I often travel to Sardinia where the meat (except for the suckling pig) usually isn’t very good. Somewhat to my surprise I discovered that this cut of meat was one of the best. I think the secret is the very slow cooking, as well as the acidity in the separated milk. It features in Elizabeth David’s Italian Food as Maiale al Latte (broadly like this, but I’ve made quite a few changes and without the orzo bed).
She recommends eating it cold, and indeed, it’s excellent the following day, carved thinly, drizzled with good finishing olive oil, and served with the remains of the orzo mixed with some salad leaves and a generous amount of dressing; and also with some apple-based chutney (I use my favourite apple and blackberry chutney).
My beloved declares that he HATES dates… but he pronounces this dish, with reluctance and surprise, ‘really rather good’.
Use a non-stick saucepan or you will be scrubbing at the kitchen sink all night. As soon as you have served the meat and juices out, pour a generous amount of washing up liquid into the saucepan and add very hot water. Leave to soak.
Be careful, when you serve this dish out, not to let anyone else get involved as they may not understand that the whole point is that the milk solids separate. Don’t be tempted to try to mix them back or you will get an unpleasant looking grey sort of scrambled eggs look about your juices. The point is to lift out the caramelised milk solids carefully – lay them on top of the meat – and them serve the mixed whey-meat juices separately over them. It’s a good idea to explain what you are doing to your guests.
For an intriguing garnish, try some ’52 Vincent motorbike fried sage leaves.
If you don’t serve it on the orzo bed, you might want (highly advised, and what Elizabeth David did) to add the garlic to the pork.
Recipe for Against All Odds Poached Pork In Milk on a bed of orzo and dates
for four (or two and then have, as described, for lunch the following day)
- a rolled, boned joint of pork (loin or shoulder) (1.8-2.25 kg, about 4.5 lbs)
- olive oil for frying
- sage (or oregano) – dried – 1 tbsp
- milk – ¾ litre/3 cups, or a bit more
- zest of one lemon
- Indonesian long pepper, ground in pestle*, 1 tbsp – or a bit more
- smoked Cornish sea salt, 1 tbsp – or a bit more
- 1 tsp rose harissa (the addition of the rose petals to the standard harissa paste makes it milder and a little sweeter)
- 200g/4 oz orzo/1 generous cup – NB – you want the grain, not the pasta** – use quinoa or couscous as an alternative
- 7 cloves of garlic, crushed with 1 tsp smoked sea salt
- 1 medium red onion, chopped
- 2 large beefsteak tomatoes, cored and chopped not too small (into eighths)
- ½ cup (80g/3 oz) dried dates, pitted and roughly chopped
- 2 chicken stock cubes
- ½ cup chopped parsley (reserving some for garnish)
- heat oven to 150°C
- heat oil in a saucepan just big enough for the joint
- pat salt, pepper and sage firmly all around the moist joint, and into any fissures in the flesh
- heat milk in a separate saucepan (or, to save washing up, simply add direct to the saucepan with the meat in it.)
- brown pork on all sides in oil
- add milk to cover about three-quarters of the pork and the lemon zest, bring to a simmer
- put in oven for about 3½ hours – after the first 15 mins check to see if it is simmering – if it is more like boiling turn down to 150°C
- about half an hour before you are due to eat, add the orzo to a generous saucepan of boiling water to which you have added the two stock cubes, and boil for about half an hour (check what it advises on the packet).
- meanwhile, in a large frying pan, over a medium heat, fry the onion and the garlic
- add the harissa, mix to cover the onion
- add the dates
- take out the joint, put on a wooden board and leave to rest five minutes
- drain the orzo and mix in to other ingredients in frying pan
- add tomatoes and parsley, mix and heat through
- put orzo mixture onto plates – if it looks a little dry pour over a little good olive oil finishing oil
- top with sliced pork
- skim off curdled milk solids and share out over meat (this is the best bit!), sprinkle over remaining parsley
- put remaining cooking liquid/gravy into a jug and serve at the table
*don’t forget to inhale as you grind… the sweet, pungent smell is heavenly
**’orzo’ is the Italian for barley – and it can mean small grains of pasta shaped like barley, or a real barley-type grain which is delicious – an ancient grain which helps control blood sugar and is better for those with sensitive digestions who have problems with wheat.