Monday, November 8, 2010


Being in England, the home of the curiously flavored potato chip/crisp, I of course ate my way through a few curiosities.  McCoy’s Oriental Ribs and Thai Sweet Chicken (that’s two different flavors) were pretty dreadful despite their “flavour ridges” and didn’t taste either of ribs or chicken.  But the Red Sky West Country Bacon and Cream Cheese (100% natural) which didn’t sound especially promising, turned out to be really very good.

Marmite flavor crisps were also sampled, but they were as nothing compared to Marmite oven baked cashew nuts.  The pack said they were “just for Marmite nutters,” which seemed needlessly apologetic, and isn’t “oven baked” a tautology?   What else can you bake in?

Frankly, it sounded like something you might eat for a bet.  It seemed likely that the Marmite would ruin the taste of the cashews, but you know what, it didn’t.  The Marmite flavor was, well you could hardly say subtle, but more restrained that you might imagine, and cleverly balanced so that it was somehow equal and opposite to the taste of the nuts, so that both flavors came through.  The end result was, of course, very savory and salty, and bad for you in several ways I’m sure, but who doesn’t love that?  I was surprised and pleased by Marmite oven baked cashew nuts: a triumph for the jaded British palate.

I wasn’t in England long, and had other things to do besides explore the wilder shores of British snackery (and let’s be honest, a little goes a long way) but since I was on a pork safari, it only made sense to sample some pork scratchings, or as the packaging has it, pork rinds, or perhaps even pork crackles. 

The manufacturers of Mr Porky obviously feel the need for euphemism: anything to avoid using that indelicate word “skin.” There are at least four versions of Mr Porky but we only tried two: “best ever” and “prime cut.”  The prime cut tasted better and porkier, and maybe that was because they had the extra big pieces, or maybe they just used extra salt. The best thing about them was the warning on the packet: “only recommended for people with strong healthy teeth.”

They were OK, but frankly no pre-packaged pork scratching can compare with the “pork scraps” of my childhood (I’ll try not to get too Proustian here), sold in the pork shops of Sheffield and bought hot and in bulk, and yes, perfectly likely to crack your teeth.  They were also cheap as chips.  My fellow Mr. Porky eaters and I did wonder why these modern versions were so damn expensive: about 70 pence for 35 grammes in the case of the “best ever.”  There are a great, great many pigs slaughtered in the world every day, with a considerable quantity of skin on each pig, so why is skin such an expensive commodity?  And given also that so much of the pork you buy in supermarkets these days comes with the skin taken off so it can be sold as “lower fat,” here ought to be an Everest of pig skin just lying idle waiting for the scratching enthusiast to himself.  But there isn’t.  So where does all that skin go?

One answer is into gelatine, which of late has been much on my mind, chiefly because while I was in London I met up with Bompas and Parr, England’s finest and possibly only “Jellymongers.”  More of that in the next post.

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