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Classical Cookery

Pork with Spicy Plum Sauce

By Tim Hazell

Roman satirist Juvenal gave several descriptions of his countrymen’s predilections in food and eating habits. Part of a movement that advocated wholesome alternatives to pretentious living and cuisine, he castigated the nouveaux riches for their elaborate banquets of lobsters and peacocks. Juvenal ridiculed the gourmet Apicius who paid fortunes for delicacies while writers like himself and commoners lived in attics and apartment blocks, unwilling to light a cooking fire for fear of burning the whole tenement down.

Romans delighted in food that teased the palate with a myriad of flavors. Their cookery had refreshing, aromatic characteristics—sharp and piquant, never muddled or heavy. Roman recipes link directly to the cooking of the Middle Ages. Ingredients such as saffron, cinnamon, ginger, olive oil, almonds, and wine were common to both. Many of the herbs used in medieval and later renaissance preparations were introduced into the rest of Europe by the Romans.

No Classical recipe was complete without garum. This condiment, made from fish such as anchovies or sprats dried in the sun and boiled in brine with oregano, replaced salt in Roman kitchens. Asian fish sauce made with anchovies and brine is an excellent substitute and can be purchased at Bonanza.

The sauce accompanying this roast pork in plum sauce has a sweet and spicy flavor, rather like chutney. Use fresh plums if available or simmer pitted prunes in a little red wine until tender. Romans were enamored with combinations of herbs and fruit, to be served with meats in the same way that we use jalapeño jelly or cranberry sauce.

Porcellum Parthicum

1 shoulder or loin of pork, about 1–1/2 kg. (4 lb.)

3 tbsp. olive oil, black pepper, and salt

For the Sauce:

10 plums or cooked prunes, pitted

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

3 tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. ground pepper

1 tsp. sage

1 tbsp. fresh marjoram or 2 tsp. dried

1 tbsp. Asian fish sauce

1 cup red wine

1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar



Sprinkle the pork all over with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a casserole and brown gently on all sides. Place in a preheated 400 F. oven and roast, allowing 25 minutes per pound until nicely brown and crisp on the outside. Lower temperature to 375 F. and cover loosely with aluminum foil if pork is browning too quickly. Prepare sauce on top of the stove. Heat oil in a saucepan, add onions, and fry gently until translucent. Add pepper, sage, marjoram, fish sauce, prunes or plums, and wine. Simmer gently for about 15 minutes. Transfer pork to a serving platter. Add a small amount of sauce to the casserole in which the pork was cooking. De-glaze brown bits and pour back into the saucepan. Blend one tablespoon cornflower with a little cold water. Mix well and pour into the sauce. Bring to the boil, stirring, until thickened. Add balsamic vinegar just before serving. Pass the sauce separately, or carve the meat and spoon the sauce over.


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