In conversation with Nick Robinson, forager and bacon expert
Nick Robinson cures and smokes his own bacon at his home in Sandwich. A keen forager and cook, Nick has ambitions to start his own supper club. Having moved from London and a job in publishing he’s now enjoying foraging in the local area and sharing his love for food with others. Nick was kind enough to invite us round to taste his famous bacon and to chat with us.
We arrived at his oast house in Sandwich and met Nick’s family and bull terrier Ludo. He showed us the garden where the smoker was and garage which was geared up for curing the meats in fridges, as well as housing various jars of pickled and dehydrated foods- which Nick had foraged locally himself.
Nick made a dish of purgatorio beans, seaweed cured pork and foraged wild mushrooms, for us to try. Served with bread and butter it was warm and hearty, he’d slow cooked them overnight and all the meaty flavours were brought together with morsels of mushrooms. We also got to try some of the maple and black treacle cured bacon which he sliced up for us. Deliciously sweet and salty the bacon was fried crispy, just how we like it. There was a definite tang of molasses from the black treacle bacon, making for an interesting flavour with the saltiness.
What’s your background?
I loved books, and I needed a job so I worked in a book shop when I lived in Australia. When I came back I had no idea what I was going to do, I had a philosophy degree, deffinitely didn't want to be a philosopher so I applied for a job with Penguin and that was it. I loved publishing, and was lucky enough to work with some amazing authors and people but I’m glad I’m out of it now though. My deadlines are now bacon and mushroom-related which is considerably less stressful.
How did you get into food?
My mother was a really great cook, we were practically self sufficient when we were younger. She’d been to the Cordon Bleu school in Paris. We grew all our own vegetables and kept chickens, she made yoghurt, granola and her own bread. We never had crisps, shop bought biscuits or anything like that. From a young age she taught me and I learned to appreciate really good food. I found that I was good at it and when I had the time I used to cook for a lot of people, and experiment a lot.
Leaving London and coming down here has really given me the opportunity to expand on all that and I think bacon is an interesting thing to do because there are so many options, when you start experimenting with things. It’s very much work in progress all the time. I didn't realise when I came down here the sheer magnitude of foraging opportunities. Not just mushrooms but wild asparagus, sea beet, sea kale, wild oysters – the list goes on. I’ve also been lucky enough to meet some great locals who are in tune with the foraging calendar and who have been kind enough, in the spirit of disinterested scholarship, to share their knowledge with me. Lucia Stewart from Deal runs a huge variety of foraging courses through her website The Wild Kitchen, I’ve been helping her run courses this year, and learnt a huge amount. Were working on some ideas for new courses next year which is very exciting.
Where do you go to get your mushrooms?
All over the place it depends what you’re looking for. We’re lucky here to have the ancient woodland at Blean, near Canterbury which is the right habitat for some really exciting mushrooms like ceps and chanterelles. I have an old Land Rover Defender and will go out for hours, stopping and looking.
You mention the slow food movement as inspiration on your website, how did you find out about it?
When I was in publishing I worked on some big names in food, including The River Café and Nigella. About ten years ago I tried to interest colleagues in a book about The Slow Food Movement, but just couldn’t gather support. Since then there have been a number of very successful books published. It continues to grow. I think now theres a backlash against the 30-minute, 15-minute obsession. Slow food is not necessarily about more work, it’s more about planning ahead – like cooking in a low oven overnight. It’s about treating the ingredients with the respect I think they deserve. It’s about sitting down and having a long Sunday lunch that everybody has helped cook. It’s about not rushing things.
How did you start smoking meats?
I’d always been fascinated by curing, pickling and fermentation. When we moved from Chiswick to Sandwich I just started experimenting. Chorizo (brilliant fresh, not successful dried). Parma Ham (total disaster when the neighbours’ bathroom flooded and soaked it 10 months into curing). Kentish apple bacon - I got local apple juice and reduced it right down to make a syrup. Didn’t work. Neither did dehydrated apples. Black Treacle and maple remain the most popular, but I am very excited about the seaweed cures I’m developing – seaweed lends an amazing umami element.
How do you cook your bacon?
I fry it, especially streaky bacon. I try not to eat too much bacon, we tend to eat it when I’ve just made a batch and we might have bacon sandwiches but otherwise try not to eat bacon and eggs every day! I use quite a bit in cooking, especially lardons. I have been known to take the crumb out of a nice loaf of bread then fill it with layers of fried bacon and fresh ceps, replace the lid and weigh it down for 24 hours. Slice and you have a pretty amazing sandwich.
Have you got any tips for beginners?
The River cottage book for smoking and curing is really good, there are lots of very technical books but Youtube is an amazing resource. My tip is don't be frightened of it, pork belly doesn't cost very much if it goes wrong it doesn't matter. It's really fun because there's so much experimenting you can do, but be prepared to experiment a lot before you get something that's decent. I’m still constantly having to tweak recipes.
Nick’s bacon is available to order through his website. Discover Deal readers can get a free sample pack by quoting “Discover Deal” when ordering
Nick’s local picks
FOOD & DRINK
Frog and Scott I think is really good, that’s a destination for me. Goats That Dance in Sandwich is brilliant - a quirky independent coffee shop, great coffee, great atmosphere. My day isn’t complete without a cortado there in an enamel cup.
WHAT TO DO + SEE
Goodnestone Park, for the gardens, the Fitzwalter windows and wild garlic in Spring. Also the fishing boats at Deal – get there at the right time and you will get an amazing bargain. I’ve just come back from there and bought 20 herrings for £5. They are about to be brined and smoked for a kippery breakfast tomorrow morning.