Stornoway black pudding bon bons, Angus asparagus and Gloucester Old Spot pancetta

Last week, after a 5 year campaign, Stornoway Black Pudding at last received its deserved Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status, under the EU’s Protected Food Name (PFN) scheme. It is not often that these islands on the fringe of Europe have a gastronomic accolade bestowed on them. What better reason to indulge in my favourite blood pudding.  It might be mid-week, but what the heck…

In fact, this post is one in celebration of prime Scottish ingredients at different geographical scales; National: Angus asparagus; Regional: Stornoway Black Pudding; Local (very): my neighbour’s Gloucester Old Spot pig for our home made pancetta.

In the land of the deep fried Mars Bar

It is unfortunate indeed that Scotland is synonymous with bad food – not least deep fried everything – indeed it could be argued that this recipe, in part, reinforces the stereotype.

When I lived / worked abroad (in Portugal, Hungary) and on excursions across Europe and beyond, I came to appreciate how different our food culture is from that of a sizeable chunk of the planet – we had no daily food market culture and yet it is such an intrinsic part of life elsewhere.  It is something I have long admired and missed about living in Southern Europe.

It is worth reflecting on this because I think in the last decade, a lot has changed. We have become aware of the value of food provenance as well as eating locally and seasonally. Farmer’s markets bring new insights into good British artisan produce.  Perhaps the tide has turned, we just need to look a bit harder in the surf to find the gastronomic gems.

I think this is the essence of the problem we face as British consumers trying to seek out the clichéd ‘Best of British’, it can be hard to find, and you have got to work (comparatively) hard to get a hold of the best. This is exemplified by the efforts one must go to here to seek out the very best produce but be reassured, there is no doubt it is here.

In Uist, we export the finest seafood in the world to continental Europe, principally France and Spain.  I am lucky since if I want live langoustine, lobster or crab and hand-dived scallops, I know where to source them.  I know where and how to collect local shellfish and where to catch trout / seafish. I can forage for seaweed, samphire, nettles, herbs.  However, all this takes considerable local knowledge, effort and that thing that life always seems be short of – time.  Here in particular, food really has to matter to enable one to access the best. It does pain me that often visitors ask where they can get local seafood, fish and meat.  The answer in never straightforward.

And so to our fine produce…

National gem: Angus Asparagus

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If it was not for Fiona Bird (see my last post reviewing her book ‘The Forager’s Kitchen’), I would not have become aware of the suppliers of fine Scottish asparagus from Eassie farm, Glamis, Angus.  Fiona has roots in Angus and after a recent trip, kindly left me some of this fine product at a specified drop off point (again – this time the Cal Mac ferry office, Lochmaddy – thank you Fi and staff).

Eassie Farm asparagus is suberb quality and supplied to London’s Covent and Borough markets as well as fine dining restaurants across the UK such as The Kitchin, Edinburgh (one of my favourite restaurants, more on that later).  I can see why discerning customers would seek it out.  This is probably the best asparagus I have eaten. Of course, I have tried and failed spectacularly to grow it here.  However, I think after tonight’s asparagus excursion, I am determined to try again.

More about the Angus asparagus can be found here. Asparagus production is not Eassie farm’s only talent, they also produce sea kale, and I really hope to try some of that in future.

Regional delight: Stornoway Black Pudding

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This genuinely wonderful product joins the ranks of Champagne, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Stilton Cheese and another Scottish favourite, Arbroath Smokies. The PGI status now guarantees the provenance of this iconic Scottish product. This status can only be described as Stornoway Black Pudding if it is produced in the town or parish of Stornoway on Lewis.

It is intrinsically linked with the food heritage of these islands and black pudding has been made on crofts in the Outer Hebrides for hundreds of years.  PGI will hopefully eliminate the threat to the pudding posed by  imitation “Stornoway Style” black puddings, produced elsewhere that are invariably, in my experience, inferior products.

Stornoway Black pudding is produced by only 4 butchers in the Stornoway area. It is rich, moist, decadent, delicately seasoned and every bit as distinctive and unique as the delectable Spanish morcilla and French Boudin noir.

Local hero: Gloucester Old Spot pork 

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Except for the occasional tweet about the progress of our Gloucester Old Spot pig butchery, sausage and bacon making, this is the first time I have had the opportunity to include this wonderful produce in a recipe for a post.

We bought half of one of my neighbour’s Old Spot pigs a few weeks ago.  I could see the two Old Spots wandering around the croft from my office window until their demise and I am delighted to say I know they had a wonderful time, freely rooting around in their luxurious field and quarters until their time came.

