Thursday, 25 September 2008

Braised Pork with Chestnuts and Marquis de Perissac (5.75)

Soon it will be time for children to be collecting Conkers. I remember many a Conker fight at school, sadly I don’t think they are allowed to do that any more . . . something to do with being a Health Hazard . . . I know I am sounding nostalgic, but ah! Those were the days! I recall as a child being very put out that we couldn’t eat them (they are poisonous), especially as they looked so appetising with their shiny coats. Chestnuts on the other hand are a different matter. They are celebrated everywhere for their taste, particularly in France where they hold Chestnut Feasts to welcome in the harvest. If we were French, living deep within the Dordogne or Limousin, we would be dancing at this time of year.

Chestnuts were probably one of the first foods eaten by man and the Chestnut dates back to prehistoric times. The chestnut tree, Castanea sativa, was first introduced to Europe via Greece. Legend has it that the Greek army survived on their stores of chestnuts during their retreat from Asia Minor in 401-399 B.C. The Greeks braise them with lamb and honey and stew them with pork. In northern Italy (where the chestnut was called albero del pane, or "bread tree" as in addition to adding chestnuts to soups and braising them with wine, cooks grind the dried nuts into a flour for making breads, cakes, and polenta.

Because chestnuts contain a natural sweetness, they were very close to becoming an important source for producing sugar. During the late 18th century Antoine Parmentier, a French apothecary, discovered he could extract sugar from the chestnut. He then prepared an impressively large chestnut cake and sent it to the Academy in Lyon for consideration as a sugar source in place of regular sugar. Because Napoleon decided France ought to make its sugar from sugar beets, chestnut sugar never came to pass.

The French use chestnuts to best advantage as a purée, stirred into custards and made into chestnut soup. They also whip them into Mont Blanc, a Christmassy pudding topped with fluffy peaks of whipped cream, and select the plumpest fruits (called marrons) for marrons glacés, a holiday delicacy of chestnuts candied in a sugar syrup.

Chestnut timber is used in barrels to age wines and balsamic vinegars. It is also found in ancient buildings, such as the roof of Westminster Hall and the Parliament House of Edinburgh. They grow to be big trees - the famous Tortworth Chestnut, in Gloucestershire, was a landmark in the boundary records compiled in the reign of King John and is reputed to be over 1000 years old. It's circumference measured over 50 ft in 1720 and it is still alive today.

Braised Pork with Chestnuts

1 joint of Pork, about 6lb – not too fatty
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 onions, sliced
1 pound peeled chestnuts
3 turnips
6 cups water

Sprinkle the meat with the salt and pepper. Place in a large baking tray with 1/2 cup of water and roast until all the liquid has evaporated and the meat starts to brown. Add the onions, 5 cups of water, cover with foil and cook on medium heat for 1 hour. Add the chestnuts and cook covered for another hour.

Meanwhile, peel the turnips and cut them into chunks. Add them to the Roast with the Chestnuts plus the remaining water and cook another 45 minutes covered. Taste for seasonings. It probably will need salt and pepper. By this time there should not be much liquid left.

Remove the Roast to a serving platter and using a slotted spoon, scoop out the Chestnuts and Turnips and place around the meat. Pour the remaining liquid over the meat or in a sauce boat and serve immediately.

Pork needs a fairly light red to accompany it so you can really appreciate its subtle flavours and to bring out the best of the Chestnuts. I would recommend Marquis de Perissac (£5.75) which has soft tannins and gives a nice soft fruity release in the mouth with a hint of cherries and blackberries. It's a medium weighted wine and is great with duck, lamb and pork. It also captures and enhances the flavours of many vegetarian delicacies, which contain protein based items such as nuts, lentils and beans.

You can find Marquis de Perissac at

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