It’s a Sunday and I want to roast something. After a lifetime of supermarket shopping I have finally fronted up to the local butcher’s, overcoming my anxiety about going in one and saying the wrong thing. (“I’d like some … meat, please. Can I have some meat? No, I don’t know what sort of cut I’d like. Or how much of it. I didn’t know the animals had different body parts you could eat. Please tell me what to say so I can leave.”)
They are a very helpful bunch, I’ve found, but they are a Halal butcher and, it turns out, not all that big on pork. Today it’s pork I’m after so it’s back to the supermarkets again. Having characteristically not managed to get out early enough to buy the loin joint I want in either Tesco, Sainsbury’s or the Co-op, I end up with a leg instead from the M&S Food Hall that’s just opened up on the High Road as part of the new development there, Flats-Ed-Can’t-Afford Towers.
It’s going to be a variation on a Joliver pork chop recipe, in that I’m going to use the marinade he does for that, but smear this leg with it instead. If I have any left over I’ll smear it on something else, like a future pork chop yet to be hacked off a pig, or maybe just on a passing dog for a laugh.
This presents me with a problem. The chops are done with pesto on the side, but a roast needs gravy. The marinade is thyme, lemon zest and juice, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper, and it worries me that these flavours might be overcome by a gravy. I say “worries”: it’d be a blow but I’d probably get over it. I decide to break with tradition and pesto it. I want to give the marinade a couple of hours to find its way in and run around all the pork corridors, so I get out the mortar and pestle and start smashing stuff up.
You need to make a bit of a paste first out of the garlic, thyme, salt and pepper before the rest goes in. I’ve dumped everything in at once in the past and it’s like trying to build a shed underwater. Once it’s done and everything’s zesty and swimming around together, I smear it all over the pork leg. It is moments like these at which if clarity hits you fully, you might become a vegetarian, or even a serial killer if you had the free time: I am essentially massaging the severed leg of an animal. I stick it in the fridge and forget about the horrors for a couple of hours.
When it’s roasting time it goes in the oven and I start up on the roast potatoes. I’m not a man to add flour to them, and one attempt to do them in honey once left a roasting tray, as Ice Cube once put it, though admittedly in a very different context, “blacker than a trillion midnights”. There’s a lot of thyme left still and very little chance of me using it with anything else, plus some rosemary in the fridge, so once they’re parboiled I fluff them up with that and some oil and sea salt.
I watched a Joliver’s 30-Minute Meals thing on the Food Network the other day in which he was doing roast beef in half an hour. This was plainly mental (either do a proper roast or don’t do one at all) but it did involve glazed carrots, something I want to try. I failed earlier to pick up the correctly sized ones (somewhere between Baby and Bugs Bunny Cigar) so I’ve got the big kind, but a carrot’s a carrot. Glazing is just boiling with some sugar, salt, thyme and olive oil in the water, plus a couple of bay leaves, which are still hanging round the cupboard pretending to be useful, as if I’m their line manager and they quickly Alt+Tab their screen from Facebook to a spreadsheet whenever I put my head round the door.
Because the meat needs the first half hour on a high heat before being turned down, the roast potatoes end up a bit overdone, and are only rescued by my taking them out for 20 minutes or so before putting them back in to heat up while the meat rests.
The potatoes end up just on the right side of blackened to a crisp. There is probably a school of thought that says this is the best way to cook them, but I don’t subscribe to it. The earlier decision to go with pesto will mitigate against this, though, because the pine-nuttiness cancels out the charcoal taste.
Once the meat has rested, the crackling slides off easily and the lemon and thyme sharpness has found its way nicely into the pork’s nooks and crannies. The glazed carrots are pleasingly sweet and now firmly in my arsenal for further deployment later. Once I’ve eaten it I return to the roasting tin to use its stuck-on embers to make a gravy, which I’ll use when I eat the leftovers. It’d be a waste not to.