I couldn’t help thinking about a commercial from the late seventies, when my world revolved around advertising. Red Rose Tea was a strictly Canadian brand and their catch line, “Only in Canada, you say? Pity!” was one I so wished I’d written.
During the six months that we now spend each year in San Miguel de Allende, there are some things we really miss. For Don Day’s Wife it’s the Canadian grandchildren. For Don Day it’s the Canadian food…OK, and sometimes the grandchildren.
Most of the foods that we couldn’t get when we first started coming…peanut butter, English muffins and lemons for example…are, these days, relatively easy to find. For some things though, like merguez sausage, we had to become innovative…or more accurately Don Day’s Wife had to become more innovative…by making her own.
There was one thing though that we still had never found. And it’s something that reminds me both of Canada and of our grandchildren. Because it makes one of the best family meals. And a perfect Sunday dinner.
It’s something called cottage roll and there’s an obvious reason you can’t find it here. It’s because I’ve never heard of a single Mexican or a single American that’s ever even heard of cottage roll. About five years ago, when the expanded army of Canadian invaders began landing on San Miguel’s shores, I did have a few expectations of finding it. But it just didn’t happen.
Cottage roll. It’s one of those distinctly Canadian foods. Like back bacon, butter tarts and poutine. Don Day’s Wife grew up with cottage roll about once a week on the family table. And so did Don Day. It was so popular because it was so cheap and so damned good. Yet, still today, she who knows all, Wikipedia, has never even heard of it.
I’m not sure where the cottage part comes from. The roll part is because it’s often rolled and then tied with string or placed in a string mesh.
What it is in very basic terms is a pork shoulder that’s brined and then cooked very slowly, usually in water. In even simpler terms, it’s pork’s equivalent to corned beef.
It was time again to become innovative…OK, for Don Day’s Wife to become innovative. If you can’t buy it, you make it. And if it turns out to be as good as Canadian store-bought, you share your recipe.
So I give you (sorry, loan you) Don Day’s Wife:
COTTAGE ROLL RECIPE
1 deboned butt end of a pork shoulder, approximately 5 lbs. or 2.25 kg. I have our butcher do this (that’s him carving the outside skin off to the rhythm of the ever present music at Carniceria La Nueva Aurora) and I ask him to leave a little more fat on than he usually would.
1 gallon of water
1 cup Kosher salt
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp. of Cure #1 (pink salt). This does not impact the flavor so is optional but it does give the meat a nicer colour (I bring it down with me from Toronto)
1 tbsp. allspice (I buy it at Bonanza where it’s called pimienta de Jamaica)
2 tbsp. juniper berries (they’re called enebros at Bonanza)
1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
1 tbsp. coriander
1 tbsp. whole black pepper
5 whole cloves or 1 tsp. ground cloves
15 whole bay leaves
(alternately, you can use 5 tbsp. of pickling spice instead of the previous seven ingredients that make up the spice combination)
5 cloves of garlic
1 large onion, quartered
Heat the Kosher salt, pickling salt and brown sugar in the water until dissolved. Add the spices. Refrigerate until cool.
Submerge the pork shoulder into the brine, making sure it is fully covered. Use a non-reactive container – stainless steel or ceramic. If necessary, weigh the shoulder down with a heavy bowl or plate so it doesn’t float.
Refrigerate for seven days.
Remove the meat from the brine, strain the spices and discard the salty liquid.
Put the shoulder into a covered roasting pan. Add fresh water to almost cover. Stir in the strained spices, the cloves of garlic, and the quartered onion.
Braise in the tightly covered pan in a 325 degree oven for approximately 5 hours or until very tender. Alternatively you can simmer on the stove top (gentle boil) for the same amount of time.
Remove the shoulder from the liquid, slice and serve. Discard the braising liquid.
Leftovers make great sandwiches, Eggs Benedict, or grate potatoes and onion, add chopped meat, and make a cottage roll hash.
And I give you back to Senor Day.
OK, we’d done it. Our first ever homemade cottage roll. Now we needed guinea pigs to help us discover if it tasted like plain ol’ pork, like a bottle of vinegar (our worst fear), or like a good old Canadian cottage roll.
The email went out to come for Sunday dinner and five people raised their hands. Stan and Peggy Jones and Cactus Jack Jacobs, three Americans who, as predicted, had never even heard of cottage roll. And Ben Penman and Cheryl Young, two Canadians who could compare it to the real, store-bought roll.
I brought it to the table, put Jack in charge of carving and took my first bite, a nice, outside, golden brown bit. Now Don Day has never been known as the most sensitive of husbands. And never been shy when it comes to his opinions on food.
I looked at Don Day’s Wife and the words exploded out of my mouth, “Wow, you nailed it. You really, really nailed it.”
I took a slice from the middle to see if the taste of the brine had penetrated right through. It tasted like…well like the cottage roll I knew and loved.
I looked around the tables and there were smiles. I looked at the platter and three of the five pounds were gone.
“Only in Canada, you say? Pity?”