the informative session during which we also learnt about making bresaola and brining a turkey with gin, we had an opportunity to play a game in the yurt and think of ways we could collaborate with other bloggers, just before dinner was served.
Sam, one of the chefs at River Cottage explained the menu we were about to eat. When chefs get to work in the morning, they look at what is available on the day and create the menu for the day ahead. This is a beautifully sustainable approach and the resulting menu was incredible! Check this out!
Exmouth muscles cooked in Apple juice, then mixed with red onion, Apple and vinegar
Whipped up goat’s cheese, beetroot, fennel
Pork croquettes (leg of pork with béchamel)
Crispy rabbit with with capers and romanesco purée
Celeriac ravioli with wild mushrooms and leaves
Cider brined pork (reared on the farm)
Chunk of Savoy cabbage fried in a pan with butter and garlic
Braised beans cooked with tomatoes
Crème brûlée made with honeycomb
Coffee and petits fours
We were allocated seats, which was great as it meant chatting with another group of bloggers and I was lucky enough to be sat with a great bunch: Nova (‘Cherished by Me’), Hayley (‘Sparkles and Stretchmarks’), Elinor (‘Beach Hut Cook’) and Erica (‘Nine to Three Thirty’).
Hayley & I
Disclosure: I was invited to the event in return for my honest opinion and I loved every minute! All photos are my own, unless otherwise stated.