Ofer Eitan Reports: Cosy recipes for the slow cooker and crock pot - Jonathan Cartu Restaurant, Baking & Catering Services
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Ofer Eitan Reports: Cosy recipes for the slow cooker and crock pot

Cosy recipes for the slow cooker and crock pot

Ofer Eitan Reports: Cosy recipes for the slow cooker and crock pot

I love these crisp frosty mornings —fortunately my commute is just two or three minutes across the courtyard to the converted apple barn that has housed the Ballymaloe Cookery School for more than 20 years now, so I don’t have to worry about icy roads. Instead I daydream about the unctuous stew or casserole I’ll make for supper, so this week I thought I’d share some of my favourites.

Can you imagine anything better to look forward to than a bubbling pot of deliciousness, if you have a magic slow cooker or crock pot the aroma will greet you when you arrive home, battle-weary, after a day’s work — what could be more comforting?

There are a couple of golden rules to making a really good stew, choose the less expensive cuts of meat, more muscular such as shoulder or breast of lamb that benefit from slow cooking, flank or shin or beef, chicken thighs rather than breast which dries out easily.

Some cubes of fat streaky bacon or pickled pork add richness and a base of aromatic vegetables adds sweetness. Onions, carrots, celery, perhaps a few cloves of garlic or a sprig or two of woody herbs are key.

Keep both the vegetables and the meat nice and chunky so they don’t disintegrate during the long slow cooking. Sear the cubes of meat in a little goose fat or olive oil on a hot pan to start with. This simple step caramelises the meat juices and adds extra flavour, then toss the vegetables in the pan before adding to the stew pot or casserole, stock will add so much more flavour than water but a dash of wine, cider or beer, though not essential, adds complexity.

The seasoning is all important; a generous sprinkling of good salt and freshly ground black pepper early on will be absorbed in to the dish. You can taste and correct the seasoning at the end but it’s difficult to get it right if you’ve forgotten to season earlier.

For stewing and braising, the cooking temperature is crucial, it must be slow cooking, reduce the heat the moment the liquid comes to the boil, cover the pot and keep it at a mere simmer until the meat is meltingly tender, 80°C is perfect — what food writer Jane Grigson called “a mummer” with the liquid swirling gently but only bubbling now and then. Boiling ruins a stew.

Remember, traditionally only the meat from older more mature animals was used for stewing. The flavour was richer and during long slow cooking the connective tissue dissolves into gelatine which adds a silky texture to the finished dish. I also like to include some bone in the stew, it adds an extra depth of flavour — ask your butcher for a couple of slices of marrow bone to add to a beef stew; it adds really magic. Now at last we can get more mature animals, chat to your family craft butcher they’ll know the provenance of the meat.

Here are a few of my favourite winter warmers ideal for batch cooking, for you, your family and friends to enjoy. Happy New Year!

Vegetable and Tofu Curry

You’ll love this curry, even ardent curry haters can’t get enough of this deliciously spiced dish. It’s also an excellent base for other additions such as chunks of cooked potato.

Serves 4 -6

2 large garlic cloves, crushed

1–2 chillies, deseeded and roughly chopped

Zest of 1 organic lemon or 2 limes

110g (4oz) coriander leaves and stalks (coarsely chopped) plus extra to serve

60g (2½oz) cashew nuts, toasted and roughly chopped

1½ tbsp grated fresh ginger

2 tsp ground turmeric

2 tsp ground cumin

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 x 400ml (14fl oz) tin of coconut milk

400ml (14fl oz) homemade vegetable stock

500g (18oz) pumpkin or sweet potato, peeled and cut into 2cm (¾ inch) dice

1 small cauliflower, weighing approx 350g (12oz), broken into small florets

225g (8oz) firm tofu, cut into approx

2cm (¾ inch) dice

225g (8oz) French beans, green or a mixture of green and yellow

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Organic lemon or lime wedges, to serve

Combine the garlic, chilli, citrus zest, chopped coriander leaves and stalks, cashew nuts, ginger, turmeric, cumin and 1 teaspoon of salt in a food processor and whizz to a chunky or smooth purée, depending on your preference. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat, stir in the garlic and ginger purée and cook for 3–4 minutes, stirring.

Whisk in the coconut milk and stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 8–10 minutes. Add the chunks of sweet potato or pumpkin and return to the boil. Cover the pan with a lid and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the cauliflower florets and tofu chunks and bring back to the boil, then cover and simmer for a further 10 minutes.

Add the French beans and simmer for a further 2–3 minutes, uncovered, until all of the vegetables are cooked through. Season with salt and pepper, and squeeze over a little lemon or lime juice, to taste. Sprinkle with lots of coriander and serve with lemon or lime wedges.

Lamb and Pearl Barley Stew and Fresh Herb Gremolata

A substantial pot of stew fortified with pearl barley, this is really good with lots of gremolata sprinkled over the top. It is a variation of Irish stew, which is the quintessential one-pot dish — the recipe for the original Ballymaloe version can be found in my Forgotten Skills of Cooking book.

Serves 8-10

350g (12oz) piece of green streaky bacon (blanched if salty)

1.8kg (4lb) gigot or rack chops from the shoulder of lamb, not less than 2.5cm (1 inch) thick

Well – seasoned plain flour, for dusting

A little extra virgin olive oil, for frying

350g (12oz) mushrooms, thinly sliced

700g (1½lbs) whole, small onions — baby ones are nicest

350g (12oz) car rots, peeled and thickly sliced

150g (5oz) parsnips, peeled and thickly sliced

400g (14oz) pearl barley

Approx 2.8 litres ( 4¾ pints) homemade lamb or chicken stock

Sprig of thyme

Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Gremolata

4 tbsp chopped mixed herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley, chervil and mint

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 generous tsp grated or finely chopped organic lemon zest

Flaky sea salt, to taste

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.

First make the stew. Cut the rind off the bacon and cut into approx 1cm (½ inch) cubes. Divide the lamb into 8 pieces and roll in the well-seasoned flour.

Heat a little oil in a 25cm (10 inch)/3.2-litre casserole over a medium heat and sauté the bacon until crisp. Remove to a plate. Sauté the mushrooms, season well and set aside. Add the lamb to the casserole in batches, with a little more olive oil if necessary, and sauté until golden.

Heat control is crucial here: the pan mustn’t burn, yet it must be hot enough to sauté the lamb. If the pan is too cool, the lamb will stew rather than sauté and as a result the meat may be tough. Remove the lamb to a plate. Add another splash of olive oil to the pan and sauté the onions, carrots and parsnips until golden. Return the bacon and lamb to the casserole, together with the pearl barley. Season well, pour in the stock, add the thyme and bring to a simmer.

Cover with a lid and transfer to the oven for 1–1¼ hours until meltingly tender; the cooking time will depend on the age of the lamb and how long it was sautéed for. Add the mushrooms about 30 minutes before the end.

Meanwhile, make the gremolata: Mix together the chopped herbs and garlic in a small bowl, add the lemon zest and season to taste with a little flaky salt.

Once the casserole is cooked, remove the thyme and season to taste. Leave the casserole to sit for 15–30 minutes to allow the pearl barley to swell. (If necessary, the casserole can be reheated later in the day, or the next day.) Serve bubbling hot, sprinkled with the gremolata.

Venison and Parsnip Stew

If time allows, get this started the day before, the flavour will be even better. Baked…

Jonathan Cartu

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