Slow Cooked Marvels

Had to wait until Canberra’s famous cold weather season had started before posting about slow-cooked dishes. (Apologies to Northern Hemisphere readers – by cold we mean average July max of 12° up from a min of zero). Inspired at least in part by @msloulou77, who last year embarked on a mission to serve up a different slow-cooked protein every week, here are 3 of these beauties that – for the most part – take a different approach to the expected.

Importantly, there is one common thread running through the meat treatment in all cases. They each expect to be browned off in a medium-hot pan before you start in with the rest of the process. This is sometimes incorrectly referred to as “sealing” the meat – probably because it looks like that’s what’s taking place. Even Stephanie Alexander speaks of “sealing” various meats in The Cook’s Companion. In fact, what you are doing is encouraging the Maillard reaction – turning some of the joint’s muscle protein into a caramelised surface. We only understand so much here, and that’s due to Louis Camille Maillard who defined the first step in the process. Part of the sugar molecules in meat (the aldehyde group) reacts with the amino group in protein molecules. Then it starts to get complex, as other reactions follow leading to brown polymers and many highly-flavoured chemicals. At least, that’s what I’ve learned from Robert L. Wolke’s “What Einstein Told His Cook”.

I suspect this is the secret behind a successful slow-cooked feast, and I wonder why, of all the half-baked & unimaginative names we’ve seen for restaurants, no-one has ever used Maillard. (So I offer it up here at no charge. Well, perhaps a small degustation for a few of my friends…)

Middle Eastern sticky lamb shank navarin

Lamb Shank Stew

A navarin is just a stew made from lamb, so don’t let them pull the wool over your eyes with naming conventions.

INGREDIENTS
1 onion
2 celery stick
2 carrots
1 leek
60ml olive oil
4 medium lamb shanks
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp ground fennel
1 tsp ground cumin
1 stick cinnamon
1 tbsp harissa (optional for you, not for me)
pinch saffron
1.5 litres chicken stock

400g jap pumpkin
2 parsnips
2 large potatoes
1/2 cup fresh coriander leaves

Couscous to serve

METHOD

Preheat oven to 180°C fan forced. Chop onion, celery, carrot and leek into medium-sized dice. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy-based casserole dish and brown lamb shanks on all sides. Remove and set aside. Add diced vegetables to the pan and cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, fennel, cumin, cinnamon, harissa and saffron and cook for a further minute. Return shanks to pan, add stock and bring to the boil. Remove from heat and place uncovered casserole in oven for 1½-2 hours, until lamb meat is tender and falling off the bones.

Dice the pumpkin, parsnip and potato and place in a large roasting pan. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and toss to coat well. Place in the oven for 1 hour or until the vegetables are soft.

Remove the lamb and other roasted vegetables from the oven. When cool enough to handle, gently pull away the lamb meat from the shanks and break into large pieces. Keep the bones for a lamb stock. Mix the roasted vegetables with the lamb.

Place a large spoonful of couscous in a shallow bowl and ladle over the lamb and vegetables. Scatter over coriander and serve.

Serves 4

Osso Buco with Asian Flavors

Osso Bucco Asian Flavours

I went searching for this after one too many standard Italian-style Osso Buco with tomato dishes. Nothing wrong with them, but this approach makes for a brilliant alternative.

INGREDIENTS

50 ml olive oil

Four pieces osso buco

Salt and freshly ground pepper

4 garlic cloves, smashed

2 tablespoons palm sugar

1 medium onion, finely chopped

¼ cup chopped fresh ginger, plus 2 tablespoons finely slivered fresh ginger

1 cup chopped coriander including stems and roots (keep some leaves for garnish)

4 star anise pods

2 tablespoons Szechuan peppercorns

1 red chilli, finely chopped

750ml water

250ml dry sherry

125ml soy sauce

2 large spring onions, thinly sliced

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 160°C. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large enameled cast-iron casserole. Add the ossi buci, season with salt and pepper and cook over moderately high heat until browned, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer the shanks to a plate and discard the oil.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and the garlic, palm sugar, onion and chopped ginger to the casserole and cook over low heat until the onion is deeply browned, about 7 minutes. Add the coriander, star anise, Szechuan peppercorns and crushed red pepper and cook for 1 minute. Add the water, sherry and soy sauce and bring to a simmer. Return the ossi buci to the casserole and bring to a simmer. Cover and braise in the oven for about 3 hours, or until the veal is very tender.

