Recipes are like wormholes, sucking you to another space and time. I write this at ten o’clock at night, the smell of aromatic pork filling the house, because two days ago Bert’s dad asked me what my signature dish was.
’24-hour pork!’ I said, as if it was obvious, then we both realised that even though I’ve known him for ten years I’ve never cooked it for him.
When I used to cook this I was in my early thirties, living in a small house in East London, working in a job I sort of enjoyed, sort of disliked, and leading a – relatively to now – life of modest affluence and freedom. I owned a house, on my own, in London, with leftover cash to put new floors in and buy new dresses! Every year I’d throw a house party and cook this. If friends came over I’d cook this. Life was good, but it was marbled through with seams of anxiety. I was managing a design company. (I so, so wanted to be a writer, but it seemed absurdly arrogant to say so, even to myself, on my own, in the dark, in a bedroom in Hackney with a new floor.) I was single; I’d have children at some point. (I so, so much wanted to be a mother that it was written all the way through me in sugar capitals.) The route from one place and time to another seemed impossible, unpassable; invisible, even.
Fold the pages of time together and here I am, poorer, less free, but there are deep veins of contentment running through my days that I had no idea of then.
There’s pork in the oven for tomorrow. And Bert will hate it.
Probably serves 10-12, we’ll be eating leftovers for days and days
1 whole shoulder of pork (less and it may dry out)
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1/2 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
5 garlic cloves, crushed
‘Thumb-sized’ (of course!) piece of fresh ginger, grated
1 tablespoon Chinese five-spice
Get the oven as hot as it will go (230/ gas mark 8 or 9). Mix all the ingredients, except the pork, together in a small bowl. Spread half of the spice mix on top of the pork and place the meat on a rack on top of a roasting tin. Put in the hot oven for half an hour then take it out, turn it over to skin side down and smear on the rest of the spice mix. Pour in a small glass of water, turn the oven down as low as it will go (gas mark 1/4) and cook for 16 – 24 hours (my kind of margin of error). Then take out of the oven, whack the heat back up, turn it back to skin side up and blast at 230/ gas 8 or 9 for half an hour, checking to make sure it doesn’t burn.
Serve with mash and greens.