On an ill-advised leaving do at work some years ago held in the Newcastle branch of Old Orleans, I ordered blackened chicken; it arrived cremated. I sent it back; they returned another burnt offering; I gave up, and had toast when I got home. So many collective work dinners turn out that way; the thought of going out, paying a lot of money, eating burnt food and talking about work can be decidedly unappealing. Anyway I now avoid ordering 'blackened' anything like the plague, for fear of more inedible dinners. That embargo does not extend to home cooking, and my friend Kirsten had already tried Jamie's blackened pork fillets and praised them, so I was not particularly anxious about creating a home-made version of blackened food.
The recipe was easy: marinade one pork fillet per two people in a mixture of crushed cloves, cumin and fennel seeds, paprika, orange zest and juice, thyme, garlic, ketchup and balsamic vinegar for at least an hour but up to half a day. When you're ready, barbecue or grill them until nicely charred.
I should say at this point that our grill is ridiculously feeble; it char-grills only in the loosest possible sense, but it did eventually succeed. I served this with sweet potato and carrot mash, and sprouts (okay the sprouts don't particularly go, but I had some to use up... and they tasted good!).
I enjoyed this dinner, but not as much as I would have had it been barbecued on a proper hot flame. Similarly I think the whole vibe of the barbecued dish would be better in July than in deepest darkest December; it worked, but it didn't make my taste buds sing. That will teach me to try dishes that would, I could tell as I ate it, be fabulous in the summer, in December.
Reading this back, I don't at all want to imply that I didn't like this - we both liked it a lot. I do feel, though, that food tastes differently according to the climate, and I could imagine this on a hot summer's day with a cold beer, as Matt Skinner suggests, more than on a windy December dark night with a glass of red. I will make it again, but I'll wait until the seasons change.
On another note, my lovely husband has ordered me some gingerbread syrup as I have been wanting it since I read Nigella's 'Christmas in a glass' recipe in the Radio Times. How lucky am I? We have also, finally. put up the tree, and the house feels gloriously Christmassy and I predictably feel that the holidays have begun, which obviously they have not. I had better wait for that gingerbread syrup to arrive.