Saturday, December 13, 2014

Easy vegetable moussaka

Moussaka-style dishes, with meat or otherwise, involve quite a deal of labour. You have to slice aubergines, paint them with olive oil, and fry or bake them. You have to prepare any other vegetables individually, because they have different cooking times and you don’t want to end up with a vegetable mush. If you’re eating meat, you have to prepare a ragout. But for a dinner for two, at the end of the week, I could not be bothered to go through this palaver. How bad could it be if I baked the vegetables together, topped them with a bechamel, and baked the dish further? Not bad at all.

I put 2 chopped cloves of garlic, a sliced aubergine, 2 chopped red peppers, and a sliced courgette, with salt and pepper, into a heavy casserole dish. I tossed the vegetables with a generous quantity of olive oil, and put them into a gas mark 8/220C oven for half an hour, stirring regularly. By this time, the aubergines were tender. I stirred in a drained tin of chickpeas. I turned down the oven to gas mark 5/190C.

Meanwhile, I had made a tomato sauce, simply tipping a tin of tomatoes into a saucepan, adding salt, a few pinches of cayenne, and a tsp of sugar. I mashed the tomatoes with a potato masher, and simmered them until they were thick. I stirred the tomatoes into the vegetable mixture.

I made a bechamel (see this moussaka recipe) with about 30g butter, a tbsp of flour (I used gluten-free), and just under half a pint of milk – it made a thick, pasty sauce. I stirred in a couple of tbsps of Parmesan, and seasoned the sauce with salt and nutmeg. Now that it was cooler, I stirred in a beaten egg – it causes the sauce when baked to puff up, souffle-like.

I spread the sauce over the vegetable mixture, sprinkled a couple of tbsps of Parmesan on top, and baked the dish for 25 minutes. Then, I browned the top under the grill.

This was a meal by itself.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Mashed potato with an electric whisk

In Don’t Sweat the Aubergine, I had the nerve to question Delia Smith’s method of making mashed potato, with a hand-held whisk. Overworking mash turns it gluey. Surely the whisk would bash up the starch granules and release their contents?

I did add - conscious of my temerity - that I was sure that Delia had never served a plate of gluey mash in her life; but I am embarrassed to admit that only now, 10 years after I wrote those libellous and sacrilegious words, have I tested the technique.

I was prompted by my discovery that a hand-held whisk produces more flavoursome hummus than does a food processor (this post). And, as you would expect, I learned that Delia was right.

The mash I made with the whisk was not impeccably light and fluffy; but its slight glueyness – which you often get from enthusiastic stirring with a wooden spoon – was a quality that I rather like. Delia’s recipe is here.

Instead of crème fraiche, I used a little milk with about 50% more butter than the recipe recommends. (And I did not bother with the business with the tea towel.) I warmed the butter and milk in a small saucepan before pouring them over the potatoes.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Salmon and spring onion fish pie

This is a simple fish pie for a family Friday supper. The spring onions are a nice contrast with the blandness of the fish. By “a bunch”, I mean of the slim ones you find in supermarkets. Serves 3 to 4.

Maincrop potatoes – 2 medium ones for each person
Large chunk of butter
Salmon fillets – about 350g
1/2pint milk
A dozen black peppercorns
A few scrapings of nutmeg
28g butter
1tbsp flour – I used gluten-free
1 bunch spring onions, chopped
1tbsp Parmesan

Peel the potatoes, cut them into smallish pieces (about 8 for a medium-sized potato), put them into cold water with about a tsp of salt, bring to a simmer, and simmer until soft. Drain, and mash – I use a potato ricer. Beat in the amount of butter you like, with salt to taste. If the mash coheres, you don’t need milk.

Put the salmon into a saucepan, pour over the milk, and throw in the peppercorns. Over a medium heat, bring to a simmer, and cook at a very gentle simmer for just a few minutes, or until the salmon has lost its raw pinkness. (You may want to cover the pan if the fish is not submerged – in this case, just leaving the fish to cook with the heat turned off will work.)

Lift out the fish with a slotted spoon. Remove the skin, and break up the fish into fork-sized pieces.

Strain the milk into a jug. Melt the butter in a non-stick, small saucepan over a gentle heat. Stir in the flour, and allow this roux to cook gently for a minute. Turn up the heat, and add the milk gradually, merging the roux and milk completely before adding the next batch. Keep adding milk (and more if necessary) until you have a thick sauce (which the onions and salmon will thin).

