Pork & Sons

porkLast year as we passed through the Ardéche region of central France we must have been just a few kilometres away from the hilltop town of Saint Agréve, home town of chef-author Stéphane Reynaud where, despite his city commitments, he still spends as much time as he can.

Instead of stopping, we travelled south and enjoyed a lovely meal at a B&B where we were served 'caillettes', a tasty homemade Ardéchoise sausage. So of course when I opened Chef Reynaud's hefty pork cookbook the other day I immediately looked for them. And there they were on page 180.

While the recipes are as seriously 'top-chef' as you would hope for (Reynaud's acclaimed restaurant Villa9Trois is in the Parisian suburb of Montreuil) there is a touch of whimsy too. Cute piggy sketches top each page and introduce the chapters. They scamper across the back cover and along the base of each page.

Yet interestingly the pink gingham cover has nothing to do with little girls' bedroom fabric. It was specifically chosen because  this is the paper in which French butchers wrap their meat. Chef Reynaud grew up knowing this as he a third-generation pig farmer, making him ideally suited to prepare this book, a groundbreaking porcine masterpiece. It contains everything you need to know about selecting, preparing and cooking pork.

This is appropriate for Australia as although pork accounts for more than 40 percent of the meat consumed worldwide, Australia has been slower to embrace it. Countries with a peasant cultures knew the pig�s value. It was the ideal domestic animal to keep. Often congenial, compact, part garbage bins (they eat almost anything) and, with a multitude of uses for almost every part, one pig if dealt with carefully can feed a family for a year.

So what you have here is a delightful mix of memoir and recipe scrapbook, sparked by those drawings and superb photography. Pork & Sons was announced as the winner of the 2005 French Gourmand Cookbook Award and now it has been carefully translated (one translator for the text, another for the recipes) and is sure to be just as rapturously received in English-speaking countries

I was lucky enough to attend a media launch at Tabou restaurant in Sydney's Surry Hills recently. It was the ideal location. Inside, upstairs we could have been in Paris, and felt even more so when the food arrived - all recipes from the book and prepared by Chef Jacob Brown.

The meal began with a tiny pot of pork broth floating a topping of sesame seeds and accompanied by Normandy apple cider. The apparent simplicity of the dish was a ruse. Deeper down minute cubes of perfectly cooked pork filet mignon and vegetables made this the perfect preface.

Next, a black pudding, apple and fennel tart paired with an Alsatian Gewurtztraminer was followed by the amazingly named casserole of rack of pork in hay. That's not a typo. And no, it was not slow-cooked in a haybox as I'd originally thought. It turned out that the delicious moist meat had been baked, nestled in a bed of fresh hay which imparted a delicate nuance to the dish. A note in the book suggests that cooks choose hay from  'a farm you knew in a place you loved'.

It's that sort of book, you see. Gentle, humorous, expertly crafted, the dishes as much at home in chic Paris as in the rustic environment of the Ardéche. As indeed is Chef Stéphane Reynaud, himself.

Pork & Sons, St�phane Reynaud, Phaidon Press, www.phaidon.com April 2007, rrp $59.95.

See also Australian Pork, www.apl.au.com

 

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