Getting rid of unwanted things in the kitchen cupboard is becoming a bit of an obsession. I’ve had a bottle of Coke in there since it came with a takeaway pizza deal some time last year and I’m not a fan of the stuff. You can use it quite effectively to clean the toilet apparently, or you can drop a bit of a dead pig in it and boil it for a while.
I used to quite like Coke as a kid but it was a treat at the Happy Eater rather than something we had in the house all the time. Other than quite enjoying it with vodka every now and then I don’t care for it all that much now: I get the sensation that it’s actively corroding my teeth every second it’s in my mouth. Having failed to convince anyone to use it as a mixer when I had friends round the other Friday I decide enough is enough: it’s me or the Coke. And I can’t imagine the paperwork involved in moving out and handing over the tenancy to a 1.5-litre bottle of Coke. How would it sign its name?
Once I’ve gone round the Co-op to pick up what I need, including an orange-stickered pack of celery pieces meant for dipping, whose soda-submerged fate they couldn’t have been expecting, I give the gammon half an hour out of the fridge so it’ll cook evenly, then drop it in the big stock pot and cover it with Coke. It’s soon joined by an onion, a couple of carrots, the celery, some cinnamon and peppercorns.
I give it about an hour and a quarter on a simmer. Now there are some sums to do because I’m going to be roasting potatoes too. I’d usually do them at 200°c for about 50 minutes but the gammon needs to go in with them later at 170°c once it’s been glazed. This means I need to know how long to roast potatoes for at this temperature, so I Google it.
“You don’t roast potatoes at 170°c,” Google effectively says. “You are an idiot and all of your life choices are bad ones.”
“Yes, but I’m also roasting a gamm—”
“No,” Google interrupts. “This is why people so often abandon you. Give up on your dreams of roasting potatoes at 170°c and accept that yours will remain a life half-lived.”
I decide to give them an extra ten minutes.
The glaze is a sticky affair: maple syrup, mustard, red wine vinegar and Chinese five-spice, all jugged up. Poured out, it avalanches its way down the Cokey pork hunk, pooling at its foot. Adding the veg to this roasting tin would make everything taste like a dessert, so I tip them in with the potatoes instead to crisp up for the last half hour.
A gravy would swamp it, though I’m tempted to make one out of the syrupy glaze pool. Wouldn’t it just make it all taste like a sticky toffee pudding? Yes, this is a terrible idea. I cut off three big slices of Coke-gammon, plate everything up as it is and find a bit of horseradish to go with it.
And the thing about the roast potatoes is that Google was wrong: you can roast potatoes at 170°c and I have just successfully done so. Further, I have also given them a light dusting of flour along with the usual oil, thyme, salt and pepper, and the flour approach is one I’ve never taken before, choosing to walk a tightrope in an already-risk-laden environment. I have faced down the world’s greatest instrument of consensus and won. This is a lot like a John Grisham book in which a small-town lawyer wins a case against an unscrupulous corporate behemoth, and then shortly afterwards shoves big bits of pork into his face.