Mix the sauce, salmon, and spring onions, and tip into an oven-proof dish. Cover with the mash, and sprinkle the Parmesan on top.

Bake in a gas mark 6/200C oven for 10-15 minutes. You want to get the heat through the dish, but not to overcook the salmon. Brown the top under the grill.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Hummus with a hand-held blender

I got this idea from Morito by Sam and Sam Clark, having introduced one of the Sams (him) at a lunch at the Cheltenham Literary Festival. It’s my impression that hummus tastes better made this way than it does from a food processor, perhaps because the processor blade gets very hot and affects the flavour. It’s a theory.

A pitcher-type vessel is ideal, so the ingredients don’t spray everywhere.

1 tin chickpeas, drained
1 1/2tbsp tahini
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 clove garlic, chopped (it needs this, but you’ll be able to taste it all afternoon if you eat the hummus at lunchtime)
Salt (go easy if the chickpeas have been tinned in brine)
Pepper, cayenne pepper to taste
2tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Blend all the ingredients apart from the oil (which loses its fruitiness if overworked) with a hand-held blender. You may need to stop to scrape down the sides. Stir in the oil.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Chicken with paprika

This is a very simple dish, which can go wrong if the ingredients exude too much liquid. The key is putting on the lid of the pan and taking it off again as required. Serves 2.

Oil for frying
1 red pepper, seeded and cut into fork-sized chunks
100g chestnut mushrooms, washed and sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1tbsp paprika
1tsp caraway seeds
1/3tsp salt
2 chicken supremes, cut into fork-sized chunks
1 bunch spring onions, sliced
150ml sour cream or crème fraiche

Warm a couple of tbsps of oil in a heavy pan, throw in the pepper and mushrooms, cover, and cook over a gentle heat, stirring regularly. Both vegetables should exude some liquid.

After 10 to 15 minutes, when the peppers are starting to soften, add all the rest of the ingredients, and cook over a moderate heat with the pan uncovered, again stirring regularly. The chicken and onions may disgorge a good deal of water, most of which you want to evaporate. The chicken should cook through in 15 minutes or so.

Pour in the cream, and let it bubble and thicken. (I find that factory-produced crème fraiche tends to split. In France, I buy crème fraiche fermière, which never splits.)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Steeping coffee revisited

A while ago on here, I wrote that my preferred way to prepare coffee was to use a lot of it, but to steep it only briefly. After the four minutes of steeping that many people recommend, coffee can be bitter, I find.

Since I started using my Hario grinder, I've realised that I need to refine these rules. It all depends on how course is the ground. Most pre-ground coffee you buy is fine, and imparts the best part of its flavour very rapidly. Coarser grounds require lengthier steeping - but not four minutes. About 90 seconds should do it.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Pilaf with turmeric, mustard seeds, and cardamom

Cooking plain basmati rice, I tend to throw it into about three times its volume of boiling water, simmer for 10 minutes, and drain. That’s it. Works fine every time. The absorption method is hard to perfect, in my experience: cooking utensils, brands of rice, and other factors may vary, and have significant effects.

However, if you want a pilaf, you need to use an absorption method – try mixing pre-cooked rice with fat and spices, and you’ll end up with a sticky clump. Here is what works pretty well for me.

Measure the rice. You’re going to cook it in one and half times its volume of water. (I have little measuring pots.)

Soak the rice for 30 minutes or longer – soaking results in softer (more digestible?) grains, which need to be cooked in less water, and which will soften by steaming more readily.

Warm a knob of butter or about a tbsp of oil for each person in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add what spices you like – this week, for three people, I used a tsp of turmeric, half a tsp of mustard seeds, and the seeds from five cardamom pods. Let them sizzle briefly, then drain the rice and add it to the pan, turning it in the spicy fat.

Add the water, with salt if you like, and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat to its lowest setting. Cover the pan loosely with foil, crimping it round the edges to make a seal, and clamp the lid on top. (Probably you should use a tea towel, which absorbs the steam. But foil works ok for me.) Simmer for 10 minutes, and leave to rest for a further five.

You do need basmati rice for this recipe. Long grain rice takes longer to cook, and tends to be stickier.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Hario coffee grinder

Thanks to commenters on this blog, I abandoned my blade coffee mill in favour of a burr grinder, and enjoyed a big improvement in flavour. Now I have upgraded the flavour of my coffee again, thanks to a cheaper device than my Krups electric mill: the Hario Glass Hand Coffee Grinder. Amazon is selling it at the moment for just £13.35.

