Pub Life: the Irresistible Appeal of Pork Scratchings

Pork scratchings on a pub table.

The garden of a Cornish pub on a sunny afternoon in May.

Two men, probably father and son, buy pints of lager and take a table. They sit waiting for someone, checking their messages, peering up and down the street.

After 15 minutes or so their friend arrives. Everyone shakes hands and express their delight at seeing each other. The newcomer dishes out gifts one at a time — cans of Mythos lager, ouzo, olive oil, and more. He is, of course, Greek.

His hosts offer him something in return: a pork scratching from the open packet on the table. He looks disgusted and prods with his finger, peering at the text on the packaging.

‘What is this? Oh, God, no! No!’

The locals shrug and keep picking at the pile of hairy curls in the cellophane wrapper. Eventually, perhaps absentmindedly, the Greek guest does the same. A look passes over his face. His hand dips back into the bag.

After a few minutes he goes to buy a round of drinks. When he returns, performing the traditional three-pint grip, there are two fresh packets of pork scratchings snared between his teeth.

Resistance is futile.

Guinness Pub Snack Ideas, 1961: Sild, Tongue and Fish Titbits

The Guinness Guide to Profitable Snacks (cover)

The other day we told you about Guinness’s drive to get more publicans serving food in the 1960s. Now, as promised, here’s some info on the recipes they were pushing.

The book, more-or-less A5 sized and in hard-covers, has a mix of black-and-white and colour photos, the latter with that particular gaudiness that makes food look faintly obscene in any book published before about, say, 1990. If you follow @70s_party on Twitter you’ll know what we mean although it must be said nothing in the Guinness book is as fundamentally horrifying as most of the excessively ‘creative’ recipes presented there.

It begins with a few double-page spreads like this one:

'Why snacks?' (spread with man drinking beer and bullet point list)

That’s interesting because it summarises where things were at in 1961: food definitely wasn’t the norm and people needed convincing, ideally with a bit of what we assume passed for female-friendly eye candy back then.

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What’s the History of Bar Snacks?

In our email newsletter (subscribe!) we asked if anyone had any questions they’d like us to look into with a view to a series of ‘notes and queries’ type posts of which this is the first.

Q: I wanted to ask about bar snacks and how they’ve developed over time — what have bars served along with beers over the decades? –Kyle, Bolivia

That’s a big question, Kyle, and the answer might fill a book, so we’ll limit ourselves to considering the kinds of nibbles that might have been eaten without cutlery, while standing at the bar. For obvious reasons, we’ve also focused mostly on the UK.

Hogarth's Pieman, adapted by George Cruikshank from a detail in the 1750 painting 'The March to Finchley'.

Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor records various examples of people who made their living selling snacks on the street and in public houses, so we know that, in the 1850s, pub-goers were eating pickled whelks (‘not to fill themselves, but for a relish’), boiled green peas, fried fish, pies and sheep trotters. In short, anything that could be sold in the street and didn’t require cutlery was probably being eaten in pubs.

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Snacks to Beer: Pizza

Pizza with floury burned crust.

We’ve been making our own pizzas for a few years but have never really been happy with the results. We’ve tried pizza stones; posh mozzarella; tomato sauces from both fresh toms and tinned, cooked and uncooked.

Now, at last, we’ve settled on a recipe and an approach, and it’s one that illustrates the Premium Sausage Problem: the trick was using simpler, cheaper ingredients. It makes what we call upmarket takeaway’ pizza — cheesy and salty, but with a crisp crust; think Pizza Express. By popular demand (one person asked), here’s the recipe.

