There’s a story behind the cured ham Stephen Harris serves at his seaside pub on the pebbly Kent coast. “We’re not the archetypal village pub,” Harris says. “You can imagine bikers on bank holiday getting into a fight here. We’re kind of weird, but it means my interpretation can be a bit more free." Harris’s idea was to make dishes that tasted every bit as good as those served at the Michelin-starred restaurants he admired in London, but stripped of the needless frump and finery.
“You have to feel an area when you cook,” Harris says. “Just up the road there are pigs and lambs, and the estuary has every kind of shellfish. It’s what the French call cuisine de terroir.”
As if to neutralize the French foodie-talk, pork scratchings are set on the table. Fried pork skin: the most basic pub snack. But these are elevated scratchings. Crisp, salty, sticky—an elegant précis of porkness.
The pigs come from Monkshill Farm, barely a mile away. Not long after taking over the Sportsman, Harris started collecting water from the salt marsh and making his own fleur de sel. Following the logic of the ingredients, he cured legs of pork in his salt and hung them in his beer cellar. One day an archaeologist friend stopped by and looked in on his hams.
“He said, ‘You do realize that the monks did this here nearly a thousand years ago?’” Harris says. “Turns out Monkshill was run by monks. All of the land we use today was owned by the kitchens of Canterbury Cathedral.”