Five New Things

I was going to do another dishes of the year post (it is Listmas, after all), but looking back at last year’s I realise that I haven’t eaten anything like as well. Apart from St John’s bone marrow, mullet at Lyle’s, smoked pork fillet at Morito, sausage and radicchio in Naples, snail-and-trotter-stuffed potato at the Poule D’Or, rabbit at the Walnut Tree, pig’s head and potato pie at St John, again (Bread and Wine, this time), the patty melt from Patty & Bun, cuttlefish at Taberna do Mercado, and perhaps a few other things I’ve forgotten, nothing really stands out. I just haven’t had the time for extravagant meals; I’ve been too busy working.

 

Luckily, all of this working means I’ve had plenty of time to experiment (mess around) with various new-to-me ingredients and techniques, many of which have found a permanent place in my repetoire. So, since it is the season, here are five things which have revolutionised the way I cook this year. None of them are new – quite the opposite really – and all are fairly simple. I call them techniques, but none are very technical. The point is flavour.

 

BRINING

Everyone who brines their meat is absolutely evangelical about it – and rightly so. The difference it makes is astounding. It’s only this year that I feel I’ve really got to grips with it – I used to brine EVERYTHING, quite heavily, but I’ve got more selective. Pork belly, for example, I don’t think wants it; brined pork just tastes of sausage (not necessarily a bad thing, but not always what you want), while brining pigeon does weird things to the flesh. Chicken, rabbit, tongue, anything you are going to smoke, most things you are going to poach. Most things, really. Following St Fergus, I use a pretty strong brine of 125g salt and 80g sugar per litre, plus spices as appropriate; I generally boil the dry stuff with half the water, then add the rest as ice when it’s ready, but that’s because I’m impatient.

 

FERMENTATION

Specifically, the fermentation of tomatoes. I’ve been pickling things for a while now, but this was a breakthrough. A recipe from Ukrainian chef Olia Hercules, it’s really simple; a weak brine (35g salt/ 35g sugar/ 1l water), a few cloves, peppercorns and juniper berries; a jarful of nice, underripe tomatoes; pour the one over the other, and leave for a couple of weeks. The tomatoes are great, but the resulting liquor is the secret weapon. I’ve cooked mussels in it, pickled other things in it, and used it as the base for a squidgut sauce. I now ferment almost all things.

 

SALT-BAKING

Salt has definitely been my most-used ingredient this year. For most things, but especially salt-baking, I use the coarse Cornish sea salt; Maldon’s is far, far too expensive. Salt-baking whole fish is something I’ve been aware of but never bothered with; when Stephen Harris tells you to do something, though, you sit up and listen. Like him, I’ve always found gurnard a challenge; obviously, it is cheap and good to eat, but I’ve often ended up chucking it into stews. Salt-baking it, though, gives you really moist, juicy and well-seasoned flesh. I serve it with a tomato-infused fish stock, and let everything sing.

 

RAISING

Not so much a new technique as a different point of view. After being obsessed with sourdough and all the obscure, manly practices which go with it, the Violet Bakery Cookbook reminded me that baking could be easy and fun. Claire Ptak is pragmatic. She doesn’t have the space, she says, for yeasted baking, so develops recipes, inspired by mid-century American cooking, using baking powder and sodas. Her cinnamon bun recipe is a thing of excellence and perfection.

 

EMULSION

You know how decent recipes always tell you to save the pasta water and add a bit to the sauce? Just do that. It’s magic.