Transfer the meat to a platter and cover with foil. Strain the sauce and return it to the casserole. Simmer over low heat until very flavorful, about 5 minutes. Add the slivered ginger and the ossi buci, season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Transfer the ossi buci to shallow bowls and spoon the sauce on top. Sprinkle with the spring onions and coriander leaves and serve with steamed rice.

Slow Braised Beef Cheeks

Good Food. Hot Food. Jill Dupleix. July 16 Beef Cheeks.Photo: Edwina Pickles. 3rd July 2013.

The trick with beef cheeks is that they are a relatively small parcel of densely-packed, short-fibre muscle toughened up by continuous use by the beast in question. You should buy these a day earlier than you need so that you can soak/marinate them overnight in red wine (that’s the same red you can use in the recipe that follows).

In Canberra the best place I’ve found to buy beef cheeks is Fyshwick Gourmet Organic Butcher. They are almost always in stock at a reasonable price, and importantly they have gone that extra step in preparing them for you. Quite often with beef cheeks you will find a thick skin layer still attached – you’ll have to get this off somehow & usually involves sharp knives & a fair bit of elbow grease. The Fyshwick Gourmet Organic people have already taken this off for you!

Speck is a cured ham somewhat like prosciutto – which you could quite successfully use if you can’t find any speck.

INGREDIENTS

4 tbsp olive oil

1.5kg beef cheeks, trimmed

200g speck, thickly sliced

2 leeks, trimmed and chopped

4 carrots, peeled and sliced

4 celery stalks, sliced

4 garlic cloves, peeled

500ml red wine

400ml chicken stock or water

2 tbsp tomato paste

4 anchovy fillets

2 bay leaves

4 thyme sprigs

2 rosemary sprigs

1 tsp sea salt

½ tsp cracked black pepper

Extra herbs for serving

METHOD

Heat the oven to 150°C. Heat two tablespoons of oil in a heavy pan and sear the beef cheeks in batches over medium heat on all sides, until you get a nice crust.

Remove the beef, add remaining olive oil and cook the speck, leeks, carrots, celery and garlic, tossing well for 5 minutes. Add the red wine and simmer for 5 minutes, then add the stock, tomato paste, anchovies, bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, sea salt and pepper.

Return the beef cheeks to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Tightly cover, transfer to the oven, and cook for 4½ hours, or until tender.

To serve, pick out the herbs and discard. Strain half the cooking liquid into a pan and boil for 5 minutes until glossy. Serve the beef cheeks with fresh herbs and mashed potato, pasta or polenta, and ladle the reduced sauce over the top.

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A Surfeit of Courgettes

It’s late summer in the semi-rural surrounds of Canberra and trust is in short supply. Previously easy-going car owners are locking their doors to prevent the deposit of another neighbourly zucchini on the front seat.

So what to do with all the courgettes? Here’s a few approaches using substantial quantities of this gourd to add to the usual pasta additions and BBQ add-ons that are often the fate of the peak-season zucchine.

Zucchini, Raisin & Pine Nut Salad

The Moorish flavours resulting from the addition of pine nuts & raisins makes this salad just as applicable to a Moroccan feast as to an Italian-styled meal.

