Last week at the Hammersmith Lyric, Dane Hurst performed the first stages of our work on a new piece called 'Falling Man', for which I composed the music. The performance was part of the Ignition dance festival, a great platform for independent creatives in the dance industry.
Falling Man is about great challenges which Dane and I have faced, and I felt I wanted to put the journey of this subject into a story with music. Dane's performance and choreography was immediately arresting, it made the hairs on my arm stand on end while I was watching. The reviewers seem to like it too:
Now we are going to continue the develop the piece, it represents a very personal watershed for both of us.
Billboard features one of my Foo Fighters shots in an article about the world's top recording studios. Metropolis Studios of course makes the list, and my photograph of Dave Grohl and the boys when they dropped in before Glastonbury shows them smelling of roses in Studio A lounge.
Available in print or online. Read the full article here
Manchester's IAMDDB is one of the hottest artists on the British R&B and Soul scene. Her live sets are beautiful and irreverent, and her adoring crowd love it. Here's a gallery of shots I took of her performing in London recently over at Clash Magazine.
Here is a clip of Dane Hurst and Amy Thake working on a duet for 'Finding Freedom' in the rehearsal studios of Rambert.
The piece is about a man locked in prison, separated from the woman he loves. He is tortured by being unable to reach her. He holds on to the slender thread of hope of being reunited with her, but ever struggles with the fear she will leave him while he is helpless in prison.
When Dane was creating the choreography, he conceived of a section where the man and woman dance a heart-rending, intimate duet where the couple move together so intimately, but without actually making physical contact. This tension of restraint builds until it is finally released in a beautifully tender lift at the end.
The music to which they are dancing is from a piece which I composed for the performance. It is called 'Breaking Through' and forms the musical centrepiece of 'Finding Freedom'. It accompanies this encounter between the prisoner and his love as she tries desperately to reach him through the armour he has donned to protect himself from fear.
This fear is represented elsewhere in the piece as a daemon aggressor, an incubus who comes to torture the prisoner in his dreams, threatening to steal his love while he lies incarcerated and helpless.
The piece is about a struggle. It feels like a struggle with an external adversary, but really it’s a struggle within yourself. Inside the heart of every artist - every person- if you look deep enough you find your greatest enemy and your greatest love. Carl Jung described them as archetypes: the Shadow and the Anima. Finding these cut off parts of our souls and rejoining with them, Jung thought, is the great journey of opening up to all our potentialities as a human individual. It’s the barriers in the mind between them which form our prison. The key, the way to break down these walls is creativity.
'Finding Freedom' will be performed this coming Saturday night (27th September 2014). Tickets are in short supply but you can watch the performance streamed live to all the billions of people across the internet by following the link on the Wilton's Music Hall webpage.
Roast pork without good crackling is like a garden without any trees, a car without hub-caps, a jester without any bells, a farm without any dung, or a young vagabond without a twinkle in his rapscallious eye. It is missing its joy. There is something about the crisp, salty, melt-in-your mouth goodness of crackling that brings joy to the iciest of hearts.
People always seem to want to know how to get a good crackle, and there are a few common advices* offered by various chefs and food writers. They variously suggest rubbing with oil, rubbing with salt, with herbs, scalding with boiling water, scoring and so on. But I have never seen any writer offer an explanation of why pigskin crackles, and how any of the standard methods actually help.
This post is my explanation of the processes involved in making crackling. As with the vast majority of culinary methods of which I know, if you just follow instructions and recipes without really thinking about what is actually happening to the ingredients then you will have little success.
It is perfectly possible to employ all the methods mentioned above and not get a good crackling. If you have found yourself frequently frustrated, left with a tough leathery bit of football I would suggest that you try the following: run a blow torch over it. Voila! It will sizzle and puff up into light crisp balloons of crackling. It is not the best, mind you: it will be patchy and uneven. But the blowtorch just illustrates that there is no magic involved. It is heat that is the critical factor.
Think of bacon turning crispy. When you fry or grill it for long enough, it will go as crunchy as a poppadum. Water is driven out, and fat soaks in, cooking the pork cells brittle. Blowtorching the skin is essentially doing the same thing as frying bacon. There is fat underneath which melts and cooks the skin, replacing the water which is driven out.
When moisture is trapped in or under the skin, fat can not usurp its place. Scoring the rind allows the moisture to escape and the fat to melt out and all over the skin, just like bacon in a frying pan. As sharp a blade as possible, even a scalpel is good. But don’t cut all the way down through the fat to the flesh, because this can allow juices to bubble out, ruining the meat and the crackling.
I have seen one well-known chef recommend pouring boiling water over the skin before oiling, salting, and cooking. This will not help. I imagine that the chef borrowed the step from traditional Peking duck preparation, where the skin is scalded first to tighten it and to remove any fat on the surface of the skin. This is important because the ducks are left to hang in a draughty window or doorway (Chinatown stylee) for a day to completely desiccate the skin, and residual oil would prevent the water leaving it. Chinese chefs take care not to pierce the skin so no fat can get through and spoil it. When Peking duck is done in authentic Beijing style, the skin is served first with pancakes – it is a fine delicacy. The rest of the duck meat is dished up in a subsequent course.
Anyway, the scalding is pretty much useless in the above chef’s recipe because the pork joint is not left to dry for any length of time, and oil is poured straight back on to the skin!
Salting- it seems like a good idea. Salting things dries them out, of course. Well, salting dries out food without having to cook it, more specifically. If the water is free to escape, then the heat from the cooking will be far more effective at drying the skin than salting. However, the mixture of excessive fat and salt is a combination you are genetically predisposed to adore. Great for your heart, too.
Heat is everything. If you keep the oven low you will not get crackling. If you turn it up very hot then you run the risk of drying your perfectly juicy pork (and there is no greater sin than dried-out pork, not even usury). Pork does not like to be cooked roughly. It makes sense to remove the rind, fat and skin, when the joint has finished cooking and put it back in a very hot oven You can even use the grill. Incidentally, I always wrap roasted meat in foil to rest. If you merely cover it, it will lose a lot more juice and juiciness. If grilling the crackling, take care not to let it burn, all can be lost in a matter of seconds (this nearly happened to me the other day).
Last but not least we come to the cut of meat itself. A good layer of fat really helps get the crackling sizzling, and also show that the pig has been fed well. You should only use good quality, free-range pork. Factory-farmed pork always has a terrible, unwholesome reek to it, and sweats all sorts of weird muck. I found out from a farmer that this curdled grey crap is actually milk: there are government regulations governing how much water may be pumped into standard non free-range meat, so the factory technicians use milk as well, which has not been regulated yet.
So, if you want a vague recipe, score the skin shallowly (experiment with using a lot of scores) rub in some salt for flavouring. Use a high heat (above 220C) to crackle the pork, preferably off the joint after cooking. Oil may help to keep salt on, and make up for a lack of fat, but if there is enough blubber underneath the skin then that should do.
But the only way to get reliably good crackling is to experiment, trying to get a feel for the cooking process. Every oven and every piece of pork is different, and your method will have to adapt accordingly.
*Schwarzenegger says ‘advices’ so it must be right