Sunday, 13 January 2013

Fancy a bit of skirt?

Learning which cuts come from where is useful.
Slow cooking is a subject that regular readers will be aware that I return on a, well, regular basis.

And it reared its head again this weekend.

There I was, at Andy’s Wild Game stall on Broadway Market on Saturday, chatting with the young lass who staffs it these days, and we got talking about things to do with various ingredients. As you do.

It was a conversation that began with talk of roasting meats. It turned out that both of us check times and temperatures and weights quite religiously before even turning the oven on.

But when it comes to the slower style of cooking, the in-the-pot variety, we also shared a similar approach, albeit rather a different one.

‘Stick it in some liquid; set the temperature low and leave it for a minimum of four hours’, might actually be the most basic version of what we both agreed would work. Or leave it even longer, if you can.

We mused on how terrified authors or publishers seem of listing real slow-cooking times. As if cooking something for five hours instead of two is somehow intimidating.

Funnily enough, first thing yesterday morning, I’d been sat in bed, with notebook, pen, cookery books and hot drink, as is my wont.

The book under scrutiny was Richard Corrigan’s The Clatter of Forks and Spoons. And in these pages, he describes cooking a shoulder of lamb for eight hours – after a three-day marinade.

‘Wow,’ I thought while reading it. ‘I want to try that’.

That’s for another day though, so we’ll return to it in the coming weeks.

This one saw me pick up some skirt from Matthew: a cut that is full of flavour, it absolutely demands a slow cook. It’s also cheap, by comparison with other cuts.

There’s an enormous pleasure to cooking this way too, when you don’t need to refer to a book or a specific recipe.

The beef was cut into big bite-size pieces and browned in butter and olive oil, before being decanted into a cast iron pot.

Next up, two onions, sliced, three sticks of celery and a couple of carrots, softened in more butter and oil.

Then a couple of heaped dessertspoons of plain flour – I never measure – cook through for a minute, and then deglaze with ale (a bottle left over from my birthday party last month.

When you’ve stirred in enough that it’s not thickening any more, add to the pot with the meat and stir everything together.

Add a sprig of thyme and a couple of bay leaves, a shot of Worcester Sauce, a glug of HP sauce, a splodge of ketchup and a serious grinding of black pepper, and then cover with foil and lid, and set in the oven at 140˚C (fan).

And then go away and do something else with the afternoon.

Corrigan makes the point in his book that some people in the UK and Ireland don’t see casseroled dishes as ‘sophisticated’, whereas the French, he notes, are rightly proud of their daubes and other one-pot dishes.

Not only that, but whereas it’s easy to find regional one-pot dishes sold in restaurants in France – the cassoulet is just one such example, while boeuf à la gardiane is another.

Where do you go to find a Lancashire hotpot? Yet such a dish is considered highly enough by the French that it features as a single entry in Larousse Gastronomique.

It does raise the question of what we actually mean by sophistication – certainly in terms of food – and with that there is a whiff of snobbery and also, perhaps, an ignorance that has developed from the widespread disconnect with our own culinary heritage.

But back to today.

Out of interest, I checked what one of my favourite books on French cookery listed for the cooking time of a carbonnade. Two and a half to three hours – “or until the meat is tender”.

I took the pot out to give it a stir on two hours – it would have been nowhere near ready to eat.

But on five and a half hours, with jacket potatoes to accompany, the ale was transformed into a thick, sweet gravy, and the meat was flaking.

Not only is this such an easy way to cook, the results are deeply comforting and sating. And with the temperature outside dropping, it was most certainly food to warm body and soul. 

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