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
A navarin is just a stew made from lamb, so don’t let them pull the wool over your eyes with naming conventions.
2 celery stick
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)
1.5 litres chicken stock
400g jap pumpkin
2 large potatoes
1/2 cup fresh coriander leaves
Couscous to serve
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.
Osso Buco with Asian Flavors
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.
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
250ml dry sherry
125ml soy sauce
2 large spring onions, thinly sliced
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
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.
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
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.