The manual mill, unlike some electric machines, will not overwork the coffee. It makes you work quite hard, though: on its finest setting, it may demand that you turn the handle for 4 to 5 minutes just to process a couple of tbsps of beans. But a slightly coarser setting will reduce this time by a half.

The biggest improvement I’ve noticed is when I use a stovetop pot (a mocha pot, some call it). The coffee is rich and intense, without a hint of bitterness.

Update (8/2/15) - From time to time, coffee grounds may get stuck in the mechanism. You can feel that the grinds are not catching - the handle is turning too smoothly, and only light sprinkles of coffee are dropping into the bowl. The solution is to give the handle a backwards turn from time to time.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Mayonnaise - the tipping point

My early attempts at mayonnaise never failed. Then a few batches went wrong: I had got complacent. I had to relearn the tyro’s caution. One must add the oil very carefully at first, just a few drops at a time, and whisk vigorously to amalgamate it, before adding the next.

Pouring 150mls (1 egg) or 300mls (2 eggs) of oil at this rate would be very tedious. You do not have to. There comes a point at which you can be much more liberal. It is when the sauce stiffens: you can feel this process, and see it, because the sauce starts clinging to the whisk. Now, you can pour in generous glugs of oil before each whisking, and you are very unlikely to split the mixture.

Mayonnaise recipe
Split mayonnaise, and what to do with it

Friday, July 18, 2014

Pork stew with vinegar

This stew could not be simpler. The meat and onions caramelise in the pan (because they’re not submerged in liquid), and the vinegar loses some of its astringency through evaporation.

The only issue is the oven temperature, which depends on how long you’ve got, how heavy your casserole is (they can take a good while to warm up), and how warm your oven is (your gas mark S may be very different from mine).

You could stir in black olives at the end. You might also want to include herbs such as thyme or rosemary.

Serves 2

2 or 3 slices of belly pork, cut into fork-sized pieces
2 red onions, roughly chopped
6 whole cloves of garlic
150ml vinegar
Salt, pepper

Mix all the ingredients in a heavy casserole, with seasoning to taste.

I cooked my stew for 30 minutes at gas mark 6/200C, stirred it, gave it a further 30 minutes at gas mark 4/180C, stirred it again, and gave it a further 60 minutes at gas mark S/130C.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Chickpea dip with olives

Returning home with a tin of chickpeas and a lemon, and with the intention of making hummus, I discovered that I didn’t have any tahini in the house. But I did have some black olives. So I tried this. It turned out to be delicious.

1 tin chickpeas
Juice of half a lemon
Large handful of black olives, stoned
1 clove garlic, chopped
Black pepper, to taste
Cayenne pepper, to taste
A little salt
2tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Put all the ingredients except the oil into the bowl of a food processor, and whizz. Scrape down the sides of the bowl between each burst of the machine.

Stir through the olive oil. (It loses its fruitiness if subjected to the harsh treatment of the blades.)

Monday, June 09, 2014

Lamb boulangere 2

I see that my technique for cooking lamb boulangère has not changed very much since I last wrote about it, seven years ago. The chief difference is that yesterday I covered the roasting tin with foil, having learned that the lowest temperature of my oven – 130C-plus – is higher than the temperature inside a covered receptacle.

I smeared a little oil over a whole shoulder of lamb, seasoned it, and laid it on a bed of two sliced onions, the unpeeled cloves from a head of garlic, and two sprigs of rosemary. I covered the roasting tin with foil, and put it into the centre of a gas mark 1/140C oven, at 8am. (It’s a good idea to check on progress after the first hour, and regularly thereafter, adjusting the heat if necessary. I can never be confident about how my oven will behave.)

At 11am, I scraped and sliced new potatoes, dropping them into a pan of cold water. I brought the pan to the boil, and allowed it to boil vigorously for one minute before draining. (The idea is to get rid of some of the surface starch – potatoes cooked around meat are particularly liable to stick, because of the caramelised juices.)

By this time, there was a good amount of sauce surrounding the lamb. I removed the meat to a board, discarded the onions, squeezed the garlic out of its skins into the sauce, tipped in the potatoes and stirred them, and put back the meat on top.

I returned the tin, covered again, to the oven, turning up the dial to gas mark 4/180C. (I checked after half an hour, and discovered that this setting was high enough but not too fierce. The extra ingredients appeared to have moderated the temperature.)

At 1.30pm, I removed the joint to a large plate, covering it with the foil. I returned the potatoes to the top of the oven, now at its highest setting, to brown – about 20 minutes. (Be careful that they do not stick and burn.)