 

Over-Cooked

I first tried rabbit on a pork-tasting trip around the Peak District – specifically, around parts of Derbyshire – where we sampled the quite impressive array of pork scratchings (and crackling – the difference, in a pub snack context, has never been clear to me) on offer in various pubs. Fun though this was, we had decided to take a night off (a birthday was involved) for a meal in Buxton. With its opera house, its spring water, the distant grandeur of the surrounding skyline (and despite being in the Midlands), Buxton can, I think, justifiably claim the title of the Italy of the North; we weren’t surprised, then, to find a lovely trattoria right in the town centre, all wood and leather and stairs and painted glass. The menu was pretty decent, too, from what I remember (we had quite a lot of wine – a birthday was involved) – we had snails to start, topped with vivid splashes of green, and there was squid-ink ravioli and calf liver and onions and I had rabbit, as I said, which had been stewed on the bone in a tomato sauce that could have been richer if you ask me. It was overcooked, dry but still tasty, and it might have been the wine or the company but that stands out in my mind as a hugely enjoyable dinner (we went clubbing afterwards – not an activity I recommend in Buxton), and I’ve loved rabbit ever since. The trick, of course, is not to overcook it – and to make the tomato sauce richer.

“Taking care not to overcook” is a particularly annoying piece of recipese, up there with “if liked” on my personal list. Presumably you are always taking at least some care not to overcook, and if not, the odd admonition is unlikely to make much difference. The implication, of course, is that the ingredient and process mentioned are particularly likely to result in overcooking, or that the consequences of overcooking are more drastic than usual. Without telling you exactly how not to overcook, though, or what the early-warning signs that you are doing so might be, these imprecations are worse than useless, throwing the cook into a panic without giving any way out. With any slow-cooked meat, it can be hard to judge the point where slow, happy disintegration shades into overcooking, a problem which is exacerbated in a meat as naturally lean as rabbit (all game suffers from a similar problem, which is why I’m not a huge fan of slow-cooked venison) – especially, and I’m sorry if I’m labouring this point, the tomato sauce (or other cooking medium) isn’t rich enough. When I started cooking rabbit, I used to stew the animal in its entirety, something which, for a number of reasons, you’d never do with a cow or sheep, though you might get away with a pig. As a result, the tender saddle meat always ended up tough and dry, a problem which I thought could be fixed by longer stewing, thereby messing up the whole dish. Now, of course, I keep the saddle fillets separate, and make rabbit nuggets.

This is a happy place to have arrived at, but the journey could have been halved if anyone had told me what to look for while I was taking care not to overcook my rabbit. A problem with recipes as a genre is that they do rather assume you know what the finished result should taste like – an assumption which robs them of a large part of their use, or certainly of their egalitarianism. A good cookbook should throw open the cuisines of the world and of history, and make them available to anyone who can follow a set of instructions. Without a certain degree of precision in the matter, say, of what overcooked rabbit looks like, or the degree of reduction in a tagine, or the careful balance of spicing in a proper Istanbul kebab, you are narrowing your audience to those who can afford to go and get the real thing. I mention examples from world food, but this applies just as much to restaurant cookbooks, which need the same sort of precision if they are to be more than just souvenirs of a good meal. The Nose To Tail cookbooks are so good because they manage to call up the whole atmosphere and ethos of St John, and I loved them long before I could afford to eat there. They are welcoming, in a way that, say, White Heat is not, and this welcome is extended in the balance between blithe imprecision – ovens are only ever gentle, medium, hot – and absolute clarity. Rabbit is ready when a knife can be slipped easily into its haunch; this is true, and useful, and immediately understandable. If only those Buxton-Italians had known. They could have taken some advice on the sauce too.

Great Chieftain o the Puddin’-Race!

I’m preparing for Burns Night, the real foodie winter festival. It’s not that I don’t love Christmas (I’m deeply suspicious of anyone that doesn’t), it’s just there’re so many distractions – presents, decorations, family, carols – that it’s hard, sometimes, to just get stuck in. For Burns Night, on the other hand, there is just enough ceremony to provide an excuse for the meal, and no more – which is as it should be. Furthermore, as we’re not subjected to haggis sandwiches and three-courses-for-£25-office-Burns-Night-meals for a month and a half beforehand and are therefore not bored sick of the whole affair, no one has yet seen fit to mess around with the meal. Instead, we are bound by iron, delicious, tradition – and the fact that it involves offal and whisky makes it all the better.

