For the past decade virtually every cook book, food magazine and cookery article I picked up was concentrating on meals in minutes and assuring us that we could whip up delicious food in a flash. Well it is indeed possible provided you maintain a well stocked larder if one maintains a well stocked larder and concentrate on prime cuts of meat and spanking fresh fish. A beautiful piece of fresh catch or a prime steak will be off the pan grill in a matter of minutes. Sizzling herb butter or a little salsa and a green salad is all that’s needed to create a feast. Mind you most Irish people would be looking for a spud in come shape or form to complete the meal. The net result of the emphasis on fast food is many people have forgotten about the virtues of slow cooking. The word slow is quite enough for most peoples eyes to glaze over but don’t be put off, slow cooking takes time but not your time. In these challenging times it is well worth relearning the skills not least because when there’s a wintery feel to the air a slow cooked stew is one of the few foods that really hit the spot. One can transform cheap cuts of meat into something fit for a king.
Root vegetables are at their best right now but don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s better to buy them washed. They have immeasurably more flavour and will keep longer if you buy them still covered with clay at your local shop or Farmers market. Start the stew or casserole with nice big chunks of fat streaky bacon, the fatter it is the less expensive it will be and the better the flavour. When the bacon crisps and the fat renders out keep it aside while the chunks of onions are cooked slowly at a low temperature until they turn pale amber and the kitchen fills with the scent of warm sugar, the other vegetables can then be added. The chunks of meat also need to be browned gently on all sides on a separate pan and added to the pot or casserole. Don’t forget to deglaze the pan with a little stock or a dash of wine to dissolve the caramelised meat juices. It’s all about building up layers of flavour. Dried wild mushrooms also add a delicious woodsy flavour to the stew or casserole. Root vegetables are the cheapest way to introduce an earthy sweetness and of course lots of bulk.
The other brilliant bonus of mastering the slow cooking technique is that it can be fitted into your work schedule, a big pot of shin of beef or shoulder of venison will cook gently in the coolest oven. If you pop it in as you leave for work in the morning, it will be meltingly tender on your return in the evening.
Here are a few of my favourite slow cooked meals. Serve them with a great big bowl of fluffy mash, scallion champ or colcannon.
Shoulder of venison is best for slow cooking, allow time for marinating, and remember that some item like fat salt pork or fat green bacon is essential either for cooking in with the meat (stew) or for larding (roasting or braising), unless the meat has been well hung.
3 lbs (1.3kg) shoulder of venison, trimmed and diced – 1½ inches/4cm
10-12 fl ozs (300-350ml) red wine
1 medium onion, sliced
3 tablespoons brandy
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt, lightly crushed black pepper
8 ozs (225g) fat salt pork or green streaky bacon, diced
2 tablespoons) olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
1 large carrot, diced
1 large clove garlic, crushed
¾ pint (450ml) beef or venison stock
24 small mushrooms, preferably wild ones
lemon juice or red currant jelly
salt, pepper sugar
Season the venison well and soak in the marinade ingredients for 24-48 hours. Drain the meat well, pat it dry on kitchen paper and turn in seasoned flour.
Meanwhile, brown the pork or bacon in olive oil in a frying pan cooking it slowly at first to persuade the fat to run, then raising the heat. Transfer to a casserole.
In the fat, brown the venison and then the onion, carrot and garlic, do all this in batches, transferring each one to the casserole. Do not overheat or the fat will burn. Pour off any surplus fat, deglaze the pan with the strained marinade and pour over the venison. Heat up enough stock to cover the items in the casserole and pour it over them. Put in the bouquet garni, bring to a gentle simmer, either on top of the stove or in the oven, preheated to 150ºC/300ºF/regulo 2 cover closely and leave until the venison is tender.
Test after 1½ hours, but allow 2½ hours cooking time. For best results, it is wise to cook this kind of dish one day and then reheat the next; this improves the flavour and gives you a chance to make sure that the venison is tender.
Saute the sliced mushrooms in butter. Season with salt and pepper and add to the stew.
Finally taste the venison sauce, it will need seasoning and perhaps a little sharpening, use a spot of raspberry vinegar or lemon juice. It also sometimes benefits from a pinch of sugar or some redcurrant jelly (be careful not to use too much.)
Serve with baked potatoes and perhaps a green vegetable: eg. brussels sprouts, calabrese or cabbage.