The meat fell away from the bone. I cut it up in the kitchen, and poured the small amount of sauce that the potatoes had not absorbed on top.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Fried chicken with paprika and cayenne

If you use egg as the adhesive when frying chicken, the coating may become claggy. A good many recipes recommend buttermilk; but, having no further use for buttermilk, I would have to throw a good deal of it away. So I tried an egg and milk mixture, which worked well. Gluten-free flour works well, too – it’s less stodgy than wheat flour.

I like chicken to be well cooked, so I poach the drumsticks first. You can keep the stock for another recipe.

Season the flour liberally. The amount of flour that will end up as coating is quite small.

Serves 2.

6 chicken drumsticks
1 egg, beaten
100ml milk
Gluten-free flour
1tbsp paprika
1/2tsp cayenne pepper
Salt, pepper
Sunflower oil

Cover the drumsticks with water in a saucepan, bring to a simmer, and cook, covered, for 45-60 minutes. Take out the drumsticks and keep the stock for another recipe.

In a wide bowl, beat the egg with the milk.

Cover a plate with flour, and season it with the peppers and salt.

Dip the drumsticks in the egg mixture, and roll them in the flour.

Put sunflower oil into a heavy, 28cm frying pan to a depth of about half a cm. Place the pan over a medium heat, until a small piece of bread sizzles in the oil. Fry the drumsticks until crispy on each side – about 10 to 15 minutes.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Falafels - der Haroutunian 2

I wrote an entry about this recipe, and then realised that I had covered it before, six years ago (here).

The main difference, when I made falafels this lunchtime, was that I used der Haroutunian’s quantities with 1 drained tin of chickpeas. I whizzed in the food processor all the ingredients except 1tbsp of gluten-free flour – which I used as a binding agent instead of breadcrumbs, because of the gluten-intolerant member of our household. I transferred the mixture to a bowl, and then stirred in the flour.

I rolled small pieces of the mixture gently between my palms to create falafels the size of golf balls. (The drawback of turmeric among ingredients you have to manipulate is that it stains – be careful.)

This time, I used a heavy, 28cm frying pan, large enough to fry all the falafels in one batch.

The recipe comes from Arto der Haroutunian's Vegetarian Dishes of the Middle East (Grub Street).

Monday, April 28, 2014

Stewed cannellini beans with lemon and garlic

I got the idea of using lemon zest from Nigel Slater, I think. The zest enlivens the bland, mealy quality of the beans, as do the garlic and the pepper.

For more about cooking dried beans, see here.

Serves 2, as a generous side portion.

150g cannellini beans
3 garlic cloves, 1 of them peeled and chopped
2tbsp olive oil
1dstsp tomato puree or tomato ketchup
1/3tsp lemon zest
Salt, pepper

Soak the beans in filtered water. They may take about eight hours to hydrate (see the entry to which I’ve linked above).

Drain them, cover with fresh filtered water, throw in the whole and unpeeled garlic cloves, bring to the boil, and simmer. Cooking times vary wildly, in my experience: from 1 to 3 hours, in part depending on how thoroughly the beans have been soaked.

Drain the beans, but retain the water in a jug. Extract the garlic, and remove the flesh from the skins.

Warm the oil in a small saucepan, and add both the cooked and uncooked garlic, stirring the cooked flesh to encourage it to melt. After a minute or so, tip the beans into the pan.

Pour the bean water into another jug until you have just the sludgy stuff at the bottom. Pour enough of this into the beans to create a moist but not runny texture. Add the tomato (ketchup is fine, and may even be nicer), lemon zest, salt to taste, and plenty of pepper. Simmer gently for 10 minutes.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Simple oxtail stew revisited

I questioned, in my first version of this stew, whether you needed to soften the onions first. I have since decided that a gentle frying/stewing in oil for 10 to 15 minutes gives them a sweetness (eliminating their acidity) that may enhance the dish.

I made the stew again yesterday. Once the onions had softened, I added the herbs, star anise, half a tsp of salt, plenty of ground black pepper (ground pepper is reputed to turn bitter in stock, but does not seem to do so in stews, in my experience), and the oxtails. No stock or water.

After about an hour in the even at a low heat, the stew was creating its own sauce. At this stage, I added the tbsp of ketchup and the soy (which might have caught and burned when the casserole dish was dry).