Of course, such a limited menu gives you little scope for showing off – so what do you do? You make your own haggis. I should warn you in advance that it is quite an undertaking, at least in terms of sourcing the ingredients; Fergus Henderson, whose recipe I adapted, seems to assume you won’t even try to make it, as he neglects to mention how hard it is to get a sheep’s pluck. I asked a couple of butchers, and scoured the internet, with no luck, but reasoning that the lungs probably don’t taste of much, I went with what I could get. Accordingly, this recipe assumes you will use sausage skins rather than one whole stomach; a less impressive spectacle, perhaps, but still very satisfying to make.

HAGGIS SAUSAGES

Enough for 8.
Large branches of Tesco are good for lamb offal if your butcher can’t oblige; places like Lakeland normally stock sausage skins. The oatmeal might be hardest to track down – you don’t want rolled, porridge or jumbo oats, which are steamed. Try health food shops.

3 lamb hearts
400g lamb liver
Bay leaves
Peppercorns
1 carrot, roughly chopped
Half an onion
A leek, roughly chopped
2 large onions, finely chopped
A little lard or butter
100g coarse oatmeal, toasted in a dry pan
100g dried breadcrumbs (buy panko or pangrattato, or make your own)
200g beef suet
4 tsp coarse ground pepper
2 tsp ground allspice
A pack of sausage skins or similar

Rinse the offal, then place in a large pan with the whole spices and stock veg. Cover with cold water and a big pinch of salt, bring to the boil, then simmer for two hours, skimming off the scum (there will be a lot) and fishing out the liver half way through. Meanwhile, sweat the chopped onion in lard or butter until very soft and sweet.

When the lights are cooked and cooled (save 500ml of the stock), dice roughly then coarsely blitz in a food processor, using the pulse button – you don’t want a smooth paste. Tip the result into a large bowl, then add the cooked onions, the reserved stock, and the rest of the ingredients (apart from the sausage skins, obviously). Mix thoroughly with your hands, and salt to your liking.

When happy, stuff or pipe into your skins or whatever; I used a sausage gun designed for the purpose, but a piping bag, bought or improvised, would do. If you can’t be bothered with any of that, just bake it in a flat tray like Paxo stuffing; it won’t be as fun, but will still be delicious. Leave your sausages in the fridge overnight to firm up.

When you’re ready to eat, heat the oven to gas mark 5/190C/375F. Put the haggises in a deep, oven-proof frying pan, and just cover with water. Bring to a boil on the hob, let them bubble until the water’s half gone, then stick in the oven to brown up and finish cooking – another 15 minutes or so.
Serve with neeps and tatties , a wee dram (mandatory) and perhaps some greens and mustard. Get someone to recite ‘Address to a Haggis’ in their silliest Scots, and plunge your knives in at the third stanza. Enjoy!

The Magic Pudding

photo(1)

 

Sometimes it’s nice just to follow a recipe. I own a LOT of cookbooks and eagerly await new ones, although I rarely follow them directly. There are a few exceptions, of course; technical procedures like baking or pickling, or dishes from cuisines that are entirely outside my understanding. In general, though, I (and I imagine a lot of people) use cookbooks chiefly for inspiration, the more so the more complicated the book is. I have never, for example, followed an Ottolenghi recipe through from start to finish; the number of ingredients alone is enough to put me off, even though I’d happily use that many myself when improvising. Fergus Henderson’s books are a joy to cook from, but the sheer effort involved can often be dispiriting – if it doesn’t need ordering in advance from a butcher, it probably needs brining for 5 days or (the most extreme, if tongue-in-cheek, example) cooking on driftwood in the Hebrides.