It is widely understood that pigs are very intelligent and sensitive animals and no secret that there are welfare issues associated with pork and derivative products such as sausage (if indeed it is pork!) and bacon we can buy commercially in the UK.  I do not choose to consume this kind of pork.

To use the cliché, to buy free range, slow grown pork of a heritage breed is a totally different animal. I will focus more on the butchery, sausage and bacon making of the Old Spot in a future post. For this recipe, we wanted to include some of the dry cured bacon we made from the pork belly.  Some of this was kept in chunks and frozen to provide us with pancetta-style lardons for recipes such as this.

This green bacon is as far removed from average shop bought bacon as you could imagine. It is succulent and flavoursome without exuding water (commercial bacon is usually injected with water to speed up curing) and is not overly salty.

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Stornoway Black Pudding bon bons, Angus asparagus and Old Spot pancetta

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Originally, this recipe was set to feature hand-dived scallops since scallops are a tried and tested combination with asparagus.  Unfortunately, the weather has been a bit rough for the last week for the divers to get out.  I’m trying hard not to complain about the atrocious weather we are having, in fact, it doesn’t feel like spring has yet started and the vegetation and garden are testament to that fact.  However, this weekend, I saw the first few broods of greylag geese and the short-eared owls are hunting around the house, otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to tell whether it is November or May!  I have the utmost sympathy for visiting tourists – not least cyclists, I have been there and it is not pleasant.

The elements of this dish offer no great innovations in combination, but they work.  If it isn’t broken, don’t try and fix it – just use the best quality ingredients available, which is what I have tried to do.

The bon bons are simple to make and are deliciously soft and sumptuous and packed with flavour. They are simply shaped spheres of Stornoway Black Pudding coated in seasoned breadcrumbs with Parmesan cheese and parsley (parsley from the garden, home made breadcrumbs).

The asparagus was simply sauted.  This approach was inspired by Tom Kitchin and his “à la minute” style of cooking, where the sauce is prepared just before serving, very fresh and captures the essence of the asparagus. I had watched him demonstrate a similar recipe to students on the new BBC series ‘The Chef’s Protégé’ this week and it seemed like the most respectful way possible to treat this high quality asparagus.

Advice for asparagus: Because asparagus spears are tapered, unlike when contained in an asparagus steamer, when sauted, the tips cook at a faster rate than the more woody bases.  To compensate, remove the green outer layer from the bases of the spears at about 4 cm from the bottom.  That way your spears will sauté evenly and the tips will not be soggy and over cooked.

I used the best quality balsamic vinegar and Jerez sherry vinegar to finish the sauce. This provided the right balance of acidity to accompany the rich elements of the dish. Timing is all for this dish and each of the elements have to come together within a couple of minutes, so get everything prepared in advance to bring it together quickly.

Ingredients

For the Stornoway Black pudding bon bons:

1 Stornoway black pudding

200g white breadcrumbs

50g Parmesan cheese, finely grated

plain flour

2 tbsp. parsley, finely chopped

salt and pepper

1 egg, beaten

Groundnut / sunflower oil for deep frying

For asparagus and sauce:

10 fresh asparagus spears, bases trimmed

2 more asparagus spears, shaved for raw garnish

250 ml chicken stock

1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp. Jerez sherry vinegar

a splash of rapeseed oil

salt and pepper, to taste

Pancetta:

150g pancetta, chopped into lardons

a splash of rapeseed oil

Method

  • Roll pieces of the black pudding about the size of a walnut, coat in plain flour, then egg, then the herby breadcrumb mix: breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, parsley, salt and pepper.
  • Trim and remove the outer layer from 10 of the asparagus spears.  Shave the last 2 spears using a potato peeler – these will be served raw on top as garnish.
  • Heat the oil ready to deep fry the black pudding bon bons.
  • Sauté the asparagus spears in a little rapeseed oil in a sauté pan over a fairly high heat, keep them moving.  When they have gained a bit of colour, and start to produce some liquid, but are still firm (1 – 2 minutes), add a ladle of chicken stock and quickly cover to sauté.  Keep a close eye on the asparagus, keep it moving and add a little stock at a time, as required.  Cooking will take no longer than 5 minutes. The asparagus should flex but be firm with some bite.
  • Deep-fry the black pudding bon bons until they are cooked through and the crumb coating is golden.  Be sure the oil is not too hot or they will burn on the outside and be raw in the middle.
  • At the same time (!) gently fry the pancetta in a frying pan, bringing together all 3 elements to be ready at the same time.
  • Remove the asparagus from the sauté pan, add the butter, allow it to start to bubble up through the asparagus liquid and chicken stock, whisking then add the Jerez sherry and balsamic vinegar.  Allow to cook for a minute or so to evaporate off some of the vinegar. Season to taste and serve, garnish with the raw asparagus and drizzle over the sauce.  Simple!