Dinner Tonight: Zucchini, Pine Nut, and Golden Raisin Salad

500g zucchini sliced thinly

3 tablespoons olive oil

50g pine nuts

50g seedless raisins

1 clove garlic

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves

salt, black pepper

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Saute zucchini in the olive oil for a few minutes to soften. Add the pine nuts, and then as they start to change colour, add the raisins.

Remove from heat and add garlic, mint, salt, pepper & lemon juice. Best served cold.

Spaghetti con Zucchine

This blog can hardly be accused of going out of its way to present vegan options, but this next dish qualifies, even though it’s here as a good example of cucina povera – what’s on offer when there’s not really that much on offer. Keep your zucchine small and this dish will reward with heaps of flavour.

Zucchini Spaghetti with Saffron Sauce | www.tasteandtellblog.com

500g spaghetti

2 kg really small zucchine, thinly sliced

salt, black pepper

2 cloves garlic, pulverised

While pasta is cooking (boiling, salted water as usual), saute zucchini with garlic until softened. Stir the zucchini, garlic and the olive oil into drained pasta & add black pepper. Note, no cheese for this dish!

Zucchini and Fresh Date Cake

Here is a school fete standby that swiftly disappeared whenever we offered it up for fundraising – for good reason too, with a moistness that keeps on giving. Dairy-free too, for those for whom that’s important.

250g zucchini, grated

3 eggs

2 cups caster sugar

2 teaspoons  vanilla extract

¾ cup olive oil

150g fresh dates, pitted and chopped (use the standard Trident ones here – apart from being cheaper, they are easier to handle)

2 ½ cups plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

extra fresh dates to serve (here’s where you use the expensive Californian ones from the greengrocer)

sifted icing sugar to serve

1. Preheat oven to 180°C and grease & line a springform pan (approx 20-24 cm diameter). Place zucchini in a sieve and press to remove juice. Then wrap what you have left in a paper towel and squeeze to remove remaining juice. You will end up with about 1 cup of firmly-packed zucchini.

2. Beat eggs, caster sugar, vanilla & oil in a large bowl until very thick & mousse-like. Using a large metal spoon, fold zucchini and dates through egg mixture until just combined.

3. Sift flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and cinnamon together. Fold dry ingredients through zucchini mixture until just combined. Pour mixture into your prepared pan (should have done that earlier, you now realise). Bake for 1 hour or until cooked through when tested with a skewer. Let cool slightly in pan.

4. When cooled, turn out onto a rack. Dust with icing sugar and decorate with the extra sliced fresh dates to serve.

pic to follow

The Great Rocket Swindle

Most rocket sold in Australia is not rocket. Most of the greenery marketed as rocket is actually mizuna. You can use it for the purposes rocket was meant for, but you’ll always end up with a suboptimal result.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with mizuna in itself, but it’s a less yielding, more robust herb certainly suited to Australian supermarket trading conditions. You could leave it on the shelf for a week and it would hardly change. It ideally fits the criteria laid out in Gina Mallet‘s alarming “Last Chance To Eat” as an ideal Coles/Woolies line item. As she states “the supermarket vegetable is above all telegenic and tough – like a Hollywood movie star”.

This is Rocket. Tender, juicy, lemony, slightly vegetal. Usually comes in a big bunch when you can find it.

IMG_0581

This is Mizuna. Look familiar?

IMG_0585

I think I first encountered rocket at the end of the 80’s in Sydney, when Sean Moran returned from Europe to set up in his dad’s pub in Waterloo. It was the George Hotel and was certainly the first time this part of Sydney had ever seen clever food. It is here that he would have first developed what he still sees as a signature dish – Linguine with shredded rocket, lemon, chilli and parmesan (recipe below). I’m pretty sure he always uses the real rocket – this dish needs that tenderness to work properly.

