Come on jamón

I’ve often been charged by culinary purists (in various guises) with breaking unspoken rules. When I eat a Danish lunch with my dear old aunties, for instance, one of them gets rather upset if I put the shrimp on rye bread instead of white, or eat the herring after rather than before the fried, crumbed plaice (incidentally the best version of fried fish in existence, and naturally eaten with remoulade – only the real Danish one, of course, forget the German stuff).

Last year everyone thought I was weird because I started my Christmas pudding after New Year, and served it with mature cheese at a party in June. But they all loved it.

Yesterday I got the same treatment from a friend when I told him I had made a gammon for New Year. Something about it being “Christmas food”. Who cares? And besides, if Christmas comes once a year, how are we supposed to get it all in? So, this was the dinner, and had friend been there, he would have agreed that it rocked, in all its incoherent glory:

Snacks. Lightly salted nacho chips with a very good home-made (by the husband!) salsa, and devils on horseback, another little number I have been wanting to try for years. On Heston Blumenthal’s advice, I soaked the prunes in brandy for a couple of hours, then filled their little pockets with blue cheese (though Heston tells us that the classic version uses mango chutney; that just sounded too weird), and wrapped them in streaky bacon. Cook till nice and crispy (turning a few times) under the grill. When cool enough to not kill tastebuds, these are a mouthful of loveliness, and better than the angels (smoked mussels in bacon) I also tried recently for the first time.

Then a few hands of poker, in which I won big.

Main nibbles. Given that I’ve recently acquired a bottle of Aalborg Aquavit, and some real Danish rye bread, I was intent on finding some decent herring. Out shopping, I made the mistake of snobbery and rejected the Pick’nPay brand in favour of the more expensive John West and something imported from Germany. They were both completely wrong; not “bad” in their way, but nothing to do with the kind of herring you want to enjoy with aquavit. Still, a few raw onion rings and capers smoothed the way.

Better than that were the home-baked bagels with a good smear of strong mustard, a couple of slivers of gammon and a slice of gherkin.

And so the red pig saw us through till midnight, where a fire on the balcony and a bottle of bubbly awaited to toast the new year in style. And it’ll be seeing us through many of the first days of January, I predict, since pigs are never small enough, and there’s still half a gammon in the fridge. I bet it’ll be righteous on a slice of rye bread. With horseradish. And aquavit.

(Aside: Ever wondered about Hitler’s gastrointestinal health? Read all about it here)