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48 thoughts on “Stornoway black pudding bon bons, Angus asparagus and Gloucester Old Spot pancetta

  1. Green bacon – how wonderful! Well, you’ve made me jealous. Heritage pork is available on rare occasion for us, but I’ve never seen fresh bacon like that for ordinary civilians. What my wife can get through her restaurant is another story, but that doesn’t seem quite fair if people reading our blog can’t access it too. Anyway, congrats on the terroir designation for the Stornaway Black Pudding. Looks like a great treat. Ken

    • Thanks, certainly this was a treat, especially mid week. I don’t feel too bad about presenting my green bacon, even if it is hard to access – a lot of work went into ‘making’ it! It took me some time to acquire the pork – problems at the local abattoir, hence the pigs were a bit bigger than anticipated. What a pity 🙂

  2. I enjoyed Arbroath Smokies in Arbroath on our visit to Scotland last year.
    I wish I could say I had Stornaway Black Pudding, but alas no. I love black pudding and did taste several varieties when we were in Scotland. Maybe next time I will get to taste the Stornaway variety.

    • Good luck with tracking down the Stornoway pudding – it really is the finest in my experience. I haven’t had Arbroath smokies for years, yet I love them – and we have friends near Arbroath, trouble is, last time I visited it was evening, so missed my chance to get the fresh catch. Maybe next time…

  3. Go Island cooking go.This is amazing and I have samphire excitement, do whisper more. I promise only to forage a little, for our supper pot.

  4. Wow, what a wonderful post! And the dish looks delicious. I adore black pudding, my local butcher makes a delicious one, but only during the cold, winter months; he stops making it after Easter. So I will have to day-dream about your beautiful bonbons until next fall.

  5. A very poetic post and a real homage to Stornoway Black Pudding, which I must say [if I have eaten the real thing] is just the best flavour, but I would say ‘fatty’ rather than ‘moist.’ Asparagus is wonderful just now and the only time I eat it, along with Jersey Royals, the best potato in the world.

    • Thanks Carolyn, must let you try some next time you are up. I had a non-Stornoway variety in Fife last week and it was very disappointing. Fatty, yes for sure, but the blood adds moisture too – that’s my excuse for the (occasional) indulgence 🙂 Couldn’t agree more about asparagus – British in season only, not worth eating the high food mile stuff at other times. Dish would be great with Jersey Royals too.

  6. That dish looks worthy of a Michelin starred restaurant Tracey; regional, and delicious. I agree about the lack of food markets, and the popularity of farmers’ markets. However, as someone who lived a walk from Borough Market, it is worth noting that they have be come the haunt of the well-heeled professional classes,and trendy young. ‘Ordinary’ market customers could never afford the prices. I recall one ‘organic baker’ charging £3 for a small loaf, and that was over three years ago! Even here in Norfolk, the occasional ‘Food Fair’ seems to be just an excuse to charge top dollar for average cheese, meats, and preserves. Shame really.
    Regards as ever, Pete. x (suth2 is right about Arbroath Smokies- delicious)

    • That’s very kind Pete, thanks, although I think the presentation has a way to go, judging by current Michelin presentation styles! Main thing for me is prime ingredients for flavour. I have to agree with you about some of the prices at farmer’s markets and I noticed Borough Market (the bits that were open when I visited) was a tad expensive. Artisan is a trendy word at the moment and comes at a price. Shame there aren’t more markets around the country like those traditional ones in market towns in Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire. I used to frequent these and they represent real value – often with the odd reasonably priced speciality stall thrown in. We can’t compete with the European market culture though, more’s the pity.

    • Thanks Heidi, for taking the time to comment too! I’m happy to eat my neighbour’s happy pig since it is at arms length, but am absolutely certain if we got some our garden would become a pet pig sanctuary 🙂

  7. I’m awed by the marbling in that piece of pork…just beautiful!
    Not a fan of black puddings, even though I’ve tried them repeatedly in many, many places…but I can think of other uses for that sauce you’ve created 😀

    • Thank you, and well observed – marbling is not something you see on rapidly produced factory farmed supermarket meat and the taste is amazing. You are not alone in not being a black pudding lover – the concept divides, for sure, but you are right about the sauce, it could go in a myriad of dishes.

  8. Great ingredients and beautifully presented! Great dish – I just wish I could try it! I’ll keep an eye out for that black pudding – I can see from the simple ingredients it’s quality produce. Sadly, where I currently live, the neighbours only have rather plump dogs, but I’ve recently found a great supplier of free range organic pork that doesn’t cost the earth. I have a post pending about that actually…

    • Thanks Phil, still struggle to photograph it though. I refuse to let my food go cold, that’s the compromise! Plump dogs, well, I love dogs, but they are not that helpful for your cooking, not in our culture at least 🙂 Glad you have sourced some good local pork of provenance, look forward to your post!