We lived in Tuscany for a short while and it was always a delight to be able to source large bunches of this herb, which we’d shred and add to pastas to balance a reduced, tomato-based sauce. Once back in Australia, the gradual replacement of rocket with mizuna crept up on us (aided of course by its continued inaccurate labelling at point of sale) and it was some years before I realised I needed to try harder to find the original herb. These days, you may find it at some of the greengrocers at Fyshwick Markets, but you will have to  conduct a search through most of the stalls first. The point is, this is worthwhile as the result is many times better from using the proper rocket.

This recipe came back to me from recently reading Alex Kapranos‘ “Sound Bites“. Alex was a chef before his rise to world fame as guitarist and vocalist with Franz Ferdinand. He wrote Sound Bites as a result of the gastronomic escapade that was interspersed with gigs as part of Franz’ first world tour. Among other places, he ends up at Sean Moran’s current food temple, Sean’s Panoroma, and takes in this dish.

Linguine with Rocket

Linguine with Rocket

SERVES 4

4 generous handfuls rocket
200g grana padano or parmigiano reggiano
1 lemon
2 cloves garlic
150 ml Chilli Oil
salt
400 g linguine

  1. Three-quarters fill a large saucepan with cold water and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, wash, shake dry and then coarsely shred rocket. Coarsely grate parmesan. Squeeze and strain juice from lemon, then mince garlic and combine with lemon juice and chilli oil in a bowl large enough to toss linguine.
  2. If you’re not using chilli oil mince a deseeded thai red chilli in with the garlic.
  3. Throw a handful of cooking salt into the boiling water and let it return to a boil. Cook pasta for the time recommended on the packet until al dente, separating strands occasionally with a pair of tongs and testing towards end of time. Lift pasta into prepared bowl, draining it as you go yet taking a slight drizzle of the cooking water with the pasta (this will lubricate and combine dressing). Add shredded rocket and parmesan, then season and toss together before serving.

Risotto alla Radicchio

Risotto is a dish best suited to winter. Thankfully, Canberra has a fair bit of that so it’s not hard to get a reasonable amount of practice at nailing a decent risotto. Tonight’s recipe yields what I find to be a terribly grown-up risotto, with a flavour tension between the bitter and the umami ingredients. Recipe is at the bottom – go there if you just want to cook. If you want the background, read on.

Awareness of what constitutes a good risotto continues to grow in this country, albeit gradually. The element that separates this from other rice-based dishes is the technique – the gradual addition of liquid to the rice as it is absorbed is of utmost importance. If you add all the liquid at the start and let it absorb over the cooking period you will have a pilaf – nothing wrong with that, but it won’t be a risotto. Similarly, letting the rice dry out in the cooking phase will leave you with a paella. So for a more authentic risotto, once you have deglazed with the red wine, begin adding liquid, keep stirring as it is absorbed, add another ladleful and keep going. This will keep you occupied for around 20 minutes. You’ll want to have your own red wine for support here. At the end it’s largely up to you as to whether you prefer a drier risotto as the Milanese prefer, or a more liquid version common to Venice. The mantecare stage (now that your risotto is complete) is often ignored – give the risotto 2-3 minutes to rest and integrate flavours prior to serving, if you can. If you’ve managed this you will likely end up with a risotto better than most restaurants can manage. (The nature of service at most, if not all, restaurants is that there will never be enough time to cook from scratch for an order. So they usually cook for about 10 minutes and then refrigerate ahead of service. The result is that the flavours often work, but the texture is never quite right.)

Closely associated with the technique is the choice of rice – there are specific varieties to use if you really have expectations of success here. There are two superfino varieties – Arborio and Carnaroli, and one semifino variety – Vialone Nano. You will find Arborio in most supermarkets, while acquiring the other varieties usually involves a trip to a specialist foodstore. Superfino varieties have longer grains than the semifino ones, but handled well, all varieties will deliver a reasonable risotto. My preference is to use Vialone Nano but this seems to be the hardest one to source on a regular basis.

Radicchio is a fascinating ingredient – used raw, it can add extra interest to a leaf salad. It’s when it is cooked that the bitterness for which it is known becomes most apparent. Here it is balanced against any number of ingredients that will provide a counterpoint to that bitterness. A decent-sized head of radicchio will yield about 500g of useful leaves.