Shin of Beef and Oxtail Stew
In season: all year, but best in Autumn and Winter
Oxtail makes an extraordinary rich and flavoursome winter stew, considering how cheap it is. This is another humble dish, which has recently been resurrected by trendy chefs who are capitalizing on their customer’s nostalgic craving for their Gran’s cooking.
2 whole oxtails
450g(1lb) shin of beef or stewing beef (cut into 1 1/2 inch (4cm) cubes) 110g (4oz) streaky bacon
30g (1oz) beef dripping or 2 tablespoons olive oil
225g (8oz) finely chopped onion
225g (8oz) carrots, cut into 2cm (3/4 inch/2cm) cubes
55g (2oz) chopped celery
1 tablespoon Tomato Puree
1 bay leaf, 1 sprig of thyme and parsley stalks
salt and freshly ground pepper
150ml (1/4 pint) red wine
450ml (3/4 pint) homemade beef stock or
600ml (1 pint) all beef stock
170g (6oz) mushrooms (sliced)
15g (1/2oz) roux (see recipe)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
First cut the oxtail into pieces through the natural joints – the joints are made of cartilage so you won’t need a saw. If this seems like too much of a challenge, ask your butcher to disjoint the oxtail for you.
Cut the bacon into 1 inch (2.5cm) cube.
Heat the dripping or olive oil in a frying pan, add the bacon and sauté for 1-2 minutes, add the vegetables, cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer into a casserole. Add the beef and oxtail pieces to the pan, a few at a time and continue to cook until the meat is beginning to brown. Add to the casserole. Add the wine and a 1/4 pint (1/2 cup) of stock to the pan. Bring to the boil and use a whisk to dissolve the caramelised meat juices form the pan, bring to the boil. Add to the casserole with the herbs, stock and tomato puree. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and cook either on top of the stove or in a preheated oven 160°C/325°F/regulo3 very gently for 2-3 hours, or until the oxtail and vegetables are very tender.
Meanwhile cook the sliced mushrooms in a hot frying pan in a little butter for 2-3 minutes. Stir into the oxtail stew and cook for about 5 minutes. Transfer the beef and oxtail to a hot serving dish and keep warm. Remove and discard the bay leaves, thyme and parsley stalks.
Bring the liquid back the boil, whisk in a little roux and cook until slightly thickened. Add back in the meat and chopped parsley. Bring to the boil, taste and correct the seasoning. Serve in the hot serving dish with lots of champ or colcannon.
Slow Cooked Lamb Shanks with Haricot Beans, Tomato and lots of fresh Herbs
Lamb shanks can be from the back leg or the shoulder. Choose one or the other so they cook evenly, the latter takes much longer to cook. Gutsy herbs like rosemary or thyme are a brilliant accompaniment as are beans, lentils or a robust mash with added root vegetables or kale.
8 lamb shanks
8 small sprigs of rosemary
8 slivers garlic
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
25g (1 oz) goose fat, duck fat or olive oil
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
1 leek, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, bruised
150ml (5fl oz) good red wine
150ml (5fl oz) chicken or lamb stock
1 sprig of thyme
2 sprigs of rosemary
2 bay leaves
2 strips of dried orange peel
Haricot Beans and Tomatoes
225g (8oz) streaky bacon, cut into lardons and blanched
2 x 400g (14oz) tin haricot beans, drained or cannellini beans
Lots of flat parsley, coriander, mint and chives.
Preheat the oven to 150ºC/300ºF/gas mark 2.
Make an incision in each lamb shank and insert a sprig of rosemary or thyme and a sliver of garlic. Season the meat with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat the olive oil in a heavy sauté pan or casserole and sauté the meat in it until well browned on all sides. Remove the meat from the pan. Add the carrots, celery, leek, onion and garlic and cook over a high heat until it starts to brown. Add the red wine to the pan and bring to the boil and bubble for a minute or two. Add the chicken stock, herbs and orange peel to the pan, then arrange the lamb shanks on top, bones pointing upwards. Cover and cook in the oven for 1 1/2 – 2 1/2 hours depending on size. The meat should be almost falling off the bones.
Meanwhile, make the sauce. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and brown the bacon in it until golden and fully cooked, add the tomato fondue and the haricot beans. Cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes.
When the lamb has finished cooking, remove the lamb shanks to a deep wide serving dish. Strain the liquid and press to extract all the delicious juices. Discard the vegetables which have by now contributed their flavour. Return the juices to the pan and cook to reduce and concentrate. Meanwhile, reheat the beans. Add the concentrated juices. Taste and correct the seasoning. Spoon the beans over the lamb shanks and scatter with a fistful of roughly chopped herbs.
