Wednesday 9 November 2011

Real Slow-cooking

There is a new man in my life.  I have called him Russel. Hugh, the other man in my life, is thrilled.  He is of course my new fantastic slow cooker.  I do sort of see my kitchen machines like fellow cooks, working alongside with me.  I am guilty in the past of having named my Kenwood Chef, Ken and my Robot Coupe, Robert and now I have Russel.  It gets a bit lonely in the kitchen sometimes.

Anyway, I have decided that slow cooking is the future.  First of all, it uses very little electricity, second of all, because it transforms all those cheaper cuts of meat into something totally delicious and third of all, because there is nothing like coming home at the end of the day and having your dinner all hot and ready for you and the house full of the smell of contentment.

However, it is not proving to be all plain sailing. So far, I am on meal three and I must say that, Russel and I are going through a steep learning curve together, like any new relationship I guess.  There are many things I did not at first consider.  First of all, that heat processes, unlike an oven which is dry and intensifies flavours, is wet heat, like steaming and it is very important to get your recipes right.  Otherwise you can end up with something quite tasteless, as was my first experiment with a shoulder of lamb.  The consistency was perfect.  All the fat had melted away and it was wonderfully moist and fell apart at a touch. In fact it was so melt in the mouth it was almost like some sort of Heston Blumenthal experiment.  But it tasted of practically nothing.  So it was back to the drawing board. 

I did look through some slow cooking cookbooks but I found them all thoroughly uninspiring and full of the obvious stews Then to pad out the book, there were lots of completely unnecessary recipes for soups, puddings and drinks, none of which required a slow cooker in the first place. 

I tried to think more along the lines of boiled or poached and I tried a piece of smoked bacon.  I just chucked in some vegetables and some thyme and a little water and 8 hours later, I had the most amazing melting piece of meat and what is even more amazing is, that I got three meals out of it. So, here it is. My three-in-one, slow cooked bacon.

Poached Smoked Bacon with New Potatoes and Mustard Sauce

A piece of smoked bacon or gammon ( Buy the best quality you can afford.  The more exercise a pig gets the better it tastes so out-door bred is best.)
A couple of carrots (peeled and roughly chopped)
A couple of onions (peeled and roughly chopped)
A leek or two (roughly chopped and washed to remove grit)
4 or 5 sticks of celery (roughly chopped)
A bunch of thyme
A sprig of bay
A glass of wine (or water)
A handful or two of new potatoes (cut in half)
For the sauce
Double cream
Dijon mustard (and grain mustard if you like)

Place the potatoes at the bottom of the slow cooker.  Tip all the other vegetables on top.  Pour in the wine.  Remove the skin from your bacon (this can be frozen and used at a later date to make extra crackling or pork scratchings) and trim away any excess fat. The meat will be salty enough so do not add salt but do season with plenty of freshly ground black pepper.  Put the meat on top and cook for about 10 hours on slow or 8 hours on fast.  If you do not have a slow-cooker, just poach very slowly on the stove top in a heavy based saucepan.

Check the meat.  It should be breaking up to the touch.  Check the potatoes.  They should be completely soft.  Place the potatoes and vegetables in a bowl.  Remove the meat and break up into portions.  Pour the juices into a saucepan and reduce until a little syrupy.  Add a little double cream and bring back to the boil.  Remove from the heat and add a good tablespoon or two of Dijon mustard.  You can add some grain mustard as well if you like the texture.  Do not reboil the sauce now as it will kill the taste of the mustard. Taste the sauce and make sure it is really punchy and well seasoned.  Pour over your vegetables and meat.  Any meat, vegetables and sauce can be used again for the next dish.

Bacon and Poached Vegetable Stovie, Fried Egg

Mush up all the left over vegetables and potatoes from the recipe. Shred up the leftover meat removing any fat and sinew. Mix together well and shape into patties. Dust lightly in flour and fry in a little oil in a fryingpan (which can go in the oven) until golden brown on the underside. Flip and place in a medium-hot oven, about 180 degrees Centigrade for about 15 minutes. Check that the stovie is hot all the way through. Remove from pan and fry an egg in the same oil. Place the egg on top of the stovie and serve with the same sauce as above. If reheating, add a little extra mustard to give it a bit more of a kick. I like to have a little spinach with this dish as well which I put under my stovie.

Poached Bacon Salad with Sauce Gribiche

Shredded cooked smoked bacon or gammon from recipe above.

Some nice salad leaves. (Watercress, Mustard leaves, baby spinach and rocket are particularly nice.)

For the Sauce Gribiche
1 large egg
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 cornichon
8 to 10 baby capers; squeezed dry
about 1/4 cup (gently-packed) mixed chopped herbs; flat-leaf parsley and tarragon are great
salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Cook the egg in boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, drain away the water, and cool the egg by adding ice and cold water to the pot. Once cool, peel the egg then extract the yolk. In a medium-sized bowl, mash the yolk until smooth with the mustard. Dribble in the olive oil, beating with a fork or wooden spoon while doing so (trying to make an emulsion), then adding the vinegar. Chop the egg white and cornichon separately into fine cubes, the size of the capers, and add them to the sauce. Then add the capers themselves. Stir in the herbs and add salt and pepper. Taste, and season with additional salt, pepper, and vinegar, if necessary. Make sure it is quite pokey. Add more Mustard if necessary. Serve at room temperature.

Flake up the left over bacon being sure to remove any fat or sinew. Mix with the sauce Gribiche and serve with some lovely leaves. This is a salad with "attitude" as Jamie Oliver would say, so it can stand up to some strong leaves such as rocket and mustard leaves. Get a good mix. You can add some cooked French beans if you want a more substantial salad or even some cold cooked new potatoes.

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