 

Give me an Elizabeth David or a Claudia Roden, though, and I’d happily cook every dish. You look at the short ingredient list and think “How could that be nice?” – but it always, always, is. They are vague where they should be vague, and precise when they need to be, forgiving of substitutions and geographical issues with sourcing ingredients. Although they have both since been coffee-tabled up with hardbacks and photos, in their original editions they are perfect to work from, small enough not to take up half my work surface, cheap enough that I don’t worry about getting wine all over the pages… And with no varnished, styled images to compare the end product to, I’m generally happier with the result.

 

Another fine food writer who seems to have resisted the coffee-table trend is Elisabeth Luard. Her European Peasant Cookery has the authoritative and pleasingly wordy air of a well-written reference book, a Brewer’s or similar; you can dip in and out whether cooking or not, and find solid, time-tested iterations of traditional recipes free from authorial meddling. If you want to know how to make, say, a pork pie, without Tom Kerridge or whoever faffing about with it, this is the place to go. So, I had some ox kidney, a steak in the freezer, and half a pack of suet in the cupboard; where else to look?

 

STEAK AND KIDNEY PUDDING

A pudding for two. You’ll need a little pudding dish.

The only deviation this involves from Luard’s recipe is in halving the quantities, and in the manner of arranging the meat; she slices the steak into little fillets and wrapping these around the kidneys, which seemed like a waste of time.

PASTRY

125g self-raising flour

1 tsp salt

80g shredded suet

up to 100ml of cold water

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl, then stir in the suet. Gradually mix in the water until you have a nice smooth dough. Roll out two-thirds to line your buttered pudding basin, roll out a lid, then get on with the filling.

FILLING

250g stewing steak (I used 1 flat iron steak, which was ideal), cubed

125g ox kidney, trimmed, cubed, and soaked in water and a little vinegar

about 6 button mushrooms, sliced

half an onion, diced

1 tbspn chopped parsley

50ml red wine

salt and pepper

Put a pan of water on to boil, big enough to house the pudding. Mix everything except the wine with a generous amount of seasoning, then pack into the pudding case (I know it seems weird to put in a raw stew mix, but it cooks beautifully in its pastry home). Pour the wine in, then dampen the edges of the pastry, cover with your lid, trim and crimp. Make a slit for steam, and cover with a disc of greaseproof and some foil, with enough give in it to let the pastry rise.

Place a folded tea towel into the boiling water, to protect the pudding from direct heat, then place the pud carefully on top. The water should come two-thirds of the way up the basin, so adjust as necessary. Cover the pan and boil for three hours, making sure it doesn’t go dry. When done, take it out and let it settle for a few minutes before turning out. Serve with greens and mustard.

Bake Against The Dying Of The Light

10402798_10152785373432559_2727655711948833627_nI meant to write a post about autumn. Something about the wonderful, crackling transience of it, about the brief period of crisp, bright days, and, of course, about the food, fungi and wet nuts, the first of the year’s game, the last of the summer in hedgerow berries, orchard and stone fruits – the way it seems to be the most British of seasons, not having to borrow from other cuisines the way we do in summer, but able to fully express our ingredients and our heritage. Well, I missed autumn. It seems to have lasted about a week between Indian summer and early-onset winter.

The thing about our autumn is that it is really itself. We don’t really have an idealised autumn to hold it up against, the way we do with summer (Cornwall, the south of France, wherever) and winter (Christmas stories, the Alps). Is it dry and clear? Beautiful. Is it rainy? Good! All the better for splashing in the mud. Winter, on the other hand, rarely matches up to our desires. It’s never really that cold, and even decent snowfall soon turns into filthy slush. We want to sit huddled up with hot cocoa, scarves and mittens, and various arrangements of potato, meat and cheese, but that hardly seems justified when it’s 10 above freezing and drizzling.

