So you think pouring milk on your cereal is making your own breakfast?
Before me sits a bowl of what looks like enough ground pepper to put the city’s entire population of pepperpot-wielding Italian waiters out of business.
Only, it’s not. It’s dried pig’s blood and I’m about to be shown how to transform it into a Northern delicacy, by ’ecky thump. I’m with three other keen amateur chefs learning how to make the essentials of the great English breakfast from scratch at a Saturday cookery class run by city gastro pub the Milestone.
We have three hours in which to make sausages, bacon and baked black pudding, what you’d now call artisan foods but which our great-grandparents called cheap larder staples and probably learned to do at their parents’ knees.
“It’s easy,” assures chef James Wallis, who has taken a break from the kitchen to be our Delia for the morning.
The pig’s blood is for the black pudding. One enthusiastic chap on the course is disappointed that health and safety regulations means chefs rarely get the fresh stuff, but it’s a relief to me. I’d been dreading the prospect of sloshing, Hammer House of Horror stuff.
We’d already prepared our dry-cured bacon; I can’t tell you how easy that was. Oh, OK then: take one slab of pork belly, half a bag of salt flakes, some sugar and as many spices as you fancy and rub.
Why did we ever start buying that flaccid wet stuff from the supermarket? Though I might think differently when it comes to attempting to slice the pork belly after it has cured in my fridge for five days.
And again when it hits the frying pan. I got a bit carried away with the spices (fennel seeds, cayenne pepper, juniper berries and Moroccan blend ras el hanout, which looked appetisingly red). It’s not as if you can taste as you go along.
Similar story with the black pudding mix, which thickens as you stir in a pint of ale and a handful of oats. I’d added onion, chives, pepper, garlic and fennel, but was it too little or too much? There was no way I was dipping a teaspoon in.
But James, who had already shown us step by step, is ever on hand with advice on flavours. I think he liked my sausage, a banger of 80 per cent pork mince, the necessary 20 per cent fat plus dates, walnuts, chervil and a glass of port from the bar (I’m calling it the Portly Pig). We had to wrap each one French-style in caul, a thin, lace-like membrane which surrounds a pig’s stomach. Again, the technique was much easier than I’d expected.
The Milestone, winner of Best British in Gordon Ramsay’s Best Restaurant TV series in 2010, believes enthusiastic cooks want to learn professional cooking techniques and the old skills in danger of dying out. Its Cookery School is running 10 courses throughout 2012, teaching everything from knife skills to bread-making, fish and meat preparation and gourmet cuisine.
Half-day courses are £50 and full days are £95 with lunch. It’s good value; I also picked up numerous pro chef tips (like how to expertly cut an onion and sharpen kitchen knives properly). And I went home with enough porky produce to make several breakfasts.