I was inspired to slow cook some beef shin in red wine today after seeing James Dawe's overnight ox cheek ragu on Instagram. Once cooked at 75°C for a good 12 hours, the meat is removed, which is as tender as can be, the veg are mashed into the cooking liquor which is then reduced before mixing the pulled meat back in. James uses this as a sauce for some papardelle with lots of pasta water and Parmesan. Can't fail to be delicious.
It struck me that, despite having written a whole book on the subject of of one pot cooking, populated quite heavily with slow cooks (Ultimate One Pot Dishes), I'd actually never cooked a stew/one pot for more than 3 or 4 hours and certainly not at a temperature as low as 75°C. So I wanted to give this a go.
And whilst starting the recipe this morning, I begun to feel a little like I'd come full circle. When I embarked on my course at Leith's in 2007, I was searching for the right path for to follow in the food world (I've since learnt that many paths can lead to the same place, just in slightly different directions!). I went on to create a brand that was all about feeding others and 'nourishing souls' through stews and slow cooked food (indeed, my brand name was 'Stewed! Nourish your soul').
Stews and one pots are, by their very nature, food that people tend to eat with others; they conjure up images of groups of friends or families congregated around a kitchen table, all tucking in. Ultimately, they're accessible, comforting, full of flavour and bring people together. If I'm truly honest, I now struggle a little with how to reconcile the communal, sharing nature of stews with what stewed! eventually became - stews for 1. I originally packed my stews in 2 person pots, but our retailer friends persuaded us to create individual portions and follow the trend in ready meals for 1. And perhaps therein lies one of the reasons the brand failed to capture the hearts of our consumers and failed to build that emotional connection; the very nature of what a stew is - communical comfort food that brings people together - was undermined by what the product had become - a meal for one in a plastic pot (albeit quite delicious!).
Go to the supermarket. Pick up a stewed! pot for 1, microwave for 3.5 minutes, ping and eat...
That's a far cry from the communcal tables of friends and family tucking into a dish that had been bubbling in the kitchen for hours.... But all this is history and I've moved on; I get joy from teaching my one pot cooking classes at Leith's and seeing my book on sale - that's the legacy of stewed!, for me.
During an interview this week with Joanna Pieters for her Creative Life Show podcast, I discussed how the challenges I've faced over the past 3 years following my Dad's death impacted on my cooking and creativity. And during the interview I realised that the feeling of creativity I get through cooking is intrinsically linked and reliant on the act of sharing and interacting with the people I'm cooking for. I love interacting with the readers and diners eating my food, and the responses I get on Instagram from pictures and recipes of my food. I love teaching key cookery skills to my students and taking the time to get to know a little about them. I love making people smile and laugh when I deliver a food demonstration. Food for me is about bringing people together, about sharing, about learning from one another; ultimately it's how I communicate and that's where creativity in food and cooking lies for me. (Incidentally, if you're interested in listening to the interview itself, you can find it here)
I think the emphasis I place on communication, on human interaction, on sharing must explain why instead of gravitating towards traditional restaurant cheffing, I've always been drawn more to supper clubs hosted in my house; catering; private teaching; demonstrating cookery skills to groups; collaborating with businesses to create interesting recipes for a particular purpose; and of course writing.
During this period of exploration that I've given myself over the coming weeks and months, I'm aiming to really get to grips with what kind of food it is that I love to cook and why - believe it or not, it's hard for me to really put a finger on that; I'm keen to understand why I love cooking, and which elements of cooking and the culinary world feel right for me and are the areas for me to focus on going forward. This week, I've felt like I've made a step in the right direction!
Slow cooked beef shin and red wine ragu
- 900g-1kg beef shin in slices
- vegetable oil
- 2 medium onions, roughly chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 sticks celery, roughly chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, bruised
- A few fresh bay leaves
- A couple of sprigs of thyme
- A sprig of rosemary
- 750ml beef stock
- 375ml full bodied red wine
- Salt and black pepper
Heat a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil in a heavy based pot that has a lid. When hot, add your beef shin steaks. You may have to do this in batches to avoid crowding the meat in the pan (if you put too much meat in, it will steam, never brown). You're looking for lovely dark caramelisation on the meat, so don't move it around and make sure there's about 1cm of space around each piece of meat to ensure there's enough space for any liquid to evaporate. You'll need to brown each side for around 3-4 minutes.
Once browned, remove the meat to a plate and then add the onions, celery, carrots, herbs and garlic to the pan (which can be tied up together with string to make it easier to fish them out later). Allow to cook for a couple of minutes, scraping any bits that may have got stuck on the base of the pan. Then add the wine and the stock, some salt and black pepper, and the browned meat that you put aside along with amy juices that may have collected. Allow to come back to simmering point and then pop in the oven for up to 12 hours until the meat is incredibly tender.
Remove the pieces of meat to a bowl. Remove the herbs and discard. Now reduce the sauce on the hob, mashing and cutting the vegetables as you go with a spoon. Once heavily reduced and full of flavour (up to 30 minutes), add the meat back in and break it up with a wooden spoon. Season to taste. That is it!
This would be now perfect added to papparedelle or large rigati with Parmesan and pasta cookign water, eaten alongside some cheesy polenta, or fillin into ravioli....