I thought I’d better get a slow cooked, braise of a dish in before things warm up too much, it’s late february, but there’s a definite feeling of spring in the air. Before you know it we’ll be into the traditional British fortnight of summer and I’ll have an urge to burn some meat on a bbq somewhere.
Back to the task in hand. I’d recently paid a visit to my local butchers with the intention of buying some Jacobs ladder, (U.S. call it short rib) for this dish. I was then informed that nobody has ever asked for it! It’s a real shame because it’s an amazing cut of beef, seriously under rated, perfect for slow cooking with just the right amount of gelatinous fats to keep things moist and flavourful. I settled for shin, which is a worthy replacement, but still couldn’t get it on the bone because ‘nobody buys it that way anymore’!
Choosing the correct cut of meat for a dish is paramount. For slow cooked beef, you really need to look for cuts with the correct amount of marbled fat running through it, otherwise the meat will dry out. Liquid doesn’t keep meat moist, but fat does. Cuts such as brisket, ox tail, skirt, shin and Jacobs ladder are all perfect for slow cooking. If you have to buy meat that’s a little on the lean side, then simply add some bacon or pancetta to it.
Booze and beef are perfect companions, British ales, hefty red wines (Barolo or Carmenere are good) or a splash of brandy or eau de vie (prune!) of your choice will lift a dish to new heights and give the cooking liquor a new dimension. For real depth and flavour look to things like mushrooms, garlic and beetroot. A few dried porcini mushrooms thrown in the pot will add a lovely rounded earthiness and if, unlike myself, you happen to have a bottle of truffle oil kicking around the cupboard, a quick glug will have the same magical effect!
Recipe: Braised shin of beef, ale and onion.
- 1kg beef shin (sliced, diced, however you like it).
- 2 onions (thinly sliced).
- 2 carrots chopped.
- 4 cloves garlic.
- 1 tsp tomato puree.
- 2 bay leaves.
- 1/3 bottle of ale.
- 1/2 pint water or enough to just cover.
- Brown the shin in a frying pan, hard and fast, we’re after colour (we’ll transfer to a casserole dish later).
- Add the onions, carrots, garlic, tomato puree and bay. cook gently for 5 minutes.
- Remove contents of pan and place into a suitably sized casserole dish.
- De-glaze frying pan with the ale, make sure you get all the tasty caramelized bits off the bottom of the pan! Add to the beef in dish.
- Season beef and onions etc, generously with salt and pepper.
- Top up dish with just enough water to cover contents. (I prefer not to use stock as I find the flavour of the finished dish much more defined. Essentially it makes its own stock).
- Place lid loosely on dish and put into a pre heated oven at 175c for about 4-5 hrs. Keep an eye on the water levels towards the end to ensure it doesn’t reduce too much. If your going down the pub the watch the football/rugby/people getting drunk, then simply cook for longer at a lower temperature.
- Hopefully all being well, when removed from the oven the braise will have thickened of its own accord having reduced the water whilst cooking and its ready to go! If it’s a bit on the thin side either leave it longer or if that’s too much to bear, thicken the gravy with a bit of cornflour, or a few gravy granules will do the trick!
One more thing…
If you’ve had the opportunity to read my post ‘Quick bread recipe‘ then here’s a way to take it somewhere new. At the stage of ‘knocking back’, throw in some diced chorizo, cook as per recipe. Top with cheese, grill, then taste, close your eyes and find yourself transported to the foothills of Andalusia!…maybe.