Medium Rare Breed

At Le J’Go, the Paris restaurant I described in my last post, the food was every bit as good as the service. The cuisine is from the south west of France and the terroir philosophy of the restaurant was evident in its scrupulous sourcing of regional suppliers (and staff, I suspect – many of them spoke with traces of the south west accent).

The menu is unfussy and honest: geographically and seasonally specific, it unapologetically offers vegetables which many French consider suitable only for animal fodder, including swedes, parsnips and jerusalem artichokes (these last apparently particularly disliked because the French were left to eat them during the war instead of the potatoes that the Germans had requisitioned).

For a starter I had Lou Pastiflet, which is not an ageing night-club singer but a hearty pâté made from Noir de Bigorre pork (a Gascon relation of the Spanish black Iberico pig), and which seems to be a ‘house special’. It came in a large glass jar under nearly an inch of soft lard, served with brown bread and a stoneware jar full of cornichons. Simple and delicious. The pâté had an earthy, gamey flavour and was agreeably variable in its chunkiness. I was open to suggestions for a wine to go with it, and was proposed a glass of AOC Minervois (carignan), which was absolutely spot-on: light, fragrant, fresh, and appetite-giving.

For the main course, I decided to order the spit-roast pork (again, porc noir de Bigorre), mainly out of curiosity: pork isn’t my favourite meat. The roast was served with softish chips (cooked in duck fat, and irresistible) and some buttery braised carrot and swede. The roast pork came in three thinnish slices and was a much darker coloured flesh than I expected. This may be due in part to the breed (perhaps this pig is noir on the inside too) but was mainly because it was served bloodier than most rare steaks come in the UK.

In Britain one is always given the impression that pork, like chicken, should be cooked right through – and that serving pork a little rosé is, if not dangerous, then at least recklessly epicurean and inviting returned plates to be ‘done a little more’. Perhaps this is for food hygiene considerations which have escaped the French (or which the French have escaped).

I don’t eat pork often and I’ve never seen it served with more than a hint of pink before. So I tried to hide my astonishment as they brought me the plate. In the case of this particular pig, right is on the side of the French. The meat had a rich flavour – almost beefy, I thought (although perhaps that’s because beef is the only other meat I’ve eaten that rare). It was a far remove from the usual pale English roast pork – and the rareness of the meat contributed to its tenderness (perhaps it would have been tough if cooked through?). When I thought hard about the flavour, I suppose I could have identified it as pork, but not with confidence, and only by a process of elimination.

What an eye-opener, or rather, palate-opener! I’m now interested to try some of the British rare breeds, and some of that wild boar the man at the market sells…

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~ by jobes on April 15, 2008.

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