Posted by Karen on behalf of Swisslet.
A few years ago, I was inspired to start mixing cocktails by an appalling mojito served in a restaurant. Mint, rum, soda water and ice does not a mojito make.
“There’s plenty of rum in there. What more do you want?”
I knew I could do better. Making cocktails is like science, isn’t it? It’s about getting the right components together and then assembling them in the correct ratio. I don’t use any old rum, I use Havana Club, but even the best rum is pretty much useless in a mojito if it isn’t in harmony with the other ingredients, and the humble lime is every bit as important here as the spirit. In other words, mixology, for me at least, is not an art.
Cooking? Well, now you’re talking. That’s about an instinctive understanding of flavours and chucking stuff together to see what works. Right? With that in mind, the ingredients for my nice warming winter stew may be somewhat approximate. Don’t worry – the results tell me that it’s basically idiotproof.
You will need something like:
800g beef shin
200g beef skirt
500ml red wine
300ml beef stock
A handful of button mushrooms
A stick of celery
A few onions
A couple of carrots
Some golden beetroot
A couple of reasonably sized swedes
A tin of anchovies
A few bay leaves
Strip the sinew from the edges of the shin and cut the meat up into decent sized chunks. The skirt will go all strandy and delicious when it’s cooked, and all the sinews and stuff in the shin will melt down and add richness to the dish. Mmm. Nice cheap cuts too. Dust each piece in some seasoned flour and sear in a hot pan (I use a big Le Creuset cast iron pot that you can use on the hob and in the oven). Don’t do the whole lot at once though, as the meat needs to sear and not boil in its own juices. Do a bit, take it out, put some more in, adding fat as needed. I use butter, but I’m sure any other kind of fat/oil will be just dandy.
- With all the meat out of the pan, brown the onions. I use small ones and chuck them in only cut into two or three pieces.
- Take the onions out and deglaze the pan with some of the stock, scraping off all the caramelized bits on the bottom.
- Put the meat and onions back into the pan and pour in the stock and the red wine. Keep the heat on and bring it up to a simmer. Chuck in the thyme and the bay leaves.
- Rinse any oil off the anchovies and chop it all up reasonably fine. Chuck the whole lot into the pan. This may sound gross – especially if you don’t like anchovies – but the whole lot will disappear into the liquor during cooking and you won’t taste fish at all. It will just add depth and richness to the stew. It’s umami, innit?
- Let this lot simmer for a few minutes and then chuck the veggies in on top and stir it around and keep simmering for a bit. As well as the mushrooms, celery and carrot, I’ve used swede and golden beetroot here (which is earthy and delicious without being quite as oozing and purple as normal beetroot). You can pretty much use anything here: turnips, parsnips… whatever you can lay your hands on. It’s all good.
- Put the lid on the pan and pop it all into an oven at about 150 degrees for about three or four hours. The longer the better, really. I can’t resist having a look and giving it a stir every hour or so, but I’m pretty sure you can just leave it. Your house will smell delicious.
- Once you’re done, you can serve it straight out of the oven… but for some reason it tastes better if you leave it for a bit and then reheat it a few hours (or even the next day). With the one I made this weekend, I switched the oven off and left it for a few hours to go and watch “Gravity”. When I came back, I just heated the whole lot up on the hob whilst I made some mash with potato, Jerusalem artichokes and celeriac…
- Serve the whole lot up in a big bowl (not forgetting to pick out the bay leaves) with a nice glass of red wine as you watch, confused and mildly disappointed, the Doctor Who special. The good news is that this serves two greedy people with about half left to pop into the freezer for an amazing mid-week meal.
The long cook will have enabled the beef to break down beautifully, the veggies will be soft and earthy and the liquor should be all dark and savoury. On a cold winter’s night, what’s not to like? The best thing about this recipe is that you can mix and match. I’ve made it with beer or stout instead of the wine, with turnips instead of beetroot, with or without mushrooms and with lots of different cuts of meat. It’s pretty much all good. Whatever you’ve got, chuck it in. Casserole was my favourite dish when I was growing up, and my mum still occasionally makes it for me when I go home to visit. It’s a homely, unfussy dish and it’s very forgiving of idiots like me throwing inexact amounts of stuff into a pot and letting it stew in the oven for hours. Perfect. Enjoy.
I watched telly while this one was cooking, but I’m sure you can probably practice your mojitos too.