Final note on radicchio – it’s pronounced with a hard “c” – that’s what the Italians put the “h” there for – as a guide for you.

Risotto alla Radicchio (serves 4)

Ingredients:

Olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

2 rashers prosciutto, thinly sliced

2 cups risotto rice (your choice)

360g radicchio, chopped

50 ml red wine

1 litre beef stock, simmering

1/2 cup parsley, chopped

50g grated parmigiano reggiano or pecorino cheese

Method:

Saute onion, celery and prosciutto until soft and beginning to brown. Add rice and radicchio, continuing to stir until radicchio turns an elegant black (like that? It’s Marcella Hazan’s term for how far you’ll want to go).

Deglaze with the red wine and begin to add the beef stock, a small amount at a time. Stir until absorbed and repeat. after around 20 mins you’ll arrive at an end-point where the rice is almost cooked through, but still has enough texture for you to be able to distinguish individual grains. Add parsley with the last of the stock and finally add the cheese.

Risotto alla Radicchio in Mantecare stage

Risotto alla Radicchio in Mantecare stage

You’re done!

Salmoriglio

Canberra gardeners, look to your herb patch. After a milder winter than is usual, you will find substantial quantities of oregano starting to emerge. At this time of the year, it is at its most tender & hence most appropriate for use as a fresh herb – and that’s where Salmoriglio really shines. It’s the second cousin of salsa verde and the first cousin, once removed of pesto. The other green paste, zhoug, is the black sheep of the family and usually only invited to Moroccan feasts.

In my long history of enjoying Italian restaurants, I am yet to see one use Salmoriglio anywhere. Which seems such a surprise, given the simple but effective qualities of this sauce. Sure, you have to make it fresh to use, which might cut out some of the lesser operators, but it still astounds me that this hasn’t been exploited by some of the smarter outfits. Importantly, you can steal their march by simply using it on your own seared protein.

Something like Massive Attack, the sum with Salmoriglio is significantly greater than the parts. I tend to use this on white-fleshed fish straight from the BBQ, but it could also find its way into dishes of chicken, pork and even lamb if you must.

Salmoriglio (enough for 4 serves)

1/2 cup oregano leaves

1 anchovy

1 clove garlic

juice of 1/2 a lemon

3 tbsp olive oil

Salmoriglio 1 copy

Combine oregano. anchovy and garlic, preferably in a mortar and pestle. I’ve done this successfully in a blender, but if you have the time and inclination, you  will extract more flavour from the crushing action of the mortar-pestle approach.  When you’ve got to something you could describe as a paste, add the lemon juice & olive oil.

Salmoriglio 2 copy

The Sicilians, who actually came up with this first, use it on swordfish.  I would choose Hiramasa kingfish if I can source it! If you can’t get this – and it does seem increasingly rare – you will get good results from barramundi, the fish we will all end up eating, as long as it’s carefully handled.

Salmoriglio 3 copy

Neua Kangaroo Nam Tok

In Germaine Greer’s 2013 Manning Clarke Lecture she referred (only slightly obliquely) to the inappropriateness of keeping sheep & cattle on Australian soils and that it would be better if we either (1) refrained from eating meat, or at least (2) ate kangaroo instead.

It was thus appropriate that this was the protein of choice tonight. She’s right! It’s a low-fat meat high in flavour that represents our most realistic chance of being able to source wild fare on a regular basis (not a boundless resource though).

Classic Thai Cuisine

This dish comes from a long-deleted David Thompson book (Classic Thai Cuisine) probably written when Darley Street Thai was still in Darley Street (in Newtown, for those that came in late). What I have done is to substitute the beef in the original with kangaroo fillet. This is best prepared using Maggie Beer‘s approach. That is, after marinating the fillets in fish sauce for a few hours, cook as follows on a very hot BBQ.

