I love a good roast dinner, or a lovely big plate of stew or casserole – especially on a Sunday. It’s not the kind of food that I often make for myself but I do appreciate the joy of very traditional food as well as fare from around the world. For example, sausage casserole is one of my favourite meals ever, although it’s never quite as good when I make it; my mum has cornered the market on it as far as I’m concerned. When I make it I like to keep it really simple, and serve it up with some mashed potatoes and maybe some marrowfat peas – processed food they might be, but they’re reminiscent of my childhood and tasty in a ‘tastes of green, not really real food’ kind of way. In this situation, I like marrowfat peas more than fresh peas, even when they’re straight from the shell and steamed then served with butter (although it’s a close run thing). To make the casserole, I cook some onion and carrot in a pot, add the sausages to brown them, then just cover with beef stock and a pinch of mixed herbs, and simmer until it’s reduced. Season with salt and pepper and it is, as Gordon Ramsay would say, done.
I also recently tried out a mediterranean-style chicken casserole with courgette, vine tomatoes, peppers and red onion. I cooked the onion with some thyme, salt and pepper in a casserole dish that was NOT my Le Creuset one, and was safe for the hob. Once that was softened I put in two chicken thighs, skinned, and browned the meat. I added all the veg, drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice, added some oregano and basil leaves and put in the oven for half an hour. It was simple and fresh-tasting, and required very little washing up since I just ate it right out of the dish…
Last Sunday I made the long awaited oxtail and heart casserole for my parents, sister and gentleman friend. Unfortunately I was too busy getting the meal on the table to take any pictures of it, so you will have to use your imagination. I started the casserole on Saturday, the same day as I made the pretzel bites and crumb and raisin cookies from the last post. it was a busy old day, that’s for sure, but in a really good way. I started at 10am and made the casserole, pretzel bites, cookies, cleaned the house so it was parent-ready and all the dishes were done – this last was the work of the G man, for which I am more than grateful. I was having one of my ‘Nigella? Delia? Martha? Amateurs…’ days, although I was looking more than a little more dishevelled than any of those fine ladies. I choose to leave out ‘looking fabulous’ on my own personal list of domestic goddess criteria, in favour of ‘knowing how to rock out even while up to the elbows in flour’. I started the casserole first, as I knew it would take hours in the oven and that I could get on with everything else while it was cooking. Here are the ingredients and method:
- two large, four medium and several small pieces of oxtail – roughly equivalent to one large piece each, which is what I would have bought could I have found it
- salt and pepper
- porcini oil or normal olive oil
- one pack of diced ox heart
- two carrots, peeled and sliced into coins – half these when you get to the wider end of the carrot
- one white onion, diced
- red wine
- four bay leaves
- half a pack of dried butter beans which have been soaked overnight
- boiling water
- one tin of sliced carrots (I know, tinned food, but it’s quicker and easier than cooking up another couple of carrots separately)
- Optional step: I spent an hour removing as much fat as I could from the oxtail before starting to cook. I used some sharp scissors and most of my patience. It would have been quicker with fewer pieces, of course, and it’s an optional step, but there was a *lot* of skin and fat on there.
- Put a griddle pan or frying pan on to heat. Rub the oxtail pieces with oil, salt and pepper. When the pan is hot, sear the oxtail pieces on each side to colour them, and transfer to a casserole dish when they’re ready.
- Tip the heart into the pan and saute for a minute or so, just to take on a bit of colour and pick up the flavours of the pan. Add to casserole dish.
- Put the onion and carrot into the pan, cook for a minute then add a splash of boiling water and deglaze the pan by using a spoon or spatula to scrape up all the meat scraps and juices that have stuck to the bottom. Pour the lot into the casserole.
- Add more water to just below the level of the meat, and a good splash of red wine. Mix everything together and put into the oven at 150C for two hours, checking and stirring after one hour, and adding more water if needed to give a thick gravy round the meat.
- After the two hours are up, take the casserole out and stir up again. Taste to check seasoning and adjust if necessary. Put in the butter beans and a splash more wine, and more water if required. Put back in the oven for a further hour.
- After the third hour, the meat should fall off the bones of the oxtail, and you can remove it and stir the meat back in to the veg and gravy, discarding the bones. Because you’ve cooked the meat on the bone it will be tender, and the casserole will have a very thick, gelatinous gravy. Remove the bay leaves. Drain and stir in the tin of carrots (or add more lightly cooked from fresh if you prefer).
