New for 2009 – 4Food pigs out

As the Big British Food Map drew to a close in late November, I started to think about what to do next.  Channel 4 was planning another January food season called The Great British Food Fight that followed on from the successes of last year’s one, the highlight for me being Hugh and Jamie’s shows about intensive chicken production.

In this new season there’s another collection of programmes looking at food and food related issues.  Gok Wan is fronting a documentary on childhood obesity, he readily admits he was rather a chubby boy, as well as suffering bullying at school. He’s also an excellent empathiser and good foil to tackle this important issue so that should be good.  Incidentally Gok added his favourite food places to the BBFM, including his family’s chip shop in Leicester, where I stopped in for a portion  – yum. There’s also Heston making his debut on Channel 4 with Big Chef Saves Little Chef.

But the key show in this new series for me is ‘Jamie Saves our Bacon’.  Jamie picks up where he and Hugh left off with chickens last year, namely looking at intensive rearing and why it’s not that good for either the pig, or your palate. The Guardian had a piece on the subject this week tooHowever, once you’ve given people the facts and stoked people up to make a change, you’ve got to actually follow through and offer help and advice. This is where I come in.

There’s more to pork than…

According to this 2007 PDF from British Sausage Week, sausage is the number one ‘in home meal’. What’s more only 15.4% are eaten for breakfast compared to 39.5% for dinner and 15.4% for tea (linguistical North/South divide there?). What’s more Saturday is the favourite day for eating sausage.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good banger, a well-made pork sausage is a thing of beauty.  I’ve hunted down a few interesting specimens in the past, the Manchester Sausage, Edwards of Conway, Art of meat to name but a few.  Good bacon too, is a joy, Emmett’s of Peasanhall in Suffolk’s special Christmas bacon cured with spices and ginger tasted amazing.  The pork pie is another subject dear to my heart, and I’m proud to say I was there when the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie achieved EU protected status. 

All these products, when made properly with good meat from well cared for pigs are fantastic, the trouble is two fold. Firstly, these products can often be made from poor quality meat and disguised with flavourings; Secondly, there’s so much more to pork than sausage!

However a fair few of us are still slightly confused about which bit of the pig is good for what purpose and where on the animal it comes from.  And so to address this, channel 4 are building a video based pig cuts application. Now Google pork cuts and you’ll get dozens of drawings with bits of the pig described by dotted lines like the States of America. The thing is they often bear no resemblance to the hunk of pork flesh in front of you; the bodies of pigs do not come apart on neatly perforated lines like stamps. So by having the cuts overlaid on a video of the animal we hope you’ll get a clearer understanding of its shape and exaclty where the cut comes from.


But that’s not all…

Knowing where the meat is from on any diagram is one thing, but you still need to see it for real to make proper sense. That’s why in early December, (with my cameras still hot from finishing the BBFM) I travelled up to North Yorkshire to meat Tim Wilson of the Ginger Pig. The first days filming had to be cancelled due to the terrible snow, in which I spun the hire car off the road and into a drift, luckily there was no damage and we managed to dig it out. The next day it’d melted and Tim’s farm and butchery room were just about accessible with a front wheel drive Ford Fiesta.


The village of Levisham could be described as a one-horse town, in fact I did see one horse, a Shetland pony (I think) sheltering next to the wall of the church. Anyway, all this countryside, isolation and space is great for pigs. Tim’s pigs are mainly Tamworth, (hence the name Ginger Pig) bred with some Large White or Yorkshire. They also have Old Spots, Berkshires, and others.  Now, The Tamworth is a fairly hardy breed, indeed, most pigs are pretty hardy. A pig insulates against the cold not with fur – though the Tamworth has large stiff bristles – but with fat (more on fat later).  And so for three hours I filmed Tim slowly and methodically taking apart the animal, trimming off cuts, sawing through bone, portioning, and describing cooking methods and uses.  And even I learnt things about the anatomy of a pig as well as uses, for instance the hock, which is often smoked, can be slow roasted. As Tim says “we’re all familiar with lamb shanks, well this is just a pig shank”. So there you have it, proper video guides to butchering a pig letting you see exactly which bit is from where and how to prepare it.