Tomato fondue is one of our great convertibles, it has a number of uses, we serve it as a vegetable or a sauce for pasta, filling for omelettes, topping for pizza.
Serves 6 approximately
230g (8ozs) sliced onions
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1.8 kg (4lbs) very ripe tomatoes in Summer, or 4 1/2 tins (x 28oz) of tomatoes in Winter, but peel before using
salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar to taste
2 tablespoons of any of the following;
freshly chopped mint, thyme, parsley, lemon balm, marjoram or torn basil
Heat the oil in a non-reactive saucepan. Add the sliced onions and garlic toss until coated, cover and sweat on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured. It is vital for the success of this dish that the onions are completely soft before the tomatoes are added. Slice the fresh tomatoes or tinned and add with all the juice to the onions. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar (tinned tomatoes need lots of sugar because of their high acidity). Add a generous sprinkling of herbs. Cook uncovered for just 10-20 minutes more, or until the tomato softens. Cook fresh tomatoes for a shorter time to preserve the lively fresh flavour. Tinned tomatoes need to be cooked for longer depending on whether one wants to use the fondue as a vegetable, sauce or filling. Note: A few drops of Balsamic vinegar at the end of cooking greatly enhances the flavour.
Slow-Roasted Shoulder of Pork with Fennel Seeds
Serves 8 – 10
Shoulder of pork is best for this long slow cooking method, as the meat is layered with fat which slowly melts away, try to find a traditional breed, e.g. Gloucester Old Spot, Saddleback, Black Berkshire or Middle White. We also slow roast shoulder of lamb which is succulent and juicy.
1 whole shoulder of free-range pork, with skin, about 2.75-3.25 kg (7-8 lb) in weight
8 garlic cloves, peeled
30 g (1 oz) fennel seeds
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon chilli flakes (optional)
Preheat the oven to 230ºC/450ºF/Gas 8.
Using a small sharp knife, score the rind of the shoulder with deep cuts about 5 mm (1/4’’) wide.
Peel and crush the garlic with the fennel seeds, then mix with salt, pepper and chilli flakes to taste. Push this mixture into the cuts, over the rind and on the surface of the meat. Place the shoulder on a rack in a roasting tin and roast for 30 minutes or until the skin begins to blister and brown. Reduce the oven temperature to 150ºC/325ºF/Gas 3, and leave the meat to roast for 5-6 hours or more until
it is completely soft under the crisp skin. The meat will give way and will almost fall off the bone. Serve each person some crisp skin and some chunks of meat cut from different parts of the shoulder.
Loin and streaky pork is also delicious cooked in this way but it will take a shorter cooking time.
Fool Proof Food
A bowl of mashed potatoes flecked with green scallions and a blob of butter melting in the centre is ‘comfort’ food at its best.
1.5kg (3lb) 6-8 unpeeled ‘old’ potatoes e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks
110g (4oz) chopped scallions or spring onions (use the bulb and green stem) or 45g
350ml (10-12fl oz) milk
50-110g (2-4oz) butter
salt and freshly ground pepper
Scrub the potatoes and boil them in their jackets.
Chop finely the scallions or spring onions or chopped chives. Cover with cold milk and bring slowly to the boil. Simmer for about 3-4 minutes, turn off the heat and leave to infuse. Peel and mash the freshly boiled potatoes and while hot, mix with the boiling milk and onions, beat in the butter. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve in 1 large or 6 individual bowls with a knob of butter melting in the centre. Scallion mash may be put aside and reheated later in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/regulo 4. Cover with tin foil while it reheats so that it doesn’t get a skin.
Look for a slow cooker in the New Year sales. They are an excellent investment with a brilliant safety record. You can make foolproof stews and ragus. Put the ingredients into the pot first thing in the morning and when you get home from work just lift the lid, inhale the aroma and enjoy the meltingly tender feast.
Tannery Cookery School
Fans of Paul Flynn of the Tannery restaurant in Dungarvan (of which I certainly am one) will be delighted to hear that his long awaited Tannery Cookery School is now open. For details www.tannery.ie or tel 058 45420 / email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Good Things Café and Cookery School
The Good Things Café and Cookery School in Durrus, west Cork has also published its enticing list of courses for 2009. www.thegoodthingscafe.com 027 61426
The Slow Food Movement is a global eco-gastronomy organisation whose philosophy is influencing government food policy in 153 countries world wide. A gift membership is a perfect present for anyone interested in good food and food production issues www.slowfoodireland.com or tel 021 4646 785