Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington and the man who famously led the British force that defeated Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo, was an Irishman. As an aside, the poor chap had nothing to do with the Beef Wellington that many believe has been named after him. He, being an Irishman, enjoyed (afforded) pork rather than beef. Being a wealthy Irishman, he was able to afford pork fillet rather than crubeens (pigs feet) and regularly dined on same. The problem with all pork meat back then was that it didn’t keep particularly well. It certainly was no good to bring on a long trip into enemy territory.
Army food back then was not the delight that it is today. The good Field Marshal Arthur devised a solution to this problem. He decided that he would make his own bacon and bring it along, concealed and protected in his oversized, waterproof boots. Being as wealthy as he was, he insisted on having the fillet of pork cured, wrapped in kale (it was popular back then) and the whole lot wrapped in pastry to keep it moist and fresh. Before each campaign he would instruct his regimental chef to prepare a brace of fillets, one to fit inside each of his boots. Hence this recipe for the, previously unheard of, Field Marshal’s Ham Wellington.
- Two free range pork tenderloins (fillets).
- A handful of curing salt (get it from your butcher, if he likes you).
- A colander full of kale.
- A good quantity of English mustard (real stuff made up from powder)
- Two sheets of puff pastry
- An egg to put a gloss on things
Like any good military strategist, you will need to start your preparation a few days before you go into battle. Start by trimming the tenderloin.
Side note on tenderloins: I use the descriptor pork tenderloin to describe what we in Ireland call a pork fillet. This is for the benefit of our American cousins who for reasons best known to themselves refer to a fillet as a tenderloin. They also refer to a slice of a fillet as a fillé (that bit is phonetically spelled). Over here, we call a slice of a fillet a fillet. But, let’s not go into that or we will be here all day.
Then rub the tenderloins with curing salt. Don’t use too much. Get advice from your butcher on quantity (I did).
Next, wrap the tenderloins in cling film and place them in the bottom of the refrigerator. Leave them there, untouched for 5 days.
On the day you plan to go into battle, or serve your guests, take the pork out of the fridge. Trim the kale of its stalks and any bits that are going to stick in one’s teeth.
The kale adds a nice earthy flavour to this. It also helps keep the pork moist. When you have trimmed the kale, chop it up nice and small. Then fry it in a large pan with a bit of oil.
Lay out the pastry. Make up the English mustard.
Side note on modern day mustard: Colman’s is the standard by which all powdered mustards are measured. They, like every other mustard manufacturer that occupies supermarket shelves have wimped it on their pre-made stuff. It is insipid and lacks any real kick. The powder makes up for that.
Smear the pastry sheets with plenty of mustard.
Cover the mustard with a layer of kale.
Lay on the tenderloin and sprinkle more kale on top.
Seal the edges with egg wash and place them in a 200ºC (400ºF) oven for 20 minutes or so. I used a temperature probe to get the ham to a perfect 63ºC (145ºF).
The Wellingtons worked out really well and they were tasty to boot!
The finished dish was delicious with boiled potatoes and some traditional parsley sauce.
This was just as delicious served on a plate as it would have been back in the 19th century, being eaten, straight from the boot, by Wellington as he sat astride his charger. I can picture him munching this as he watched Napoleon, across the battle field of Waterloo, through his looking glass. What was Napoleon eating? Well that’s an entirely different story and for another day.