When I was a child, rice pudding seemed a bit like magic. Not as good as the magic tricks our family friend Tom had up his sleeve, though: he could change the face on a playing card, pull a 50-pence piece from our ears – and, later, he cut his wife in half at their wedding reception and even joined The Magic Circle. But rice pudding was still a bit of mild magic.
I would often help to make it by scattering three tablespoons of pudding rice pearls and two of sugar in the dish, before pouring over a pint of full-fat, cream-capped milk. It was my first experience of a now-familiar kitchen thought: “Nothing good will come of this.”
Three tablespoons of rice imperceptible in the milk is clearly, blatantly, not enough rice… But then, somehow, it is. Three hours in the oven, six stirs and some mild magic later, the rice has swallowed the milk, and plumped into a fat pudding complete with crusty, scrapable edges and a leathery skin.
I’m glad to say that nothing has changed. The same stream of thoughts appear whenever I make rice pudding now, with the cooking parrots on my shoulder saying: “That is not enough rice/You must add more/Nothing good will come of this.” Then I remember that the proportions are from Jane Grigson, and therefore spot on, and that rice pudding is a little bit magic, especially if you add thick strips of lemon zest and two bay leaves along with the milk, and serve it warm with cold cream.
I had the same thought when I first read a recipe for pork cooked in milk, the note on how the milk curdles during cooking doing nothing to persuade me. However, it was a recent trip to Bologna – a resilient city that itself possesses a red, rich magic, and one of the homes of this way of cooking pork – that convinced me otherwise.
I’m sure there will be a scientific explanation as to why milk is such a wonderful medium in which to cook things, with its ability to assimilate and transform both itself and the other ingredients. In the case of pork, a milky braise not only seeps in and tenderises the flesh, but it also transforms the flavour and look of the pork into one closer to veal.
Having given so much to the meat, the milk, which is infused with the garlic, herbs and meat juices, curdles into a curious sauce that reminds me of both ricotta and a creamy gravy. Some recipes suggest sieving the sauce, but that seems like a faff, and misses the point: all that craggy goodness spooned over the thin slices of meat (or boiled new potatoes and/or spring greens).
The final bit of milk magic, which is, of course, much more about the science of resting, is that this pork dish is even better the next day. Simply reheat the pan gently, turning the joint regularly in the sauce. Much good will come of this.
Maiale al latte (pork cooked in milk)
“Brilliantly efficient” is how I would best describe this method. By the end of the cooking, the pork should be tender and sitting in a little toffee-coloured, curdled sauce.
Prep 15 min
Cook 2 hr
1kg boneless pork lion, with a good layer of fat.
Salt and pepper
1 sprig each fresh sage and rosemary
3 bay leaves
3 garlic cloves, peeled and squashed
1 litre whole milk
Dry the pork loin and rub with salt and pepper. In a deep frying pan or casserole dish that is just a little larger than the joint, melt the butter and a little olive oil, then brown the joint on all sides until it is a rich golden colour.
Add the herbs, garlic and another pinch of salt, then pour over the milk. Heat the milk until almost boiling, then reduce to a gentle simmer. Half-cover the pan and leave to simmer for two hours, turning the meat every 20 minutes.
By the end of cooking, there should be a thick, bronze-coloured milk curd sauce. If there seems to be too much liquid, lift the joint out of the pan, continue to cook until the liquid has reduced, then return the joint to the pan.
Serve in slices, making sure everyone gets some of the herbs and curds.