1. 45 seconds each side on the hotplate; followed by

2. 2 minutes each side on the grill.

3. leave to cool prior to slicing for this dish.

Great at this time of the year, particularly as our garden has produced a great crop of pak chii farang, just waiting for a dish like this.

Neua Kangaroo Nam Tok

200g Kangaroo Fillet, prepared as above

4 red shallots, finely sliced

1 tblsp mint leaves, chopped

1 tblsp coriander leaves & stems, chopped

1 tblsp Chinese shallot, sliced (that’s spring onion to us)

1 tblsp pak chii farang (aka Vietnamese mint), chopped

50g sliced cucumber

roasted chilli powder/fresh chillies to taste (1-2 will usually do)

2 tblsp ground, roasted rice

30 ml (2 tblsp) lime juice

15 ml (1 tblsp) fish sauce

Combine the thinly-sliced kangaroo with the other ingredients, using one tablespoon of the ground rice. Check flavours (you’re looking for that hot/sour/salty tension) and add elements as required.

Serve sprinkled with the remaining ground rice.

(Should really be part of a Thai banquet, where you have also served a curry, a stir-fry, and maybe steamed & deep-fried dishes as well. And riesling, lots of young Eden Valley Riesling).

Barramundi Achari

Buying fresh fish in land-locked Canberra has always been something of a challenge. With the recent closure of Blue Seas in Fyshwick the choice narrowed even further. Ocean Fresh has plied their trade in the Fyshwick Markets for a number of years, although they’ve never quite captured me as a regular. JJ’s Fysh (also at the Markets) has recently rebranded as Sea Harvest Australia and growing weekend crowds here attest to their success. Woden Fish Markets (not really a market at all) does a reasonable job, although it appears to specialise in fillets (in their defence, that’s probably what their clientele want).

The best news recently has been the expansion of Belconnen Market’s FishCo to Fyshwick. In their out-of-market premises in Dalby Street they can operate out of market hours and indeed tend to run every day except Monday. They often have wild barramundi, which is the protein of choice in the dish on offer today.

Barramundi (Lates calcarifer) aka Asian seabass occurs naturally in the Indian and Pacific Oceans from the Persian Gulf to PNG, so its appearance in a dish that probably has Goan origins is perfectly appropriate. This might be the fish we all eat in a decade or two, according to this good news/bad news article from Global Mail.

I found this recipe in Lyndey Milan‘s Fabulous Food, a cookbook I can heartily recommend – it certainly passes the >3 recipes test of a good cookbook. I also appreciate that Lyndey adds a wine recommendation to every dish. Personal note – when we had our “We’re Leaving Sydney” party we got Lyndey’s catering company to supply the food. They did lots of mini-pizzas, which seemed very much the food of the time in mid-90’s Sydney.

This recipe is fast (~15 mins) and works every time. Great tension between the heat, sweetness and salt from the pickle and fragrance from the coriander (remember to use the stems and roots, that’s where the engine room of the coriander lies).

Barramundi Achari (serves 4)

1 tblsp olive oil

1 onion, sliced

2 red chillies, seeded and chopped

1 kg barramundi fillets, skin off

2 tomatoes, chopped

160 ml fish stock

1 tblsp lime pickle

zest and juice from 1 lime

1/2 bunch coriander, chopped

Heat oil in very large pan and cook onion and chilli. Add barramundi and brown on both sides (2 mins). Add tomato, then fish stock and cook for ~ 2 minutes more. add lime zest & juice, coriander and lime pickle.  Turn the fish over once, mixing the sauce as you go. Serve with steamed jasmine rice.

Barramundi Achari crop

Lyndey suggests riesling, gewurztraminer or grenache – I’ve found a young Eden Valley riesling is definitely the pick.

The pickle is important, but you could easily substitute a mango pickle for the lime one if that’s what you prefer.