Dough (for two pizzas)

  • 300g plain white flour — we use the cheapest available.
  • 1 teaspoon dried, fast-acting yeast. (Or 4-5 grams.)
  • Half a teaspoon of salt (or to taste).
  • Optional: a pinch of dried basil, oregano or mixed Italian herbs.
  • 180ml of warm water.
  1. Bung all the above in a food processor with a dough hook and knead in the machine for five or so minutes, or until it comes together into a nice, shiny looking ball of dough. If it looks too dry after two minutes, add water a drop at a time. (You can also make the dough by hand, which will be messier and take longer, if you prefer.)
  2. Put a slug of olive oil in a large bowl.
  3. Shape the dough into a neat ball and turn it in the oil then leave the dough in the bowl covered with clingfilm for a couple of hours.
  4. Knock it back when it doubles in size and then leave for another hour or so.

Toppings

  • Can/pack of passata (sieved, uncooked tomatoes).
  • Pack of grated, hard mozzarella. (Not sloppy mozzarella balls.)
  • Salt, dried basil, black pepper.
  • Topping 1: anchovies and black olives. (TIP: crush the olives in your hand to help dry them out.)
  • Topping 2: 10-12 slices from a chorizo ring (per pizza).
  • Optional: basil leaves.

Pizza bases, one plain and one with passata.

Putting it together

  1. Get the oven on as hot as it will go.
  2. Divide your dough in two and, on a floured surface, make a ball. Flatten it out with the heel of your hand or a heavily floured rolling pin until it’s a neat circle 20cm across. Flour a non-stick pizza tin (ours cost £4 each) and then press the dough out to the edges. It should end up pretty thin all over. Leave it for 10 minutes.
  3. Take a ladle and spread a very thin layer of passata over each base — thin enough that you can see the dough through it in places — something like four or five tablespoons’ worth. Add salt, pepper and dried basil to taste. Leave for another 1o minutes.
  4. Sprinkle cheese all over, just enough to cover.
  5. Add other toppings in a way which pleases your eye. (But not basil leaves just yet!)
  6. Once the oven is at maximum temperature, put both pizzas in. Our oven cooks them in bang on 11 minutes. In case your oven is better, set a timer for 9-10 and keep an eye on them.
  7. When they’re done (crust beginning to blacken, cheese melted and darkening), take them out.
  8. Add more black pepper and fresh basil leaves, if you’re using them.

Tweaks and customisation

  • Other toppings that work well are pepper and sweetcorn (further cost-cutting: frozen work well); and small beef meatballs with cayenne and black pepper.
  • If you find the pizza too crisp this way and like it ‘bendier’, turn the oven down to c.200 degrees C and cook for a few minutes longer.
  • If you really want to use mozzarella balls, try slicing them and leaving them to drain on a cloth for a while before adding them.

Beer? Oh, yeah, this is a beer blog, isn’t it? Alright then: we find that pizza goes particularly well with Saison Dupont but, actually, pizza works with pretty much any beer you fancy.

Schnitzels We Have Known

Half-eaten schnitzel in a German brewpub

EXT. RESTAURANT TERRACE, PASSAU. DAY

AUSTRIAN TOURIST
Waiter — the ‘Wiener’ Schnitzel on your menu — is that really veal? [Sneering] Or just pork?

WAITER
[highly affronted]
Veal, sir. If it was merely in the Viennese style, we would certainly have said so.

We usually eat so many schnitzels on our trips to Germany that, by the time we leave, the mere thought of a buttery fried breadcrumb makes us feel sick.

We ordered and regretted the Käse Schnitzel at Brauerei Fässla in Bamberg — the size of a frisbee and with a kilo of Cheddar melted on top.

We wondered at a restaurant called Schnitzel Time! (in Augsburg, we think) which offered something like fifty variations, including a ‘Hawaiian’. (Yes, that’s right — with tinned pineapple.)

We scheduled our afternoon pauses to coincide with a TV show whose title we never worked out but the gist of which was: “It’s 10 AM and Fritz has arrived at the restaurant to prepare a hundred schnitzels for the lunch and evening service. Meanwhile, across town, staff at Die Goldene Gans are having a crisis — the daily delivery of breadcrumbs hasn’t arrived!”

We bought a schnitzel hammer at the Galeria Kaufhof in Cologne because, somehow, a German meat tenderiser just seemed more appropriate.

