When I lived in Yorkshire I could go to the butcher and buy a piece of pork loin on the bone and have it dipped in brine, but having moved to Merseyside I can only get boned and rolled loin and they have not heard of brining it.
Am I wrong in thinking that soaking the meat in brine helps to crisp the rind and tenderise the meat? Is this just a Yorkshire custom?
–BB, via email
I love a question like this, that sends me down a rabbit hole of research. Friends in Sheffield and Rotherham, remember the butcher asking, “Would you like your pork dipped?” before plunging it into a big jar of brine. “It seasoned the meat and made for the best crackling,” one told me nostalgically.
The origin of the tradition may have been the pork butchers opened by German immigrants to the North during the 19th century. They were particularly successful in Sheffield, with 14 open by the end of the century, and Friedrich’s, well known for its dipped pork, was an institution well into the 20th century.
Ian Cannister, owner of Cannister Quality Butcher, still dips pork for his customers, and he explained the process to me. The brine is in fact a curing mixture, as you’d use to make gammon, so dipping the pork makes it partly “gammonised”, and Cannister adds soft brown sugar for extra flavour.
“It needs a good half-hour in the cure, and we do it overnight if we can. But if you want it straightaway, then we’ll put a bit of the brine in the bag, so it will go on improving on the way home. It makes for a pinker meat when it’s cooked, and the crackling is fantastic.”
I have a lot of recipes that require 70 per cent cocoa solid chocolate bars to be melted. Can I substitute chocolate bars for 70 per cent cocoa powder? How much sugar/ butter do I need to add?
–AR, via email
The answer is, it depends on the recipe, but for cakes (for example) you can use cocoa, although not 70 per cent of the weight of the chocolate.
Chocolate is made from cocoa mass (ground cacao beans, basically a mixture of dry cocoa solids and cocoa butter) with extra cocoa butter and sugar. That magic percentage listed on a chocolate bar – 50 per cent, 70 per cent, even 100 per cent, includes the cocoa butter (i.e. fat) as well as cocoa solids (effectively, cocoa).
The remainder is mostly sugar, with a bit of emulsifier and sometimes vanilla thrown in, plus milk for milk chocolate. So to replicate the chemistry of chocolate, use 20g (three tablespoons) cocoa, half a teaspoon of butter and one tablespoon of sugar, plus a dash of vanilla extract, for every 30g plain chocolate.
That said, this is a coarse approximation that I’d only recommend in a pinch – and we’ve all been in a few of those over the last few months. If you are relying on the chocolate for a silky texture – in a mousse, say, or a torte – then nothing else will do. Likewise, if you want the magic chocolate set, which is solid at room temperature but melts in your mouth, you’ll have to stick to the real thing.