Tag Archives: mash

Lamb Shanks

Lamb shanks marinating in red wine, with garlic, rosemary, cassia bark and juniper.

Looking back I surprised myself by finding that the recipe upon which this is based doesn’t actually include rosemary. It’s lamb for heaven’s sake! Surely if you marinate lamb without rosemary it becomes a police matter? Nigel Slater’s original [which I can’t find online, he must want you to buy the book] used thyme. But my most fondly remembered version of this was made using the extravagantly perfumed sprigs of the council funded, ‘help yourself” rosemary bush by the post office in Salcombe, Devon.

Ditch End across the estuary in East Portlemouth, the sumptuous seventies porn-palace of a house where we stayed, has since disappeared – I hope the same isn’t true of the municipal herb garden.

for two

  • 2 lamb shanks
  • rosemary sprigs, several
  • 2 bulbs of garlic, sliced in half across their equators
  • a bay leaf
  • a piece of cassia bark [or a cinnamon stick]
  • sherry vinegar, 2 tablespoons
  • an onion, chopped
  • red wine, a bottle [something full and fruity]
  • a dozen juniper berries, lightly crushed and wrapped in muslin
  • anchovy fillets, a couple
  • flour
  • oil

Marinate the lamb in the wine, with the sherry vinegar, garlic, rosemary, bay, cassia and juniper. Leave this at least overnight. I think the Salcombe version was delayed by a day and so had a good 48 hours.

Heat some oil in a heavy, lidded casserole dish. Pat dry the marinated lamb, toss it in a little flour, and brown well on all side. Set the lamb aside and soften the onions in the same pan, adding more oil if necessary. Once the onions are soft and golden chop the anchovy fillets well and add to the pan, cooking for a couple of minutes more.

Return the lamb to the pan. Remove the juniper parcel from the marinade then add the rest to the casserole, and bring to a simmer. Now into the oven, for either 2 hours at 200°C, or 4 hours at 150°C. Remove the finished lamb to somewhere warm to rest whilst you check the sauce for seasoning, fish out the rosemary sprigs and bay leaf, and thicken if necessary. The garlic should be yieldingly soft, and depending on your taste you might smoosh [this word exists, so they tell me!] some of the softened innards into the sauce whilst removing the papery skins, or discard them altogether – their flavouring work is done.

Serve with – what else? – mash!

 

#clocksgoback recipe

Juniper in January

Juniper berries in a bowl

There are many wintry casseroles which are pepped up by these piny purple pearls – I’m thinking venison braised slowly in red wine for starters – but lately I’ve gone a bit juniper mad and seem be slinging it in just about everything. If it carries on like this I might be getting an additional pepper grinder and filling it with juniper berries [hmmm, that’s actually not a bad idea…].

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s partly to blame after he devoted an entire Guardian Weekend article to it in November. I’d be quite happy with any of those dishes but getting the Shopkeeper to eat rabbit is frankly more trouble than it’s worth – he’s seen through my “it’s chicken” ruse before now and is on constant bunny alert – so I’ll save that one for another day. And whilst I was rather taken with the sound of the gratin I decided instead to use the idea of juniper infused cream in a parsnip and potato mash to go with coq au vin, and again as a topping for a red wine rich cottage pie. When I mentioned this on Twitter food writer Fiona Beckett said it sounded ‘totally delicious’ – and I don’t think she was wrong.

Then this week I decided that an onion gravy needed a juniper hit. I’d ended up buying some sausages in Fortnum and Mason’s [long story] and was in the mood for a saucy experiment worthy of my bling bangers. I always use Nigel Slater’s recipe as a base and to the caremelised onions I added crushed juniper and some slivers of sweet black garlic, and replaced the Madeira with a good glug of Hendrick’s gin. I will be doing this again.

But it’s not just a winter thing. Once the sun returns, assuming that it bothers this year, try making a simple vinaigrette and adding a few crushed juniper berries and a bruised garlic clove and allow to steep overnight. The next day make a salad of leaves and sweet little tomatoes, crumble in a mild lactic cheese like Wensleydale, or even a milder fresh goat’s cheese, anoint with the dressing and watch the juniper fall in love with the cheese.

And of course we can’t talk about juniper and not mention gin. Actually I find it difficult to have a conversation of any sort and not mention gin, especially when conversing with bar tenders. There’s more on the subject here if you’re thirsty for it.

Birthday Bouquet

A bunch of wild garlic in a glass

When you live in or around London there seems to be no bigger a challenge than getting from one side of it to the other. You pick your compass point [I’ve done them all over the years] and can normally manage to make it from there to the centre and back, but god forbid you should be forced to make the tortuous schlep across town. We’ve got friends in Switzerland we see more often than those round the South Circular.