I gave the stew three and a half hours in total. As before, I removed the oxtails to a board, sieved the sauce – of which there was just the right quantity - into a small saucepan (pressing down on the vegetables). Then I returned the oxtails and sauce to the casserole, covered it, and put it back in the oven for 10 minutes or so, to warm through.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Soaking lasagne sheets

Non pre-cook lasagne does not necessarily live up to its promise of saving you trouble. Cooked from raw, it can absorb a good deal of sauce, leaving you with a dry wodge in the oven dish; if bits of the pasta are uncovered by sauce, they remain brittle.

You can ensure more even cooking by blanching the sheets for a minute. But you have to do so in small batches, because otherwise the sheets stick together, as if superglued. Pouring boiling water on to a batch of sheets, as Yotam Ottolenghi once advised (see this entry), is asking for trouble.

However, you can soak all the sheets you need in cold water. After 5 to 10 minutes, they should be floppy. If they look as if they’re sticking, they can be peeled apart (because you don’t have to put your hands in scalding water); but I have found that they do not stick hard. You’ve saved yourself the trouble of boiling the pasta and laying out the sheets separately; and you have ensured that it will cook evenly.

Having said this, I should add that this kind of lasagne is not as nice as fresh, or as the dried variety that does require pre-cooking. But in many shops and delis nowadays, it is all that is available.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Aubergine with tomato, onion, and Neufchatel cheese

I have cooked many versions of this, the root of which is melanzane parmigiana. It works very well with a soft cheese, which complements the melting texture of the aubergine. I used Neufchatel (my local butcher, Highbury Butchers, sells an excellent version); Camembert, its Normandy neighbour, would obviously work just as well. You want the cheese just to soften without going completely runny, so don’t give it longer than five minutes in the oven.

Serves 2, generously (with rice, perhaps)

2 aubergines
Olive oil
Salt, pepper
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 red onions, chopped
1 tin tomatoes
1tsp sugar
Neufchatel or Camembert cheese – as much as you like

Cut the aubergines in half crossways, and then cut them vertically, into four or five slices about 40mm thick. Pour some olive oil into a saucer, and brush the aubergines with oil on both sides using the concave side of the tines of a fork – or use a pastry brush. Lay the slices in a baking tray, season them, and bake them for 20 to 30 minutes at gas mark 8/230C, until soft.

Put about 2tbsp of oil into a heavy saucepan over a gentle heat, throw in the garlic, and let it sizzle for a minute or so. Add the onions, and cook until softened. Tip in the tomatoes, add the sugar (tinned tomatoes, and indeed a good many fresh ones, benefit from sweetening), season to taste, and simmer until thickened, breaking up the tomatoes in the pan.

Tip the aubergines into the tomato sauce, mix them up, and pour the mixture into an oven dish. Bake for 20 minutes, uncovered, at gas mark 4/180C, to allow the flavours to mingle and the sauce to thicken further.

Slice the cheese, and lay the slices on top of the tomato and aubergine mixture. Return the dish to the oven, and cook for a further three to five minutes, just until the cheese has started to melt.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Spare rib chops in barbecue sauce

If you find that pork chops are too often dry, you may be pleased to find spare rib pork chops, which come from the shoulder (whereas, confusingly, spare ribs come from the belly). You can grill or fry them, and you can also braise them slowly, without causing them to turn tough. The ones I cooked yesterday – from the excellent Highbury Butchers – were tender, with just enough fat to keep them moist.

In a recipe for Hawaiian pork chops in yesterday's Guardian, Yotam Ottolenghi advised that you marinate the chops, then scrape off the marinade before grilling them, and then recombine them with the marinade for a brief roasting. If cooked for longer, the chops will become tough. But you can poach spare rib chops, for about an hour and a quarter, before slicing them and combining them with your marinade. Finish them by blasting them in a hot oven (gas mark 8, 230C ) for 15 minutes.

The first advantage of this two-stage process is that you get tender meat. The second is that if you had roasted the chops from raw, you would have found that they exuded a good deal of water, making it difficult to achieve the ideally sticky result. The third is that if your marinade includes ingredients such as honey and soy, it will not spend long enough in the oven to burn.

My marinade, for 2-3: two cloves of garlic, crushed with a little salt; 2tbsp tomato ketchup; 1tsp honey; 1tsp Dijon mustard; a few splashes of soy sauce; 1dsp sunflower oil; generous grindings of black pepper.

Don't throw away the liquid in which you poached the chops. Today, we enjoyed a lovely soup made with this liquid and onions, garlic, squash, and red lentils.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

How to pour coffee - spare the crema

I have always drained my cafetiere when pouring my coffee. From the last drops, you get the attractive golden foam that, on an espresso, is the crema.

