Norfolk Table: Strattons Hotel, Swaffham
PUBLISHED: 16:57 13 February 2017 | UPDATED: 16:57 13 February 2017
In the first of our series from the lavish new book, Norfolk Table: One County, Twenty Chefs, which celebrates the fabulous food in the county, we visit Strattons Hotel in Swaffham
Fields full of pigs ambling around are not that rare a sight in Norfolk.
However if you’re passing through the heart of the county you could be forgiven for doing a double-take at the sight of a herd of porkers rootling happily around their patch which are, rather than the usual pink, deep black. These splendid animals are under the care of Rob Simonds of Scotts Field Pork, who breeds and nurtures them carefully to provide local restaurateurs and retailers with high-quality, slow-grown pork.
Rob’s Brookville farm is home to around a third of the registered Large Black sows left in the UK (they are apparently rarer than Siberian tigers) and these girls are in no hurry; they are pregnant for three months, three weeks and three days, their piglets are weaned after six weeks and are then fed a bespoke cereal feed. They were not always rare; they were once the most common pig seen in the country but their slow rate of growth meant that they fell out of favour in the post-war years when farmers needed more rapidly-growing animals to feed a hungry populace.
Rob is understandably proud of his herd and the way he runs his farm. “With the brand, butchers and consumers know the food is safe, that it’s been reared with care and that the animals have had a happy life. I take the pigs to slaughter - it’s just me and a part-time helper on the farm - and the meat is butchered at Impson’s in Swaffham. It’s totally traceable.”
It is this approach that brought Rob to the attention of Vanessa and Les Scott, owners of Strattons Hotel in nearby Swaffham, when they were looking for meat suppliers. “I love buying from local producers and farmers like Rob who care how their animals live, “ said Ness. “It’s important to support dying breeds; that’s why we buy from our local butcher.”
She and head chef Jules Hetherton treat the pork the same way that Rob reared it - slowly. It is usually featured on the menu as pork belly, cooked for a dozen hours in low heat, with the skin crisped up and served with hasselback potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower cheese, roasted carrots and apple sauce.
Their popular ham hock terrine makes use of trotters, which fell out of favour years ago, while other cuts go into sausages. Ness and Jules often take the slow road with beef and lamb dishes, brisket and shoulder especially, which are always accompanied by a locally-sourced supporting cast of vegetables, fruits and herbs.
In addition to a stylish boutique hotel, Strattons is also home to cafe-delicatessen CoCoes, where visitors coo over temptations like white chocolate and meringue spheres topped with chantilly cream and filled with a light sponge and lemon syrup, or a hazelnut dacquoise; mini layers of meringue with almond and hazelnut buttercream filling. Maggie Cooper heads the kitchen at CoCoes and makes sure that vegan or diabetic customers, or those with allergies or coeliac disease are not forgotten.
As you might expect from a business with a strong local ethos, environmental concerns figure highly on the agenda. Former art school students Ness and Les are so successful at re-using and recycling that their energy bills are a startling 70% below the industry average.
“Turning off lights and heating when not needed, and saving water for plants or to wash the car, or keeping hens for eggs and meat, were second nature to us and it seemed natural to apply our domestic values to a commercial operation,” said Ness.
Norfolk Table; One County, Twenty Chefs, by Tessa Allingham and Glyn Williams, is priced at £19.95 and available from Jarrold of Norwich book department and fine food retailers as well as the 20 featured restaurants.
Honey-roast ham hock terrine with apricots and black pudding
This is a great staple to have in your fridge, it keeps for a long time being cured meat and is an excellent standby for a light lunch or dinner party starter, whatever the season. We like to serve this with the sweet crunch of a pecan nut and apple salad and a sharp mustard dressing but it also eats well with anything fruity such as pears, tangy pickles or relishes and bitter, peppery leaves. (Serves 6+)
3 or 4 ham hocks (smoked or green)
200g carrot, peeled and chopped
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 large bouquet garni with plenty of thyme
1 tbsp black peppercorns, crushed
1 bottle dry chardonnay e.g. white Burgundy
100g clear honey
150g black pudding (we use Fruit Pig Co.)
150g dried apricots
Preparing the hocks
Cover the ham hocks with cold water and leave to soak overnight to remove excess salt. The next day, discard the soaking liquid and refill the pan with fresh water. Bring the ham hocks slowly just up to a simmer in a very large lidded saucepan, cook very gently for 30 minutes, skimming the surface as much as possible, then add the carrots, onions, bouquet garni, cloves and peppercorns. Simmer for 2 hours, add the wine and continue to cook for another hour, until very soft (testing if the bones come away easily). Remove the hocks from the liquid and leave to cool. Sieve the stock and boil strongly in a saucepan to reduce by half. Leave to cool.
Roasting the ham
Pre-heat the oven to 200c. Place the hocks on a roasting tin and pour over the honey. Bake for 20-30 minutes, basting regularly after 15 minutes until the hocks have lightly-caramelised, then remove to a board. Pour some of the stock reduction into the tin and boil over a high heat, scraping to deglaze while simmering. Strain tin contents through a sieve back into the remaining stock.
Once cool, using your clean hands and forks, flake the meat, removing any fat and sinew as you go. Crumble the black pudding and cut the apricots into halves. Combine the meat with the apricots, pudding and seasoning to taste (easy on the salt) and use to fill a 1kg mould, lined with double clingfilm. Press down well and pour over the reduction to near the top. Chill in the fridge overnight until set, topping up every 15 minutes for the first hour with the reduction.
Miniature dacquoise sponges
We are well-known at Strattons for our rather grand afternoon tea and the home-baked cakes at CoCoes Café-Deli. These French fancies, usually sandwiched with a toasted hazelnut buttercream, are a favourite choice of our pâtissière, Jules. (Makes 12)
25g plain flour
125g ground almonds
125g icing sugar
4 egg whites
50g caster sugar
A few drops of vanilla extract
Chosen cream filling
Pre-heat the oven to 170c. Line two baking sheets with parchment and draw 24 x 5cm circles onto each, 1cm apart. Turn the parchment over. Mix together the dry ingredients.
Whisk the egg whites and caster sugar together in a food mixer until a meringue forms. Remove and fold in a third of the dry ingredients at a time and finish by mixing in the vanilla.
Pipe the mixture into spiral discs on top of each of the parchment circles. Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown. Remove to cool. Once cold, sandwich the underneaths of the discs together into pairs, with your chosen filling. Refrigerate for 20 minutes to firm up.