 Take 10 chefs

So you’ve taken the plunge and are thinking about trying something different, but would still like some recipe guidance. Well the second part of my idea is best described though the following analogy. You know how in medieval times traitors where executed and then their dismembered parts were sent to other cities around the land as a warning. Well I’m doing something similar (but nicer) with the Channel 4 pig.  It’s working title was ‘Hung, Drawn and Slaughtered’, but we dropped that as it’s a bit full on. But the concept is the same.  So Tim’s Tamworth pig, which has had a good life rummaging around on his farm, had been chopped into 10 prime cuts and this month I’m taking those cuts to chefs around the country to literally see what they can make of them.  Here’s the list:

The chefs, the restaurants, the cuts. 

Anthony Demetre       Arbutus                        Blade

Benjamin Tish            Salt Yard                      Tenderloin

Vivek Singh                 Cinnamon Kitchen    Chump

Chris Wicks                 Bells Diner                  Belly

Hywel Jones               Lucknam Park            Head

Sue Ellis                        Belle House                Leg/ham

Paul Askew                  Hope Street Hotel     Loin

David Colcombe         Opus                             Hand/Spring

Kenneth Poon            Orchid                          Spare Ribs/Belly

James Makenzie       Pipe and Glass           Hocks/Trotters

 I’ve tried to get a broad range of locations (only three in London), styles and cuisines to contribute. We’ve got tapas, Indian, Thai, modern European, British. Hopefully this will go some way to showing the versatility of pork and how it can work with a great many flavours and seasonings.

Meet the Meat

In the USA they have an ad campaign for pork called ‘the other white meat’.  The phrase ‘White meat’ in America has become synonymous with low fat, (red meat meanwhile means full fat and is tantamount to suicide for your colon it seems). US pork producers no doubt want a bit of that sector that normally always went for chicken (even though most intensively farmed chicken has large amounts of fat). 

The key thing that chefs and butchers and farmers have stressed to me time and time again is that, no matter what the animal, fat is flavour. As Perry the butcher at the Ginger Pig in Marylebone says, “cook with fat on, even if you don’t eat it”.  The word ‘marbling’ along with the concept behind it is now well understood by most foodies when talking about beef. Well the same goes with pork, Tim’s rib eye steaks have a lacework of fat running through them that melts when cooked. But the supermarkets tell the farmers that the consumer doesn’t want fat – wrong. Like everything a little of Jack Sprat’s wife’s attitude is a good thing. The key is the good flavourful fat; from my experience on well reared animals it’s rich, firm and almost ivory in colour rather than bright white, flaccid and watery as it can be on poorer quality animals.

I hope this has at least made you think about trying something different with some proper pork, the best thing you can do is go out and buy it from a good butcher or direct form the farm itself. Visiting places like Chris and Bev Brown farm in Kent is a whole (free) day out, you might even get to feed the pigs and I’m sure the kids would love it much more than being dragged round a supermarket.

My wish is to see is pork take its rightful place as a respected meat, not chicken substitute. Let’s start enjoying it, smoking it, brining it, rolling it, stuffing it, putting interesting flavours with it, maybe hanging it a little to bring on the flavour. In shortlet’s  give it some of the reverence that we normally afford to beef. Because I genuinely believe it can be that good.

The application, cuts videos and other related Great British Food Fight season content will be live on from around the 12th January.

Next: A potted history of pigs….



3 Responses to “New for 2009 – 4Food pigs out”

  1. 1 Chris January 8, 2009 at 10:48 am

    What a fantastic idea! Can’t wait to see what all those different chefs make of it.

    Who’s going to be the lucky people to try the end products? I volunteer myself 🙂

  2. 2 erik January 15, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    nice work mate, can you push trout (the other pink fish) after this please?

  3. 3 nick swanson January 29, 2009 at 5:36 am

    yay pork!!

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These are my personal views and not those of Channel 4 or the BBC
January 2009

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