Ruhlman's BLT challenge becomes an BNT - Bacon, nettle and tomato

Friday, September 18, 2009
I first came accross Mr Ruhlman's BLT challenge from Ryan's blog (1 blog leads to another - isn't it great!). A BLT how easy - shouldn't take long. Call that a challenge? Oh yes, you just need to grow the tomatoes. And the lettuce. And make your own bread. And mayonnaise. And cure your own bacon. OK - that's more like it!
As luck would have it, I already had the lettuce growing in the garden, and had a couple of tomato plants from my mum, who had been given them by her friend. So I thought I would get it done nice and early. Then July happened, and August dissappeared into the ether. So I had missed it - till the entry date got extended. There still wasn't time to do it now, but they say if you want something done give it to a busy person.........

1. Bringing home the bacon

(Stole Sam's title there)
I found Home Farm from the Big Barn website 3 years ago, one day when I got a phonecall for a breakfast booking the next morning. There was no time to get to Carol Webb in Chipping Campden, so I consulted Big Barn and found the Meadows at Home Farm about 6 miles away. It's amazing what's on your doorstep and you don't even know.

The family has been farming there for over 50 years, and though they started doing just turkeys they now keep cows, pigs and sheep too, as well as egg laying hens. Now the 'children' have grown up they run the farm which leaves Micky to run the butchery and farmers markets and Anne to keep the shop and B&B. I get premium cuts from the butcher in Broadway - like fillet steaks, because when I get them direct from farms I run them out so they haven't got any for their other customers, but pretty much everything else comes from Home Farm - you really can't find better quality.

As I turned up once Micky was just curing a piece of loin for back bacon, and explained the difference between the dry curing they do and the brine curing. They learned both on the butchers course he did. With brine curing the bacon asborbs some of the brine so increases in volume and weight, hence the butcher or supermarket can charge more for it. Dry curing (with salt rubbed on direct) is far superior, but of course you lose a certain amount of weight. This is also why when you cook cheap bacon a watery goo comes out. When you cook the meadows' bacon it goes crispy because the water is taken out. I know which one I'd prefer. Their pigs are Berkshire/ Gloucester Old Spot cross - which is a great combination. Carol Webb breeds pure Berkshires and the meat is so gamey it's almost like wild boar and smallholders come from all aover the country for her weaners. The Meadows' cross breeds gives you the best of both worlds.

Seeking a cure
I picked the (half) pork belly up on the way back from delivering these canapés. As I was talking to Micky about what I was going to do with it (I was hoping to take a bit of his sel petre), he suggested using his vac pac machine to speed up the proccess - I was leaving it a bit to the last minute. As I also had a rather full fridge at that point, with so much happening that weekend, it seemed a great idea, as it would keep it contained. Only thing was, no camera. How would anyone believe I made it myself? So I rushed back to base, trimmed up the belly a bit while I was there, picked up the cure (salt & demerara sugar - couldn't find the juniper berries I'd wanted to use, and went back.

Fast forward 10 days to this morning, and it was time to open it up (below left) then dry it, and hang it by the fan for around an hour and half to dry it out (below middle) before sharpening the old knife and slicing it.

2. Lettuce

All through June, July and August the lettuce was going great guns. I'd planned on using rocket for this. Alas, as August went into September the lettuce was all going to seed and dying away, so I had to switch to plan B.

Every day I walk through the Abbey gardens on the way to work. It's a nice peaceful start to the day. Just behind their car park are a fair few nettle patches. The tips I picked a couple of weeks back still hadn't grown back - a sign that the nettle season too is coming to a close. Further round though I found these ones and got the rubber gloves out. If you're eating nettles you just need to cook them to remove the sting. I wash them, dry them (below) and saute them in a bit of olive oil.
3. Tomatoes

These are what we call Gardiners delight. Gardiner was my Grandpa's surname - hence the change of spelling. Down in Devon they had a microclimate - so all their tomatoes (they kept different varities which fruited at different times, so there was a constant supply) were Gardiner's delights, but only this one variety was Gardiner's Delight, and it's still my favourite.

