Simply delicious food. That's all.
Vegetarians, look away now.
Debating with my lovely butcher, Henry, today about what to call less appealing, though utterly worthy, cuts of meat when presenting them on a forthcoming pop-up menu…
You see, I am blessed with lovely, clever, discerning friends who love to eat and are deeply and kindly supportive of my culinary effort. In the past when I have cooked for them they have been generous enough to label a meal ‘life changing‘ or to say that they are ‘unable to stop thinking about it‘. (Okay, let’s hope that’s kindly intended…). Yet, when I confess – for that is what it amounts to – that what they enjoyed was actually pork cheek, or ox tail ragu, or thickened with rabbit liver, their eager, pink, moist proclamations turn pallid and fade: ‘How interesting…’ just one response.
For years, when feeding small children, I steadfastly refused to lie about either the food or its provenance. Call a cow a cow, in my book. Yet, amused by friends’ attempts to forcefeed vegetables to their children, I sat at many a teatime table where vegetables appeared thinly disguised as ‘green rice’ or ‘orange sauce’ and the suspicion was palpable, the deception in vain. Guest children politely hid piles of the coloured vegetable under handily chunky cutlery, whilst host children recoiled in horror and pushed the plate to the furthest edge of the table with a shriek.
While debating this very point with Henry today – and in doing so acknowledging why sometimes absurd menu description is necessary – I concluded that a little deception might be preferable when presenting the kilos of gelatinous ox cheek I was carrying away in my singlehanded mission to convert half of the squeamish Oxon population to card-carrying cheap cut eaters. Preferable, and perhaps essential, when faced with the butcher’s own cheery suggestion of Henry’s Head Meat.
If my deception – well meant – captures a whole raft of new subscribers to these delicious, understated, undersold understudies of the meat world, then call me a liar.
So, what to call my Spiced Ox Cheek in Beer?
Serves 4-5 hungries. 6 not so.
2 ox cheeks
2 banana shallots, finely chopped
1 celery stick, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, crushed
Pinch of allspice
1 large star anise
2 fresh bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
Bottle of stout or ale
Seasoned flour with a pinch of hot smoked paprika
Beef or vegetable stock
4 squares of best quality chocolate 75% or higher, to finish
Sea salt, black pepper
Preheat the oven to 140 – the dish will cook for an absolute minium of 2.5 hours, but preferably much, much longer.
Cut the cheeks into 4 – 6 chunks and dredge in seasoned flour with a pinch of hot smoked paprika.
Using a heavy-based ovenproof casserole dish with lid, brown the cheeks briefly in a little olive oil, and remove from the pan.
Add the carrot, celery and shallot and saute gently with a nut of butter until softened. Add the crushed garlic and allow to cook for a moment, no more.
Now, add the ox cheeks back to the pan, throw in your star anise, pinch of allspice, cloves, cinnamon stick and bay leaves, and glug in the whole bottle of stout or ale. Top up with stock, to cover the meat, put on the lid and put the casserole dish into the oven for up to 4 hours, checking occasionally that it hasn’t dried up.
If it’s looking a little dry, pour over some more stock or water, or even some wine.
About 15 mins towards the end of the cooking time, stir in the chunks of chocolate.
Serve with pappardelle and plenty of glossy sauce over. Or with smoked or mustard mash, or even a dumpling or two with horseradish poked through the middle by a stout finger.
This is a rich, sustaining dish so, whatever carb option you go for, I’d top it with a handful of crisp watercress or even flat leaf parsley leaves, very lightly dressed in cobnut oil and some lemon rind. But that’s up to you.
Oxtail another day. (Although hardly a cheap cut when you’re paying by weight, even though lyrically-waxing food journalists will insist otherwise…)