As such, we don’t really have winter food as a distinct entity. We have the late autumn repetoire of soups and stews, and then we have the month-long tyranny of Christmas, which infects every meal in December. Even a quick supermarket sandwich becomes an opportunity to eat turkey, stuffing, and some cranberry-related concoction. There are two things wrong with this. Firstly, turkey and cranberry are vile, unless prepared very carefully indeed; secondly, Christmas is supposed to be a celebration, a feast. No wonder people complain about Christmas Day, about the endless tedium of the family meal – they’ve already experienced the most important part of it, watered down and adulterated, about 20 times, at drunken office parties, in petrol stations, pubs, Pret a Manger. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t celebrate at Christmas, but do we have to do it for so long?

What we need is a new winter festival, one that hasn’t been corrupted by Americanism, commercialism, and Pret a Manger, a new way to rage against the dying of the light and bring back the setting sun. For much of European peasant history, the big event of the winter has been the pig-killing festival, the whole village coming together to slaughter and to create, curing and salting and hanging meat to see them through the dark days. I appreciate that most people don’t have a pig to slaughter; still, perhaps we could nod to the toils of our ancestors, and make black pudding. Besides being delicious, it is ridiculously cheap, although you’ll need a couple of specialist ingredients. This recipe is adapted from the excellent Nose To Tail iteration, and makes a flat, Yorkshire-style loaf.

BLACK PUDDING

Buy dried blood off the internet (here is good); you’ll have to ask a butcher for back fat. I got mine free, but we’re good pals. It shouldn’t be expensive, anyway. I guess you could use fat snipped off back bacon? Mr Henderson suggests salted lardo if you can’t find raw fat.

Serves 8-10

1 spanish onion, finely chopped

6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

A chunk of lard

A small bunch of sage, finely chopped

Half a nutmeg, grated

1 tsp allspice

150g dried pig blood

150g fine polenta

250g back fat, chopped into little cubes

salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 3, and line a loaf tin with clingfilm.

Melt the lard in a big pan, then sweat the onion and garlic until soft and translucent. Meanwhile, whisk the dried blood into a litre of blood-temperature water. When the onion is done, tip in the sage and spices, cook out for a minute, then add the polenta and blood. Turn the heat right down, and cook, stirring, until it starts to congeal and thicken. Blood is very like eggs, so imagine a custard. You don’t want it to set yet. Taste (this is gross, more because of the raw polenta than the semi-cooked blood), and season appropriately. It wants a surprising amount of salt, and a free hand with the pepper.

Take off the heat and stir in the back fat – you want it evenly spread through the bloody porridge. Pour into your loaf tin, which you cover with foil and place, on a folded tea towel, in a good deep oven tray. Pour boiling water to just under the lip of the tin, then carefully slide into the oven. Back for about 1 and a half to 2 hours, until a knife comes out cleanish, then leave to set overnight.

To eat, slice appropriately, and fry or bake until hot and crispy. Serve, perhaps, with black badger peas and black kale, on the shortest day of the year.

“It’s not a concept – it’s common sense” (Part One)

I haven’t posted anything here for a while, partly because I’ve been going through a fairly major life upheaval, and partly because of a couple of holidays I’ve been on. Both gave me quite a lot to think about in terms of food and culture, and it’s taken me this long to sift through my impressions of the two.

First up was a trip around Europe with two of my brothers, taking in France, Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg, not a place I ever thought I’d have occasion to visit. This wasn’t a particularly food-based trip – the reason or excuse for it was a journey round various WWI and WWII (and some Napoleonic) battlefields and monuments, some with a family connection, most not – but obviously we had to eat every day, and I was put in charge of finding places to do this.

I don’t really know what place French food has in the popular imagination any more – obviously it will always have a certain cachet, but I think the rash of bad or indifferent restaurants, serving 3-course set menus to tourists, have long since damaged France’s (or at least Paris’) reputation as a place where it is impossible to eat badly. Away from the denser tourist areas, though, and across the border into Belgium and Luxembourg (both places that suffer less from the weight of reputation), the general standard of restaurant food is still very high. Aside from the endless and ever-changing parade of continental breakfasts, which were ever bad so much as peculiar, and fascinating in their minor regional variations, I think we barely had a disappointing meal. There was one, I think in Cambrai, where I had a serviceable andouillette, my offal-sceptic older brother accidentally ordered veal kidneys, and my other brother an indifferent carpaccio.