Last night, we had Schnitzel Wiener Art for tea. We butterflied and hammered flat pork tenderloin, dipped it first in flour, then in egg, and finally in Panko breadcrumbs, before frying in butter with a splash of sunflower oil. As we ate it, we wished, not for the first time, that a trip to Germany was on the cards in the foreseeable future

Snacks to beer: Doner Kebab

Doner kebab sign, London
From Flickr Creative Commons, taken by Renaissancechambara.

We usually leave recipes to the experts but make the occasional exception when it comes to foods which are an inextricable part of our beer culture.

In Britain, after several beers, when everything else is closed, you can always rely on the kebab shop and everyone’s favourite guilty pleasure: lamb doner kebab. No-one would dream of eating one while sober. The great round of meat is often referred to as an “elephant leg” because it is so heavily processed that it’s hard to be sure exactly what it is composed of. Meat, fat and salt are the three main ingredients but beyond that… Asbestos? Industrial grease? Who knows.

Nonetheless, they are delicious, and we decided to make one at home so that we could feel a bit less grotty eating it.

We were inspired partly by Kenny McGovern’s The Take Away Secret although we ended up adapting his recipe substantially for our own. The main tip we picked up from McGovern is the importance of garlic powder. It’s the magic ingredient in most fast food.

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Snacks to beer part 2 — schmaltz/smalec

I have very happy memories of visiting Poland. Chief among them is the great joy I experienced in Wroc?aw when presented with a free — yes, free! — plate of bread and dripping with my first pint at Piwnica Swidnicka.

Since then, I’ve also enjoyed it at as ‘schmaltz‘ in various places in Germany, most notably Klosterbräu in Bamberg which has several varieties, including goose fat.

They say you shouldn’t eat greasy food with beer and, yes, if you’re carrying out any kind of formal tasting, it’s probably a bad idea. But, in the real world, nothing makes a wheat beer zing like a piece of rye bread spread thickly with spicy, salty, onion-laced lard.

These days, it’s thankfully very easy to get schmaltz/smalec in the UK in any shop which stocks Polish foods.

The one I bought to eat with my beery bread had a higher meat content than some (try saying “mechanically recovered chicken and pork” without saying “mmmmmmm”…) and was very satisfying indeed. Sometimes, you’ll find it in tins; in blocks like butter or lard; or in glass jars. It’s cheap however it comes.

Let’s be clear, though: it is not health food.

That salad I had with it cancels out the fat, though, right? Right? And it’s normal to have shooting pains in your left arm, isn’t it?

If you like your grease cut with other fats, why not give Obazda a go?

Bailey

Snacks to beer part 1 — beery rye bread

I’ll be telling you tomorrow all about my personal favourite snack for accompanying beer — something I prefer even to pork scratchings, and which is even filthier — but, to make the most of it, I’ll need some special bread. So, today, I’m sharing the recipe for a dark rye bread with a couple of extra beer-geek tweaks.

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Snacks to beer #5: schnitzel Wiener art

schnitzel

Schnitzels are a real guilty pleasure of ours. Boak likes one or two a year; Bailey would eat them every night, if he could.

They’re pretty cheap and easy to make, although they’re not good for you, and do generate a lot of washing up. This recipe has been tweaked to reduce the amount of butter used and, we think, make the schnitzels crisper and less greasy than some of the oily, orange slabs you get served in German pubs.

A couple of notes:

1. We use pork rather than veal. If you use veal, you’ve got a bona fide Wiener schnitzel. German pubs tend to go for pork because it’s cheaper and describe them as ‘in the Vienna style’.

2. The origin of the schnitzel is disputed but we like the theory that it comes from Austria’s near-neighbour, Italy. Certainly, your best bet for finding a decent schnitzel in the UK is to go to an Italian restaurant and order a Cotoletta alla Milanese.

3. That’s what schnitzel means, by the way — cutlet.

Recipe after the jump.

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