Even they are on their way out now - not long till I'll be collecting the green tomatoes for chutney.....

I cut them in half, drizzled with olive oil, maldon salt and pepper. They weren't quite ready so I put them back in the oven, had to switch the heat up to get the coq au vin (due to be delivered that afternoon) cooked. Then the phone went, and I had to write an email, so they were a little more 'caramelised' than I had wanted......
4. Bread

5 Eggs! Yes 5 eggs! I was reminded a couple of weeks ago it had been so long since I'd made brioche. And this week I picked up a bread book in Cooking: The Books by Eric Truille & Ursula Ferrigno, and the brioche there looked like it had to be made. Great book by the way. I'm picky - it has to be something I'm realistically going to use. I will at some point post the recipe - but it's already 1am.....

It started off quite moist - which is no bad thing (nothing worse than heavy bread), so I kneaded it with the pastry scraper rather than by hand until it came together (middle). Then left it to rise for 1 1/2 hours before rolling out into a rectangle. I'm quite a mustard fan, so I spread it liberally with wholegrain mustard before laying on the bacon rashers.

I sprinkled the (cooled) sauteed nettles onto and spread the dried tomatoes in a line, then rolled it like a swiss roll into a long rope. This was the cut into 15. You almost cut through, but leave it attached then twist the bread round so it opens up. At this point the bacon was raw - I wanted it to cook in the bread so all the flavour and juice would go through it was it cooked.
I left it to rise for around 45 minutes before baking it for another 45. After about 20 minutes it was golden on the outside, but there was no way it was cooked inside, so I covered it with foil to stop it burning on top and replaced it in the oven.

5. Mayonnaise

Meanwhile, I whisked up a couple of egg yolks, mustard and vinegar to make an olive oil mayonnaise.
What a difference real mayonnaise makes!

The finished result - tear & share...... blink and it's gone!

I served the mayo in ramekins as a dip. It would have been nice to take some fancy photos at this point, but the reality was I had a delivery meal due out ASAP, the roast potatoes were just on the verge of being ready, the dauphinoise needed taking out of the oven, the sauce was boiling, the cream needed to be piped onto the dessert, the chocolate sauce needed to come off the heat and the phone was ringing. It all happens on Fridays!

Nice to eat - even better to share. So I shared it with some of my neighbouring businesses. I'd emailed the Basepoint manager earlier to say I'd bring it over just before 5 so people could pick some up on there way out (normal people finish at 5pm I hear), and I tweeted Vivid too. Assistant Basepoint manager Mel was being supervised by her son who was the first to tuck in......

Post note

The brioche was a great choice of bread - rich and flaky. Got to make more of it.

Maple cured bacon - now there's a thing to try next.

Related posts

Top nettle picking tips
Cooking with nettles
Cinnamon, raisin and candied orange bread crown
Other things we have made with nettles


Anonymous said...

Hi James, Your brioche was devine and Owen ate every last little bit which is brilliant.
Thanks very much

Anonymous said...

Hi James. The Brioche was a taste delight, anyone who trys it will be blown away. Many thanks.Mark - Connect Couriers

Ryan said...

Nice take on the BLT

Ryan said...

Nice take on the BLT

Karine said...

Wowow that is impressive! You did a great work!

Helen said...

Oh wow this looks amazing! You didn't mention this when we talked about curing bacon on twitter! I love the idea of sweet buttery brioche with bacon - and all those juices soaking through!!

James said...

Mel & Mark - Glad you like it!

Rhino - Thanks - You should try it too

Karine - Thanks. It's nice when things turn out.

Helen - Suprise! If you're going for decadence the brioche and bacon thing is the one. I was planning originally just to roll an all day breakfast into the middle of a loaf - like a picnic loaf, but I think it turned out better like this.

Sam said...

I'm really impressed! I love the brioche idea, if it tastes as good as it looks it must have been fantastic!

Isn't homemade bacon great? so much nicer than the supermarket stuff.

Cocina Savant said...

You truly have some BLT enthusiasm. Great job. Cool blog too by the way.