Sexing up the Faggot: a guide to Cooking the modern faggot in a charcoal oven.

By Daniel Thumwood, Founder / Designer / Maker - Harrison Ovens

 Faggot cooked in a Harrison Charcoal Oven. Recipe by Daniel Thumwood

Faggot cooked in a Harrison Charcoal Oven. Recipe by Daniel Thumwood

I’m always looking for new things to experiment with on a Harrison. Whether I’m looking to convert a recipe to work over charcoal, or using a new ingredient for the first time, nothing beats firing up the Harrison and cooking something different. And if I can find a great story about the produce, I am as happy as the proverbial pig in poo.

 Welsh Mangalitza Pig

Welsh Mangalitza Pig

Aberystwyth farmer’s market is a rare beast (if you hail from London), in that it actually has local farmers and producers in person, selling their goods. With this comes knowledge and passion, quite a different experience from shopping in supermarkets and high street chains. I was drawn to the Welsh Mangalitza Pig stall with its great range of cuts on show. The handmade porkpie went down very well and the black pudding samples were incredible.

I picked up a lovely looking Porchetta (stuffed, rolled loin, to be cooked at a later date) but what really caught my eye were the faggots. The deep reds and pinks, splattered with the greens of herbs, all held by translucent webbing. This wasn’t the image of faggots I’d taken from my childhood in the late 70’s.

Faggots as I knew them, came frozen from Bejam’s (later to become Iceland, for those too young to remember) and were small brown balls of liver, onion, breadcrumbs, all pumped-up with water and were usually served with gravy, peas and mash. Rather than a delicacy, these 70s mutations were a cheap meal option for my Mum to feed a large family. We were never that enthusiastic about faggot night in the Thumwood household. But, after experiencing the exquisite Welsh Mangalitza version, I decided to look into the history of the humble, somewhat controversial faggot.

 Daniel Thumwood, founder of Harrison Ovens making Welsh Manalitza Faggot in his Harrison Charcoal Oven.

Daniel Thumwood, founder of Harrison Ovens making Welsh Manalitza Faggot in his Harrison Charcoal Oven.

Originating in the West and the West Midlands of England and South and Mid Wales as a cheap food, faggots became popular during rationing in WWII, but would have been eaten much earlier, the first reference to faggots I could find, was recorded in the mid nineteenth century.

Following WWII, since the 1950’s faggots have slowly fallen out of favour, partly due to a reluctance to consume offal, the rise in family income and of course, the negative connotations of the American slang for homosexual men. In fact, as recently as November 2013 several British facebook users were blocked for using the word, even though it was clearly in its culinary sense.

After sampling the Welsh Mangalitza, which was an absolute joy to cook in The Harrison, I feel now is the time that we should be bringing the faggot back to the table and dare I say, even make them sexy?

“Nose to Tail” cooking is all about making use of the complete animal and more and more top restaurants are adopting this approach.  With books like “The Complete Nose to Tail” published in 2012, this fantastic philosophy is also making it’s way into domestic cooking, which makes the use of offal not only acceptable again, but even desirable. The faggot, with it’s robust mix of liver, heart, lungs and kidneys, is a natural ‘next big thing’ in nose to tail cooking and I must say I am excited about this concept.  Another modern culinary philosophy that embraces the faggot so well, is the realisation that, when it comes to meat, we should eat less of it, but quality is key and a happy animal = quality. It’s a simple equation; the better the animal is raised, the better food produced.

The faggots I picked up came from the Welsh Mangalitza pigs on Stuart and Angela Mason’s farm. The herd of the rare woolly, Austro-Hungarian breed, live free range in the foothills of the Cumbrian Mountains, where Stuart and Angela feed them with their own special brew of food, which is free from gluten, GM crops and soya.  It is this care and attention to the animals that creates this extraordinarily great tasting meat, which of course translates to the quality of the offal used in their faggots.  Another simple equation: healthy animals have healthy organs = great tasting faggots.

Welsh Mangalitza faggots and others that are being produced today by responsible farmers like the Masons, are a world away from the vile balls of ‘stuff’ we used to have to endure half a century ago. Far from offcuts, these faggots are made from the organs of premium, free range animals, who are reared with love and care and a desire to create something beautiful in limited numbers, rather than mass-produced homogeny. An attitude shared wholly by Harrison Ovens.

After all the care that goes into rearing these precious Mangalitza faggots, I felt they deserved to be cooked in the most beautiful oven on earth, so fired up our ‘venison’ Harrison Classic to 180 degrees C and treated these beauties to The Harrison Method.

For fuel, as always I used the best; cherry charcoal from The Oxford Charcoal Company.  Using a medium sized casserole dish (on a high shelf), I warmed a tablespoon of olive oil and cooked two sliced onions until they started to brown.

Next, a pint of pre prepared vegetable and onion stock was added and heated in the oven until it simmered.  The faggots were gently lowered into the stock and cooked indirectly for 40 minutes.

 Welsh Managlitza Faggots cooking in Harrison Charcoal Oven

Welsh Managlitza Faggots cooking in Harrison Charcoal Oven

I served the faggots in bowls with the onion gravy and accompanied with crusty wholemeal bread. 

When eating a ‘special’ faggot, the first thing you notice is the texture; chunky and substantial but also soft and palatable. The caul (holding membrane), melts away spilling the delicious, meaty filling into the gravy as you push the fork through. So what did they taste like? I’d say rather than tasting a single flavour, I was treated to the individual aspects of liver and kidney, which were all independently first-rate, but when combined together, utterly sublime!

To conclude my experience of the ‘modern’ faggot, I’d say that if you are a fan of the ethical, responsible ways of nose to tail farming, the faggot is the perfect, sexy thing for you. As far as we at Harrison HQ are concerned, the renaissance of the faggot is in full swing!