Recipe: Bill Sewell: Relax, its Christmas

PUBLISHED: 15:09 07 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:38 20 February 2013

Café@ All Saints

Café@ All Saints

Bill Sewell of Café@All Saints shares his secret formula for taking the stress out of Christmas cooking. Photographs by Tom Foxall.

If the recession ever got so bad that (heaven forbid!) we had to open Caf@All Saints on Christmas Day this is what we would serve: a vast shoulder of Tudge's pork cooked for 24 hours and served with a cider gravy. Why is it a much better idea than turkey? The stressful thing about turkey is worrying about how to keep the breast meat moist whilst making sure the legs are properly cooked. And all this with a bird whose virtue is its leanness and is therefore intolerant of over-cooking. This is basically an enterprise certain to end in stress and likely to end in failure.

So, take a beautiful generously marbled shoulder of rare-breed pork and you have the beginning of a stunning, simple and stress-free Christmas feast. Although it stays in the oven for 24 hours you only have to think about it for about half an hour (maximum) at either end of this time. And you have the extra pleasure of your house being filled with the gorgeous aroma of garlicky roasting pork for a whole day. The real secret is that it doesn't matter if you cook it for 22 hours or 26 hours - you'll still have absolutely melting meat and a superb gravy. And if you don't get the crackling quite sorted (you may spot that I completely failed on the day of the photo shoot) don't panic - you still have a magnificent feast.

But before you get too excited about cooking this, make sure your oven is big enough - or choose a slightly smaller shoulder of pork. (See the recipe below for the dimensions). If you have fewer people to feed you can cook a smaller joint following exactly the same timing (i.e. 24 hours) but you probably don't want to go below about 4 kilos. If it's smaller it's even more crucial that there's enough fat to keep it lubricated.

Most families include some members who don't fancy roast meat so I've also included a recipe for a simple but tasty parsnip and Parmesan gateau which goes well with all the same trimmings - slow-cooked red cabbage and apple, butternut squash pure, roast potatoes, green beans.

There isn't space here for proper recipes for the all the trimmings, but briefly: Be sure to parboil your potatoes before roasting and use either beef, duck or goose fat for roasting (I don't think pork fat is good for this). Don't be afraid to make the red cabbage and apple fairly sweet - add some redcurrant jelly at the end of cooking. If you haven't got oven space to bake the squash you can microwave it, then peel, de-seed and mix with a good dab of butter and salt and pepper. And it's worth saving a few runner beans (sliced, blanched and frozen) from your autumn harvest to serve with your Christmas feast.

At the other end of the meal, you might think poached pears are a bit abstemious for Christmas Day. But I think they're perfect after a rich and substantial main course. They taste delicious with their mulled wine syrup and they look really festive in a big glass bowl surrounded by holly. And they don't tip you over from fullness to that classic Christmas Day feeling of needing to lie on your back with your tummy sticking in the air whilst you attempt to stay awake for the Queen's speech.

Slow roast (24 hours) aromatic shoulder of pork with cider gravy

You could feed 20 people comfortably on a joint this size - or 10 with masses of leftovers.

  • Very large shoulder of rare breed pork with the bones still in (ours weighed 15lb for these photos). Get your butcher to score the skin for you

  • large roasting tray - I used one 25 x 35cm and about 3 cm deep (the depth is useful when it comes to making the gravy)

about 6 fat cloves of garlic (or 10 little ones)

a handful of rosemary leaves and the same of fresh thyme


3 tbs flour

350ml cider

4 tbs olive oil

2 tbs white wine vinegar

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200C

  1. Peel the garlic and put it on a chopping board with the fresh herbs and a sprinkling of salt. Chop it all thoroughly together.

  1. Put a metal rack in the roasting tray and put the pork on it skin side up. Smear the garlic/herb mixture all over it, trying to work it under the skin as much as possible.

  1. Put the pork in the hot oven for half an hour, then take it out of the oven and turn the temperature down to 100C. Turn the joint over (it should still be standing on the rack in the roasting tray) and pour the olive oil and vinegar over the side which is now facing upwards. If you have a fan oven on which you can't switch the fan off you should cover the joint in foil at this point. Put the pork back in the oven.

  1. In the morning have a look at the pork just to marvel at how beautiful it is. At the same time (get someone to help you with this) pour off the fat and juice which will have accumulated in the roasting tray and then put the meat back in the oven. If you then cool the liquid you've poured off the fat will quickly solidify and you can skim it off, leaving you with the most delicious juice to use in the gravy.

  1. About 40 minutes before you want to eat turn the oven up to 220C. Take the meat out and turn it so that the skin side is uppermost again. Put back in the oven and watch it carefully so that you can take it out when the crackling is crisp and ready to eat. Then take it out, transfer the meat to a carving dish and leave in a warm place whilst you make the gravy in the roasting tray.

  1. Put the roasting tray on a medium heat on the hob, add the flour and stir it into the fat and juices. Slowly add the cider and the juices you drained off earlier (if you've put this juice in the fridge it will have turned to a most beautiful jelly by now, but it will melt as soon as you put it in the hot pan) stirring constantly and vigorously. You probably won't need any additional liquid, but have a boiled kettle at the ready in case you do. We made about 1.5 litres of gravy just with the cider and the meat juices. Keep cooking for a few minutes after you've added all the liquid and then carefully pour the gravy into a pre-warmed jug.

  1. The meat will fall apart: it doesn't really need carving - another reason why this is a low-stress dish to cook. Smile and enjoy it!

  1. The leftovers are a joy. With its high fat content and great flavour it re-heats superbly and is also delicious cold with Patak's lime pickle for Boxing Day sandwiches.

Parsnip and Parmesan gateau

serves 4

1 kg parsnips, peeled and roughly chopped

75g butter

100g crme frache or cream cheese

3 eggs

100g Parmesan, grated

You won't want this as well as pork - it's really rich. Surprisingly, it's also good cold.

1. Pre-heat the oven to 160C

2. In a pan with a lid, sweat the parsnips in the butter with a pinch of salt for about 30 minutes until very soft.

3. Liquidise them with the crme frache and eggs and then mix in the Parmesan.

4. Spread the mixture in a baking dish (about 24 x 18cm) and put in the oven for about 40 minutes until just set. Slice and serve.

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