Sunday, May 29, 2011

Pork barrels of memories



On Sunday night, for a dinner with friends, I made perhaps the best pork dish I've ever made in my life. Of course, the top quality of the ingredients had a lot to do with. In Tokyo over the weekend, I spotted a pack of special Iberico pork for sale, straight from Spain, so I bought the whole lot up and brought it back to Manila in a special chilled container.

COOKING PORK IN PARIS

There are only two times when I've cooked pork that I've been truly happy with the outcome. One was last Sunday and the other was during a trip to France about two years ago, when I'd made dinner for 18 friends in Paris. By some stroke of luck, I had access to a drop-dead gorgeous five-bedroom apartment in the heart of Paris for two weeks, right behind the Hotel Bristol and a block away from the French president's official residence. It was really a beautiful flat with huge bay windows that opened up to a private garden; and even now, every time I think of it, my heart skips a beat.

Anyway, a beautiful apartment in Paris filled with antiques and oozing with style is meant to be shared with friends. So I invited some friends from Manila and England to stay, so I had four house guests on that evening. I also had other friends from all over the world who were staying at nearby hotels plus a couple of Parisian friends, making the total for dinner at 18.

DINNER FOR 18 --
AND I THINK I'VE BURNED IT

Cooking dinner for 18 people in a foreign country may sound daunting, but it actually wasn't. I needed little encouragement to slave over the ovens in Paris because the produce is so good and it was such fun to shop in the weekend markets and the supermarche with my friend Fides, who'd traveled from Manila to holiday with us in Paris for the second time in four months. Plus, we had a whole team of housekeepers who came every morning to ensure that the flat was spic and span the next day, no matter what mess we left it in the previous day or night.

So party away, we most certainly did. I organized long boozy Sunday lunches, buffet breakfasts and this dinner for 18. One day, the guys who were in Paris decided to have a meeting in the apartment dining room to talk about the world of international finance. Meanwhile, we girls
had decided to go across town for some bric-a-brac shopping. But before I left the apartment, I even set up an all-day dining buffet complete with wine, fresh orange juice and coffee on the large roundtable in the apartment's central hallway so that the guys could help themselves whenever they were hungry. I had a friend then who'd flown over from Palo Alto to join us for a few days, and he was part of the guys' meeting. When he saw the elaborate set-up prepared just for them, he said: "Wow, this is even better than the Four Seasons."

Of course I could do everything so nicely because the apartment was so well-stocked with cutlery and dining accessories, and I could let my imagination and creativity run wild with entertaining, knowing I didn't have to clean up afterwards.

FRUITFUL INSPIRATION

Well, the morning of the Paris dinner party, I was sitting alone in the breakfast room having a croissant and thinking about the dinner menu. I can't remember where everyone else was at that time, but I think Jojo was out for a run, Fides was getting ready for a day of sightseeing, and my fund manager friend Chris, from Surrey, who was staying two nights, thought he'd be a good houseguest and please us girls by going out and looking for a bakery to buy freshly baked croissants. The one I was eating was from the day before but it was certainly still very good.

I remember looking at the big platter of fruits so nicely arranged for breakfast, that no one was eating because we were so enamored with croissants for breakfast and also trying to eat sparingly in the mornings to make way for the mammoth Michelin-star lunches and dinners we were having everyday. What a waste of perfectly good fruit, I thought to myself. That was when the idea hit me to use these fruits to accompany a very nice pork roast I had bought which I'd intended to stick in the oven for that evening.

PORK WITH LEFTOVER FRUITS IN PARIS


So I quickly took out a Le Creuset baking casserole and placed the pork roast in after seasoning it with all sorts of spices and rubbing it with garlic and olive oil. Then I mashed all the fruit up -- we had oranges, apples, peaches and grapes -- and covered the roast in it, for roasting later in the day.

I'd never done anything like it and I had never even seen a recipe for pork with fruit. But I figured that pork and fruit just had to go well together -- pork is often eaten with apple sauce, after all. When I finally took the pork out of the oven that evening, my initial shocked impression was that I had burned dinner and there were 18 hungry friends in my dining room. It was all black and smoking when it came out. But after I had scraped off the blackened fruit, the result was incredible soft and tender pork roast with just the right hint of sweetness from the fruit.

PORK WITH THYME IN MANILA

Last night was another moment of inspiration -- although, frankly, with choice cuts of Iberico pork, you can hardly go wrong. Iberico pork is the most tender and juiciest piece of pork I have ever tasted, and even simply frying it with garlic like a pork chop will yield excellent results. But last night, I smothered it in thyme and other spices and placed it on a Le Creuset sauteeing pan which I'd bought at Bacchus Epicerie in Rockwell and which I stuck in the oven. For a finale, I got the pan out and then placed it on the stove top to fry the outside and crisp the fat.

Just another Sunday evening in a Travelife.


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