Thursday, October 25, 2007

Stewed neck of lamb

You can begin a stew of the saute type (one in which the meat is browned first) in a variety of ways. Do you fry the onions and any other vegetables first, then add the meat? Do you fry the onions, remove them from the pan, and add the meat? Do you brown the meat first, and add the onions? Do you brown the meat in a separate pan?

The only one of these options I do not like is the first -- although many recipes pretend that it is feasible. You need a high heat to get meat brown. On a low heat, it simply stews and goes grey in the liquid it disgorges. But if you turn up the heat when onions are in the pan, some of them will catch on the bottom and char.

All the other options will work. The easiest is the last. When I made a lamb stew the other day, I used a griddle pan for the browning.

I had neck fillet (about 650 g, for four), which I sliced into medallions. I coated them in flour. I put the griddle on to a medium to high heat for five minutes, distributed a little groundnut oil over the surface, and gave the medallions (in three batches) about a minute on each side to brown. I added them to my casserole, in which I had softened two chopped onions and two cloves of garlic. I completed the stew with chicken stock to cover, a bay leaf, a splash of soy sauce, a star anise, and salt.

The process was just like that for the oxtail stew, but with the shorter cooking time of two hours at gas mark 1/140 C. I removed the meat, strained the sauce, put the meat back into the casserole and covered it, and boiled the sauce until it was rich and thickened. I recombined meat and sauce. Then I added a bottle of strained, rinsed alubia beans. (Alubia beans are a kind of kidney bean. Bottled beans and chickpeas are a better bet than canned ones, lacking the hint of a metallic taste that can spoil the latter.) I put the stew back into the oven to warm through.

It was not quite as simple as that. You can never be sure how long it will take to warm up a heavy, Le Creuset casserole. In this case, half an hour in a low oven was not enough; so I finished the process above a gentle flame on the hob.

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