However, no cafetiere plunger is so efficient that it traps all the coffee grounds. The free grounds are in the last drops of coffee you pour, and, settling in the bottom of your cup/mug, steep for too long, and impart bitterness. The last quarter of your drink may be unpleasant.

My recommendation is to allow the coffee to settle for a short while after plunging, pour it carefully, and leave the last 50ml or so in the cafetiere.

Making coffee, I follow Victoria Moore’s technique of using a lot (I allow 2tbsps for 300ml water) but plunging almost immediately.
If allowed to steep for the standard recommended time of three to four minutes, coffee is more likely to be bitter, in my experience.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

'White' potatoes

Potatoes labelled simply “Whites”, I have always thought, are the poor relations of the maincrop world – the equivalent of robusta coffee, or the Aligoté grape. But the Whites on sale at my local greengrocer – White Bros, as it happens – are excellent. Roasted, they have a crunchy exterior and a creamy, earthily flavoured interior.

I have banged on about the best way to roast potatoes quite a few times. Essentially: I peel them, cut them up, put them in cold water with a little salt, bring them to the boil, and boil them for three to five minutes. I bash up the surfaces.

I do not think it essential to put them in hot oil or fat. (But of course if you have fat or dripping, you need to melt it.) I toss the potatoes in sunflower or olive oil, and roast them at gas mark 6/200C, turning them a few times, for about an hour.

The posts to which I've linked below may not be 100% consistent with what I've just written.

Heston's roast potatoes
Roast potatoes IV
Roast new potatoes

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Heston's roast chicken - support for my scepticism

"Brining the bird before cooking, as Heston Blumenthal suggests, just masks the flavour of the meat – definitely not worth the hassle," Felicity Cloake writes, in her recipe for "perfect chicken pie".

This is my view, too. Others disagree, as responses to one of the most visited posts on this blog, Heston's roast chicken, indicate.

I have had greater success, however, with brined pork chops.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Beef stew with red wine 2

I continue to worry over the question about the best way to brown meat for roasting or stewing. At the beginning or end of cooking? If you’re browning meat for a stew, do you do so in the casserole dish, or in a frying pan? The advantage of the latter process, I have always thought, is that you leave behind in the pan all the burned bits that might taint the flavour. But after I had fried several batches of meat for the stew below, I had a casserole with a various blackened patches on its base, and I could not taste any bitterness in the finished dish.

After sitting in a marinade, the pieces of meat may disgorge liquid that prevent them from browning. On the other hand, the residues from the marinade caramelise quickly.

As I have noted before, the maillard (browning) reactions work with increasing efficiency as one goes through the batches. This is why I browned the pancetta first.

Serves 4

1.2kg beef for stewing, such as chuck
1/3 bottle red wine
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and bashed
1 star anise
4 cloves
12 peppercorns
1/2tsp salt
Olive oil
75g pancetta, cubed
12 shallots, or 16 button onions, peeled
Knob of butter

In a large bowl, stir the meat with the wine, onions, garlic, star anise, cloves, peppercorns, and salt. Cover, and leave overnight in the fridge.

Put a splash of oil in a heavy casserole, and fry the pancetta over a gentle heat, until the cubes have shed their fat and have browned. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon.

Meanwhile, tip the meat and its marinade into a colander over a saucepan or bowl. Separate the meat from the marinade ingredients, which you can throw away.

Pat the meat dry in batches with paper towels, and fry it in the casserole dish – with just as many pieces in each batch to cover the base – over a medium heat. Allow the pieces to brown on one surface (it should take less than a minute) before turning once, and then removing to a large plate before browning the next batch. Add splashes of oil if necessary. You will probably find that areas of your dish blacken.

When the last batch has browned, pour in the reserved marinade, and add the rest of the meat and the pancetta pieces. Stir, and place in a gas mark 2/150C oven for about two and a quarter hours. After half an hour or so, check that the stew is simmering gently, and adjust the heat up or down if appropriate. Stir the stew from time to time.

You may find that you have more liquid than you want. If so, tip the stew into a colander over a saucepan, return the meat to the casserole and put back in the oven, and boil the sauce vigorously to reduce it. Taste the sauce. I found that I needed a little more salt. Pour the sauce back over the stew.

Melt a knob of butter in a heavy saucepan or frying pan over a gentle heat, and brown the shallots or onions. Tip them into the stew 45 minutes before serving.

Here's a beef and wine stew I made in a different way