So I was surprised and delighted when the lovely Lucie and Lucas trekked all the way from Camberwell for my recent birthday drinks in St Margarets! I daren’t even check the details on the Transport for London Journey Planner for fear that the sheer number of connections and modes of transport will crash the site permanently. But arrive they did, both beaming broadly and bearing a fragrant birthday bouquet – of wild garlic! Lucas had been in Somerset that morning [the boy clearly likes to get about] and had been so excited to see such an early crop that he must have denuded an entire forest floor.

Wild garlic is excellent forager’s food being easy to identify, difficult to confuse with anything dangerous, and abundant. And in this age of austerity free foraged food can only be a good thing. When walking in the woods keep a nostril open for the perfume of garlic, then look for the spear shaped leaves, similar to lily of the valley. Just don’t forget to give it a wash when you get home – you know what bears [and other more common quadrupeds] do in woods.

Then use it, well, just about everywhere and anywhere. This week so far it’s been popping up in soups, salads, sauces, and mashed potato [let it infuse in warm milk or cream], and there’s a pesto still to come. But I think my favourite was a simple omelette, topped with chopped wild garlic while the egg still ran, some Somerset cheddar [in case it was feeling homesick], a good grind of black pepper and finished under the grill. Eggs, cheese and sweet, sweet garlic – I don’t know what it’s like for you reading that list but I can’t write it without salivating.

So much tastier than a bunch of tulips.

Mashed Memories

Golden mashed potato with Appleby's Cheshire cheese and spring onions

When I was a child mashed potatoes were made by robots from Mars and required no more complex preparation than the addition of some boiling water and a quick stir. Now, barely forty years later, we are once again reduced to grubbing up the raw tubers from the earth, washing them, peeling them, dicing, boiling and mashing them.

Clearly not as straight forward as it looks this progress business.

Back in my youth, if we’d been really good we might be allowed the cheese and onion version, though as it cost the same as the plain stuff I was never quite sure how it earned its ‘special treat’ status. My attempts to recreate this childhood comfort food par excellence though always lacked a certain something. The original had a slight tang which I could never quite reproduce, and then came my Eureka moment – yoghurt! Believe me, this will transport you straight back to the land of space hoppers and spangles.

This quantity could feasibly feed four as a side dish, unless they are as greedy as I am with mashed potatoes

  • 800g potatoes
  • 200ml milk
  • 50g butter
  • 3 spring onions [white and green parts] diced into half centimetre slices
  • 130g Appleby’s Cheshire cheese, grated
  • 1.5 heaped tbsps natural yoghurt

Peel the potatoes [with your metal knives, as the Martians used to say], dice into even sized pieces and boil in salted water until tender. As the potatoes cook gently warm the milk, butter and spring onions in another pan. You don’t want this to boil, the heat is just to help the onion flavour infuse into the milk, so once it starts to tremble just turn it off and leave until needed. These days I always use a potato ricer for mash, a device which in the 70’s kitchen would have seemed more alien than one of those robots, but a potato masher will do the job. Add the infused milk and butter mixture, onions and all, and whisk with a fork to combine. Add the grated cheese and yoghurt and continue to whisk over a low heat until the cheese has disappeared. Check seasoning and serve with whatever you like – last night it was braised lamb shanks and peas, but go for fish fingers and spaghetti hoops if the fancy takes you.

The Never Ending Fillet!

Mmmm, beef fillet. Luxurious, indulgent, and not something you’d eat every day. Not, that is, unless you’ve been living here for the last few days. What began as a South African braai [or barbecue for the non-Afrikaans speaking] in honour of the world cup host nation has, mercifully given the price of fillet, metamorphosed into a medley of delicious dishes. But let’s start at the beginning…

‘Gemsbok fillet in red wine and soya sauce’ read the recipe, helpfully adding that in the absence of Gemsbok any South African antelope could be used. A trip to my local butchers however failed to turn up a single specie of antelope and the decision was soon taken to replace the prancing prince of the plains with a cow. ‘Enough for six’ I told Mr Armstrong and left with a hefty slab of the finest fillet [c. 1.5 kg] ready to submerge it in what I like to think of as a spa treatment for meat, a deep, dark marinade which the recipe said should be composed of the following:

  • A bottle of Merlot [though I had an open Pinot Noir and used that instead]
  • 125 ml soy sauce
  • 125 ml olive oil
  • A tablespoon of soft brown sugar
  • 5 or 6 crushed garlic cloves
  • A small thumb of grated ginger
  • A small teaspoon of crushed coriander seeds
  • 2 or 3 finely shredded chillies [I left the seeds in despite being told to do otherwise]
  • And without being asked to do so by the recipe I couldn’t resist throwing in a couple of torn and fragrant bay leaves

Despite the South African provenance of the recipe there’s a clearly oriental bent to these aromatics which I have previously combined with red wine, Chinese five spice and honey when cooking duck, but the beef [as I’m sure would have the Gemsbok] appeared very much at home with its new playmates and became a darker ruby red with every turn over the next 8 hours.

