Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Comfort food

I was having a crappy time lately and I realised that even just talking about about my favourite foods cheers me up, so here's a post about those things I love to cook and eat the most.


Roast Rib of Beef

I like this best of all with a rich gravy, roast spuds and sautéed green beans with shallot butter (a little chopped tarragon in the butter would help create those Bernaise flavours that work so well with beef).

A friend of mine once made me pan roast rib (medium rare) with a buttered baked potato, creamed spinach and fried mushrooms, served with some fab artisanal Sazerac rye whiskey on the rocks...a birthday dinner fit for Don Draper.

The last roast rib of beef I did though - raised in Inishowen, Co Donegal, and aged for 28 days in local food specialist Harry's restaurant - I treated a little differently.

Once roasted medium, I rested the meat smothered with rosemary butter (butter whipped with fresh chopped rosemary and grated nutmeg).

I created a gravy by adding beef stock and a splash of Worcestershire sauce to the roasting juices, thickening with a little flour.

I served the meat with Jamie Oliver's crushed roast sweet potato, with fresh chilli, crushed garlic (cooked off in butter to stop it being too assertive), fresh coriander and sesame oil; home fried baby spuds and some greens. It was a surprisingly good combo- worth straying from the familiar path.

Grilled Ribeye Steak

My other favourite piece of beef is a grilled ribeye steak, usually cooked medium rare but I'm open to change if the cut requires something different.

My dinner is simple and fail-safe: season the meat with freshly ground black pepper and grated nutmeg (salt the meat with sea salt only after it's been frying for a minute or two).

Fry until well caramelised outside and desired done-ness inside, adding butter to the pan and spooning over half-way through. Remove to rest and add balsamic vinegar, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, a tbsp of water and reduce slightly.

For my spinach side, crush one large clove of garlic and sautée without colouring in a generous knob of butter. Wilt 300g of baby spinach and season with salt, chilli flakes and a squeeze of lemon. For a richer variation, add half a tub of creme friache.

Finally, par boil baby potatoes. Drain and cut in half or so that they're bite size. Sautée in about an inch of oil with a hanful of fresh rosemary leaves until crisp and golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper and season with sea salt. This dinner never fails to win over a man's heart!


Poached Leg of Mutton with Caper Sauce

I love mutton. It has a deep, rich flavour from time spent grazing on good pasture. There was a time when this meat was better appreciated then it is now, however, I assure you that when cooked to its best advantage it's up there with the best of meats.

Poach a leg of mutton in a deep casserole in the oven for approx 1.5 hours. Use chicken or lamb stock and white wine for poaching liquor - bay leaves, onions, carrots and a bulb of garlic.

To make the sauce, sautée chopped shallots and capers in butter, add some poaching liquor and reduce, finish with double cream and fresh chopped parsely. Pour over the tender mutton and your choice of veg such as boiled new potaoes.

Roast Rack of Lamb

One of my favourite pieces from one of my favourite animals. Fry the rack for a few minutes to brown the meat and crisp the fat (cut the rack in half if space doesn't allow to do it whole). While the lamb roasts to medium rare, add to the pan a handful of mirepoix, chopped parsely and 2 tbsp of puy lentils. Toss in the meat juices and fat then add a splash of cognac. Cook off the alcohol, add a few spoons of lamb stock, soy sauce and reduce. Spoon the lentil gravy over the cutlets when serving. My favourite sides are rosemary roast potatoes, celeriac purée (boil the celeriac in stock with crushed garlic, then blend until smooth), and sautéed greens with a fresh sharp mint verde (fresh chopped mint leaves, chopped capers, gherkin, anchovy, olive oil and a dash of white wine or sherry vinegar).

Neck Fillet and Chop
I also love lamb shank, breast, belly and leg, however I'm mentioning neck as it's really delicious and underused. Left is my lamb stew using neck fillet pieces - the sauce was thickened with the seasoned flour coating the lamb which I browned before stewing, and a small bit of 100% cocoa solid chocolate which adds a wonderful richness. Neck has a nice quantity of fat so becomes very juicy and tasty when cooked slowly in a rich saucy stew. Serve with mash.


Slow Roast Shoulder of Pork

There is too little space here to talk about all the parts of pig I love. I think the molten, porky deliciousness of slow roasted shoulder deserves to be towards the top of the list - of course the quality of the animal is most important, and this is only assured by a good farmer who truly cares about the pigs.

Rub the beast with crushed fennel seeds or chopped rosemary, black pepper and plenty of salt. Roast in an oven no higher than 250F (130C) for 8 to 10 hours. Let it rest for a least half an hour once cooked, then watch the meat pull meltingly apart. Some people like to shred the pork, dress with anise-scented spicy sauce and pile it into a soft taco with lettuce, salsa, fresh coriander, and sour cream. Others sprinkle the shoulder liberally with some kind of glaze and give it a smoky grilling on the barbecue. I however, like to pile some meat on my plate, smother in a fragrant tangy gravy (using cider or white wine, stock and flour with the roasting juices), and eat with fluffy buttered baked potato or mash, braised fennel and simply steamed cabbage with butter and black pepper (you could add cream to the cabbage if you want to be more indulgent).

Grilled Chop on the Bone

A lot of people make the mistake of overcooking pork chops, resulting in very tough meat. This spoils the delicious meaty flavour of the pork, and cooking chops on the bone gives even more rich flavour. Once again chosing good pork is essential for best results - breed is important, Berkshire and Tamworth (aka Irish Grazer) are known for superior quality - and a nice cut such as Barnsley chop (centre or loin) is perfect for grilling, baking and frying. Either way can be delicious, but I can't resist the flavours of the grill. Tasty purées of turnip, celeriac or squash make nice seasonal accompaniments, and of course buttered baby carrots, cabbage, roast spiced apple, or even a cheddar mash would be great. It's so versatile you can do pretty much anything with a pork chop - they can dress up or down for any occasion.

Legs and Thighs in Casseroles

I like a good roast chicken same as the next person - only a good quality free range, often organic birds offers a tasty full figured bird that cooks up well - however, more often than not I prefer to work with the legs. Pan fried and added into casserols and stews they give delicious flavour and fat from the wonderful skin.

Left is a 'cacciatore' (hunter's) casserole, made with tomatoes, peppers, onions, herbs and wine,
slowly cooked for tender results

The Spanish are also fans of these tasty parts in casseroles, and I love the combination of the chicken meat and fat with their typical flavours - chorizo, peppers, paprika and garlic. My version has chunks of cooking chorizo, which I fried off to release its flavoured oils at the beginning, onions, garlic, hot smoked paprika, Serrano chilli pepper, cinnamon, tinned chopped tomatoes, chicken stock, bell peppers, butter beans, baby potatoes and Spanish white wine. I served with smooth butter mash and a cheesy broccoli bake - a very hearty and warming combination for winter nights.


Poached Salmon

I realise this is just a token fish entry - I also realise how much meat I've been eating rather than anything else! However, one of my favourite fish dishes is a poached side of salmon. 

Rick Stein does a wonderful job poaching the fish in white wine on a bed of finely sliced leeks, carrots and garlic, which are then served with the salmon and a wedge of lemon for garnish. My little lot above is salmon poached in white wine and water, bay leaf and parsely, served with a salad of boiled eggs, avacado, finely shaved red onion, aspargus and baby gem lettuce, cherry tomatoes tossed with chopped fresh dill and white wine vinegar, boiled and buttered new potatoes, and creme fraiche with dill. Tim Adams Clare Valley semillon was a perfect wine match.