- Set the casserole aside to completely cook, then put in the fridge overnight.
- When you’re ready to eat, reheat for twenty minutes to half an hour at about 200C, check seasonings, then serve.
I served this casserole with mashed potatoes, steamed cabbage and a giant Yorkshire pudding. To make your own super authentic Yorkshire (as told to me by a Yorkshireman outside a pub in Leeds), break two eggs into a measuring jug. Beat the eggs, then look at the level on the jug. In the case of the one I made, the eggs came to 150ml. I then added a further 150ml of milk, which brought the level to 300ml, and then topped up to 450ml total with plain flour. Turn this out into a bowl and whisk until there are no lumps. Add salt and pepper. Allow the mix to sit while you heat the oven to 240C. Cover the base of a casserole dish (in my case, the one in the picture above, but without the chicken casserole in it) with a layer of oil about 2mm deep – this is a guess, I’m afraid, next time I make them I’ll pay more careful attention to this part. Heat the oil until it is shimmering and almost to the point of smoking. Whip the dish out, pour the batter in (it should sizzle) then put it straight back in the oven, making sure that there is plenty of room for it to rise. Bake it until it is well risen and the top is well browned – this should give a very crisp outside and a bready, doughy, chewy inside. It took about 20 minutes for mine to be cooked, just keep an eye on it. You can also make individual ones in a Yorkshire pudding tray or I would guess in a muffin tray, but the giant one is less faff and fitted in nicely with the family style serving I was going for – that is, everything gets put on the table and you shout ‘go!’. Those amounts made one big enough for five of us, but probably wouldn’t be too much for four with healthy appetites (or one person who really likes Yorkshire pudding).
My tip for mashed potatoes is this: boil the potatoes till they’re cooked, then boil them some more, then keep boiling them, then boil then a minute or two longer. Then think about it, and decide to give them an extra minute for luck. You want them to fall apart as soon as they sense the potato masher coming out of the drawer. It makes for very light work, and very smooth mash. I usually add a touch of milk, just enough to make them creamy, and too much butter or margarine, plus a pinch of salt. Some foods I like to be adventurous with, but mashed potato isn’t usually one of them. My tip for roast potatoes is this: boil them in well salted water until they’re cooked, then drain them, put them back in the pot, drizzle with olive oil and shoogle them. Shoogle is not a technical cooking term, it simply means give them a good shake about, until they are coated with oil and the outsides and very soft and a bit battered. That’s a lot of meaning for one word, I’m sure you’ll agree. Tip them into a roasting tin and roast at 190C for about forty minutes, turning once, until they are golden on all sides but not dried out. If they start to look dry, add a drizzle more of oil over the top. They’re good roasties, if I do say so myself.
The reason I mention roast potatoes is that I made some to accompany my Tuscan-style roasted chicken this week, another LC recipe: http://leitesculinaria.com/20123/recipes-tuscan-style-roast-chicken.html. I can’t recommend this one enough – it’s so easy to follow, and so low-maintenance, it’s perfect for a Sunday dinner. You can multiply it up to feed a crowd, or keep it small for just one or two. I have a before and after shot of the chicken here – it’s not often that raw chicken looks appealing, but the lemon and rosemary worked some kind of magic and made it happen.
I accompanied the roast items with steamed broccoli and asparagus. The asparagus I drizzled with lemon oil and seasoned with black pepper, and it was very fancy indeed. It’d be good with griddled courgette too, or with a salad as suggested by the recipe itself. The plate doesn’t look much in this picture but I think that has a lot to do with my method of serving food; I don’t like it to touch until such time as I choose for it to do so. Bento boxes are made for people like me – the food must be SEPARATE or it makes my brain spin…
Now, I have considerately posted these recipes on a Saturday to allow everyone to make one of them for Sunday lunch. Get cooking!
Tunes: The title of this post suggests a battle between the two plates, when really it’s just a description of each with no comparative analysis at all. I apologise for misleading you in such a way. To make amends I present to you Run MC vs Aerosmith (oh alright, *featuring* Aerosmith) with the beauteous Walk This Way: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GIbHPs_M55Q
Movie: To match the Italian style chicken, I suggest La Vita e Bella. I had all but forgotten about this film until someone mentioned it to me recently, and now I’d like to spread the word so that I don’t forget again. It’s not what I’d call light viewing, exactly, but it is wonderful, charming, moving and, as you might expect, beautiful http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVG-qap7TmI&feature=PlayList&p=B4E8A8761FB005B0&index=0&playnext=1