  9. I think I may just die and go to foodie heaven for this dish! And what truly wonderful local ingredients you’ve used and written about. I’m a huge black pudding fan and what a pretty way to serve it in bon bon form!. Gorgeous post.

    • Thank you so much, I must admit that the quality of the ingredients meant I had so little to do to make them sing – and like you I have a complete soft spot for black pudding – and the bon bon makes a nice change from a slice 🙂

  10. Good markets selling locally produced food aren’t that common in England either really. But then southern Europe does have the edge on us climate-wise when it comes to growing an array of tasty vegetables… One thing that is great about the UK though, are the road side stands where growers sell off their excess produce.

    • Thanks Sarah, I agree – though at least some market towns can deliver the goods. Roadside sales are great – I lived in Dorset for a while and I used to take full advantage – you were never quite sure what would be on offer around the next corner, very exciting!

  11. This is the definition of decadent. I don’t know if it’s the fresh asparagus, the black pudding or the pancetta that seals the deal. You really know how to eat!

  12. Great news, I’m a big fan of black pudding. It’s good to hear that more of our food specialities are receiving the credit they deserve. Blogs such as yours make a great contribution to promoting our food heritage. Great post.

    • Thank you Rachel, much appreciated. This kind of cooking experience (local, quality, seasonal) is what I enjoy most and I feel very lucky to have been able to source such great products – Scotland doesn’t have the best reputation for fine cooking, but it can change because the produce is certainly here – if only we could encourage more people to realise that less is more and you get what you pay for with quality ingredients, but I know that’s a hard sell in times of austerity.

  13. This looks absolutely delicious, you have really done justice to fabulous well-sourced ingredients. We made pancetta from our pigs too and still have lots of chunks in the freezer – they’ve been brilliant for adding little nuggets of flavour to so many dishes.

    • Thank you Andrea, I must admit it was delicious, but the work was done more by the fine ingredients than me. How great that you have your own pigs! I’m really enjoying cooking with pork as I have hardly eaten it since I became a carnivore again, largely due to the way it is produced at scale – a real turn off and tastes nothing like this Old Spot, as you too will appreciate 🙂

  14. That’s some meal you prepared, taking full advantage of some fantastic ingredients. I wouldn’t even know where to begin the search for a piece of pork like the one you used here. THis post sure has given me reason to look for some, though. 🙂

  15. As usual, I’ve learned something while really enjoying the read of the latest of your posts. To us south of the border, black pudding is synonymous with Bury, even if it is over the hill on the red rose side. I can vouch for the quality and taste from a couple of makers there. However, it seems to be a little different to that from Stornaway. It has little cubes of fat incorporated – more or less, large or smaller, according to recipe – rather than the oatmeal in your local version. I can imagine that is very good too, especially as oatmeal is one of my favourite foods (breakfast six days a week for at least 40 years!). I remember the days when you would find bowls of it, cut into small cubes, on the bar of any self-respecting pub, along with similarly cubed cheese. It wasn’t cooked (other than in the preparation of course).
    The Scots have a reputation for being ‘tight’ but a Lancastrian (or tyke) would baulk at paying the Scottish prices – about 50% or more up on the Bury version from my internet research, though the most promoted is about a third more expensive than one of the others; I suspect ‘marketing’. The one which appeals to me most is Morrisons at Ness – you might gather why if you have a look at http://www.cross-stores.co.uk, but I don’t think they sell on-line as the more expensive one does.

    • Thanks, I’m sure there are some great Bury puds, just not tried them, but most Scots versions inferior to Stornoway. Cubes of fat are an interesting concept – haven’t seen that either. Thanks for the link, will take a look! Scots, yes, we invented copper wire fighting over a penny 😉

  16. Oh, I just want to jump in and eat this!! Such a medley of local delights.

    When we moved to the UK, I feared a bad food experience – only to learn that the stereotype is very much a thing of the past. We were particularly lucky, living in the country on a working farm and so very near all the great local goodies – livestock and produce.

    I got the sense that rural life in the UK has naturally been drawn to local products out of necessity and for a long time. So, now they happily find themselves “old hats” in the new food trend of eating local.

    • Thank you! Sad to admit, there is still a lot of British food that fits the bad stereotype, but things are a lot more positive today, as you say and glad your experience was so positive. I think it’s so true what you say about local food and old hats – certainly the case for the Stornoway black pudding, how great it is that a wider market can now benefit from eating such delights 🙂

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