As the weather begins to change and the nights become longer I think of long, slow-cooked dishes coming back on the menu and becoming a staple on the home dinner table. This is because most slow-cooked foods are heart-warming dishes and should, in my opinion, be eaten and enjoyed in a slow, relaxed manner. Wouldn’t it be nice to spend a bit more time over our food discussing the events of the day and the world with friends and family? Dream on, Chef!
My first memories of slow-cooked food are from my childhood. My mum was an expert at slow cooking; I can still taste the pork shoulder that would roast for what seemed an eternity. The crackling was heavily salted, so rich in fat and flavour; the meat itself so tender and oozing with flavour so good; and the dripping that remained, well the crispy and crunchy potatoes that were roasted in it were to die for, I never ever saw one left on the plate!
In our house, stews and casseroles were there because of economic necessity. Most slow-cooked dishes use cheap cuts of meat, because they are from the part of the animal that does the most work and are generally tougher, so need long, slow cooking to tenderise the meat. The secrets to slow cooking are to add flavour and liquor then to simmer slowly never allowing the meat to be fast boiled.
The French chefs I know have a way of saying that the liquor must never be more than ‘trembling’ on the edges, this way meat does not have the liquor driven out of it making it dry. I also believe that slow-cooked dishes are so much better when enjoyed the day after you have made them. This is because all the wonderful flavours you added to your stew such as spices and vegetables have the chance to develop and harmonise, but also the texture of the meat will settle and get the chance to take back any liquor and flavour lost from the sauce it sits in.
Just a couple of days ago I was in the company of four top chef/restaurateurs whose opinions I respect, so I asked them what their favourite slow-cooked dish of all time was. Middle neck of mutton stew came up twice, oxtail came up twice, boiled beef (don’t forget to ‘tremble’ the stock) with carrots and dumplings got honourable mentions too, but I have to say my choice was
different to all of those again.
About four years ago I was in Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France to judge the world’s top cookery competition, the ‘Bocuse d’Or’, when a chef colleague and myself had lunch at the Michelin starred Daniel & Denise restaurant. They served us a slow-cooked shoulder of lamb between the two of us and gave us a spoon and fork each to eat it with. No knife in sight. But there was no need to panic. It was fabulous, so tender, and so full of flavour and the dish left both of us speechless. We must have stayed in the restaurant talking about
goodness knows what for three hours with just one dish between us, oh and
various different bottles of French red wine, of course!