That was a blip, though, and at any rate somewhat our fault. In the main, guided partly by recommendation, and partly by a mix of instinct and slightly mystical criteria – the only restaurant that had no English reviews on tripadvisor, a green rather than a red frontage – we managed to eat very well in a succession of small towns about which we knew nothing. Granted, I think our best meal was in Luxembourg City, at a place which came recommended by the Guardian – a wood- and leather-lined place called Mousel’s Cantine, where we ate pig feet in a rich and sharp mustard sauce, roast hock, salt-pork shoulder, with choucroute and beans and potatoes, swilled down with stone mugs of beer overflowing with foam – but we dined almost as well in Verdun, where the first place we happened to walk past (away from the main tourist strip) turned out to be a tiny, slightly hipsterised bistro with excellent pastis and beer, and a great set menu featuring an outstanding salad of confit gizzards and a lovely plate of guineafowl. Even the one obviously touristy restaurant we went to, on the main touristy square in Metz, had, on an illustrated and laminated menu of ‘local specialities’, an impressive dish of whole veal head, boned and rolled, with a punchy sauce gribiche and something else, garlicky and sharp, that I couldn’t quite place.

Fergus Henderson likes to declaim that the idea of nose-to-tail eating is not a “concept” but merely “common sense”, which I think is slightly disingenuous on his part. Over here, it is a concept, and one which he has done extremely well out of. But it really is in France, on the Continent, along with the idea that food should be good, and affordable, and the entire process of eating it pleasurable and satisfying. Many of the places we went to were small, boring, provincial towns, famous because Verlaine had been born there and never come back, or Rimbaud had grown up there and hated it, or for their proximity to heroism, some glorious act that had little to do with the sleepy bourgeois town it is commemorated in. Imagine going on a tour of Civil War battle sites in the Home Counties and the MIdlands, and finding, in every village and commuter-belt ghost town, a cuisine that was rooted in tradition and place yet alive, moving with tastes and times and fashions, animated by quality of ingredient and pride in technique. Imagine that was common sense.

I think that’s enough for now. More on Spain soon.

Tongue & Cheek

In the rather macho world of nose-to-tail eating, there is, I think, some confusion as to what is being propounded – a confusion which can easily put off interested newcomers. Offal is never going to become big business – even when you get past the idea that you are eating a specific, named organ with specific functions, there is still that taste to contend with, that weird, ferric tang, as well as the texture, a dense sponginess that makes it quite hard to cook, responding to heat differently than muscle fibre. I love offal, but I can see why people don’t – and some vaguely ethical idea about eating ‘the whole beast’ is not going to convince them otherwise. It’s no less ethical to feed the weird bits to dogs.

At the other end of the ‘variety meat’ spectrum, though, you have perfectly meaty cuts of meat which we, as a culture, have simply fallen out of the habit of using, cuts which maybe take a little more time or effort to prepare but which are, if anything, more delicious than their more familiar neighbours. It wasn’t that long ago that pork belly fell into this category – look at the first Nose To Tail Eating, published in ’99, and you can find good old St Fergus preaching its virtues as if for the first time – and now it is everywhere, the go-to pork cut for gastropub and restaurant alike. Brisket, thanks largely to the American barbecue craze, is making similar headway, and we are getting more used to ‘difficult’ steak cuts (bavette, flat-iron, onglet) that require more careful cooking than the bleeding/shrivelled dichotomy of old. I think the slightly dubious ‘ethical’ aspect of nose-to-tail has more weight here – you don’t have a responsibility to eat things you hate, but it is irresponsible to ignore cuts of meat that are cheaper, tastier and often healthier, simply because you don’t know what to do with them. With that in mind, here are a couple of suggestions.