Now it would seem from the recipe book [Cape Wine Braai Masters – free with 6 bottles of South African Wine!] that your average South African barbecues roughly three meals per day, but I’m British and with English summers being what they are I probably cook over coals that many times per year, and as such I think I lack the natural confidence with charcoal which comes from the life lived largely outdoors. So the fillet had its prescribed 20 minutes per side on the barbecue, with regular basting, but there was an oven waiting at 200˚C and off it popped for a further 20 minutes in there to be on what we Brits would call ‘the safe side’. Whilst the meat finished and rested I reduced the remaining marinade to a thick sauce which needed only a sparing drizzle over the thickly sliced meat. The result was meltingly tender meat, still rare at the core and with an intensely flavoured outer crust, but without knowing the exact temperature of the charcoal etc I can only suggest using the ‘poke test’ one would apply to a fillet on the grill to check when the meat is cooked to your liking.

The same book contains a great recipe for a simple but splendid tomato salad with mixed varieties of tomatoes [as many as you can find], diced red onion, finely chopped red chillies and basil with a lemony vinaigrette which eats very nicely with the beef on a warm summer evening.

Well received as the fillet was by the braai guests I was left with about half of the meat and a good quantity of the marinade / sauce. Perhaps I should have scaled to quantities to take account of the Sosatie marinated pork chops and the Bobotie spiced chicken [ostrich, it seems, is no easier to come by than Gemsbok]. Ah well, there are worse things to worry about in life than what to do with a hulking great chunk of steak and some intensely fragrant cooking liquors. And despite the summer heat I was inexorably drawn, wherever else I looked, in one direction. The direction — of cottage pie!

EPISODE TWO – THE PIE.

I do have an old fashioned hand cranked mincing machine, inherited from my mother, but it’s suction foot doesn’t suck properly anymore and the laborious job of feeding flesh into its gaping jaws and winding [and winding, and more winding!] the handle whilst trying to keep it in one place is actually nowhere near as much fun as mum made it look. So mincing by hand with a chef’s hatchet seemed the best way forward, first with, then across the grain of the meat. I have seen Chinese chefs do this to raw pork with a cleaver in each hand, but again it’s probably one of those things where a lifetime of practice pays dividends so I took the slow and steady route.

An onion was chopped and sweated, in went some more garlic, then some quartered button mushrooms [for some reason known only to The Shop Keeper we have a fridge FULL of mushrooms] and some finely diced carrot. And was that half a fennel bulb lurking in the salad drawer? Why not.

Next a good squeeze of tomato puree, a dash of umami paste, and a glug of fruity rose [also, ahem, open], which all cooked out for a few minutes more. Then in with the hand minced beef, the remaining marinade / sauce, a good quality tin of chopped tomatoes, and, as it looked a little thick, another good glug of wine. Oh and a couple more bay leaves from the neighbours’ garden. Then it’s simmering time. Gentle simmering that is, we are after all cooking with fillet steak and not boiling brisket.

And having tipped the result into a pie dish more than big enough for two – there’s still enough left over for another day! [see Episode Three]

I always let a cottage or shepherd’s pie filling cool before attempting the topping. The filling become firm when cold and as such it’s far easier to get a nice even coating of mash. And I wanted this mashed potato to be bold enough to hold its own against the richness beneath so added a generous grated handful of full bodied, meatily mature Comte which had somehow managed to squeeze into the fridge amongst all the mushrooms. So, mash on, top swirled with the tines of a fork, brush with melted butter and into the oven until golden on top and bubbling around the edges. At which point allow to the pie to sit and [literally] chill for a few minutes before serving. The taste buds of a scalded tongue would struggle to savour the delicate complexities of your creation.

There is an ongoing debate between The Shop Keeper and I as to the perfect accompaniment for such a pie, that being garden peas or baked beans. On a cold November Monday with an M&S cottage pie I’m quite happy to take the path of least resistance and open a can of Heinz, but for a pie of this refinement nothing less than the king of the greens will suffice. In case you’re wondering, we ate this one with peas.

EPISODE THREE – THE SKY […’s the limit? OK this is a really crap heading but I’m about to write about tortillas and nothing appropriate rhymes with ‘Braai’ and ‘Pie’]

Don’t forget, this beef is amongst other things, a spicy little number – remember all those chillies way back in the original marinade? They’ve mellowed somewhat by now, but they’re still there. And so the last hurrah for this saucy little cow is to be in a meaty tortilla.

This won’t be the traditional chilli filling but I’m looking forward to the rich and slightly spicy mixture wrapped in a warm flour tortilla, and topped with sliced avocado, a tomato, lime and chilli salsa, and a dollop of soured cream. There’s only one thing missing – the cheese. Luckily we didn’t use all of that Comte, and I think it’s about time that this fillet and that particular fromage were reunited…