Smoking at River Cottage

This half term has started on a very exciting note for us as yesterday we journeyed down to Devon to visit River Cottage. We were invited to go and learn all about curing and smoking meat and fish. Having visited River Cottage at Easter for the Spring Fair the idea of seeing the very famous cream house and fantastic surroundings again was very exciting.

We started with the tractor ride from the car park to the house, not a long journey but a fantastic way to take the breathtaking views that lead to the house. We went into the house and after a quick coffee and introduction were ready to commence the curing. We were introduced to Gill (who you might recognise if you regularly watch the program) and to Robin. Gill works at River Cottage as a chef and Robin started life there but now owns a specialist charcuterie business, The Rusty Pig in Ottery St Mary. What was fantastic about that day was that it all took place in the cottage itself and it was a real thrill to be cooking in the famous River Cottage kitchen (and using Hugh’s bathroom!).

The first thing we watched was how to break down a half a pig carcass, gruesome you may think but I am very much of the opinion that if you are going to eat meat you should know where it comes from, something that has done me well over the last few months with all that horse flying around. We then learnt a few recipes for different types of brining before having a go at making our own salami sausage. Using the sausage making machine was not as difficult as you might think – in fact, we are tempted to invest in one if we can find one British made.

We then broke for lunch and the River Cottage team went to working cooking up a storm for us. We were treated to a 3 course lunch consisting of:

Starter: Fresh duck egg on a bed of asparagus

Main: Roast pork (complete with the best crackling ever) and mash

Dessert: Polenta cake with cardamom ice cream

All the courses were very simple but because of the quality of the ingredients they were exceptional

After lunch we were showed two techniques for smoking meat and fish. First we used a hot smoker to cook mackerel over the gas cooker. The fish took only 10 minutes to cook and was so moist and tender that it was a million miles away from the 70’s style breakfast favourite we are all familiar with. We  were then shown the finer art of cold smoking – first using the famous River Cottage fireplace and then a home make cold smoker. Both methods filled the  kitchen with smoke, setting off the fire alarms, and after much frantic wafting we tasted a selection of already cured and smoked goodies.

All in all we had a fantastic day and left River Cottage with some new found knowledge and some of the salami’s we had made. Those sausages are now hanging in our kitchen at home ready to be eaten in 3 months time.

Tonight, for dinner, we already began putting our new found skills to the test. We cured some pork stakes using a simple salt and sugar solution for 30 minutes then left them to dry in the fridge for 30 minutes. We then hot smoked the meat for 10 minutes before finishing it off in a Netherton frying pan with a generous knob of butter and a little honey. We served this with a fresh pasta with a mushroom and wild garlic sauce.

We would like to thank the River Cottage team for inviting us to take part in this fantastic day and giving us the confidence to try a new skill at home.

– Emily



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