OX TONGUE, BREAD, GREEN SAUCE

While in Sicily, I saw, but never got the chance to eat at, a restaurant called Casa Del Brodo, which specialised in tortellini cooked in a rich meat broth (brodo). Presumably to supply adequate quantities of this broth, they also seemed to specialise in simply boiled meat dishes, generally beef or veal, and generally served with green sauce. Having been denied this pleasure, I ordered a brined ox tongue from the butcher when I got back. To cook the tongue, simply poach it with a few stock vegetables until very tender – it’ll take about 3 and a half hours – and then peel it as soon as it’s cool enough to handle. Then do as I did, and follow Fergus Henderson’s excellent recipe, which can be found here. A tongue is still obviously a tongue when you acquire it, and might induce some squeamishness, but the meat is firm, tender, lean and delicious, like a perfection of corned beef. We also ate the broth, with some macaroni and a few veg cooked in it, as a starter. A meat based meal that was clean and simple.

BRAISED OX CHEEK WITH SHERRY & ORANGE

This is quite different, a ridiculously rich and beefy concoction. It requires a couple of days planning, for the brining.

STEP 1

1 fat ox cheek

75g sea salt

50g caster sugar

a few cloves

1 cinnamon stick

1 clove of garlic

Put all the ingredients except the cheek in a pan with 500ml of water, bring to a boil (making sure your sugar and salt are dissolved) then cool completely. Put the cheek in a Tupperware box or similar, pour over the cold brine, cover – you might need to weigh the cheek down so he’s covered completely – and stick in the fridge. Leave for 3 days or so, turning once or twice.

STEP 2

2 onions, finely sliced

1 celery stick, finely diced

1 carrot, finely diced

2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced

1 orange, juice and a couple of strips of zest

1 cinnamon stick

a little bundle of thyme

a few bay leaves

250 ml of sherry – something sticky and dark, not leftover Bristol Cream

a splash of sherry vinegar

Put the oven on low – gas mark 1-and-a-halfish, about 150 Celsius, whatever that is in Fahrenheit. Sweat the veg with a little oil in a casserole until they are really soft, which will take a while. Remove your cheek from its holding tank, rinse and dry, then brown in a frying pan over a fairly fierce heat. Put the cheek to one side, deglaze the pan with sherry vinegar, and pour the juices in with the veg. Assuming they are now soft and golden, tuck in the zest, herbs and cinnamon (tied in a little bundle if you can be bothered), then pour in the orange juice and sherry. Reduce until the liquid is pretty syrupy, then sit the cheek on the onions and pour over enough water to nearly cover (see Fergus Henderson’s alligator-in-the-swamp principle). It shouldn’t need any seasoning, thanks to its briny days. Bring up to a simmer again, whack on the lid and put in the oven. Leave for about 6 hours. Take it out and poke with a spoon. If you can poke through it, it’s ready.

STEP 3

This is entirely up to you. You could cut the whole cheek into a few happy chunks, sit them on some mashed potato and serve with greens; you could do the same with pools of cheesy polenta and some bitter raw leaves, lurking with anchovies. I shredded it up, left it overnight, and did this –

CASARECCE WITH OX CHEEK RAGU & TALEGGIO

for 2

half your ragu

200g casarecce

75g taleggio, diced

flatleaf parsley, chopped

a knob of butter

a splash of extra virgin olive oil

reheat the ragu with a splash of water in a small pan. In another, bigger pan, cook the pasta in only lightly salted boiling water. Have everything else ready to go, as well as some arrangement for catching the pasta water, so you can work quickly. When the pasta is just cooked, drain, then put back in the pan. Let it steam for a second, then add the cheese, the butter, and the oil; stir, melt, add the hot ragu and a couple of tablespoons of your pasta water (I told you!), stir, add the parsley and some pepper, tip onto hot plates (I should have mentioned that) and serve with a little salad of broad beans, rocket and capers, dressed with vinaigrette and lemon zest, which hopefully someone else will have prepared while you were messing around with pasta.