That’s Nicola, our head tutor in Cooks Academy, she is pretty deadly. An incredibly passionate woman when it comes to feeding people good quality food, no better person then to lead us through the Three Month Professional Cookery Programme.
We kicked off last week with full day workshop in the art of slow cooking. Anyone who knows me well or reads my blog, Come Dine With Mark, will know that I am a big man for my slow food.
There’s something about the patience of it, that it can’t be rushed, the Beef Brisket doesn’t care that your party is running late, the Pork Belly won’t finish any faster just because your date is pretty boring. The meat takes 4 hours, and that’s final. No amount of begging or pleading will change that. There is an elegance to that, or maybe that’s just me being my strange foodie self.
When you are talking about slow cooking you have to think about specific cuts of meat. The aforementioned pork belly, lamb shank, ham hock, beef shin, pork shoulder, veal cheek. The main reason for this is fat. When an animal is alive, certain muscles and parts of the body do more work, as such they need more fat and sinew. This makes the meat really tough and a bit of a challenge to cook. To really get the most from these cuts you need to melt out all of that fat and sinew and marbling, we do this by cooking them at a low heat for a long time. This allows the marbling to render out, leaving you with delectably succulent and tender meat. I hope you are now beginning to realise just why I love these cuts so much.
As you can see in the gorgeously aged piece of meat above the dark, deep meat is striated with veins of fat. As these beauts cook down in a low oven, all of that fat will melt away, flavouring the meat and keeping it tender and juicy so that when I come along the bone just falls out and the flesh comes apart at the tip of a fork. And that is exactly the kind of result I got when I cooked them up.
The “divide and conquer” method of sharing jobs between the three of us has been working so I took on the short ribs, Orla made Spicy Lamb Shanks and Claire made the most incredible Beef Pies which were unanimously proclaimed the hero of the day. The ribs we did in a kind of Beef Bourguignon style. Carrots and onions and wine and thyme made up the braising liquid while the fat and marrow from the meat thickened it into an umptious gravy.
Orla was working away on the Spicy Lamb Shanks while Claire was marinating her Beef for the stew. Between all of our main jobs we managed to whip together some veggie side dishes to complement our meals. Nicola showed us how to do some old school turned carrots, these are essentially just carrots sculpted into a particular shape, like I said, majorly old School. We did individual Potato Boulingéres which are the exact same a Dauphinoise but using stock instead of cream to keep it a bit healthier. We also got a nifty little red cabbage slaw on aswel as a couscous salad. It was a pretty packed morning.
This is one of the great tricks of slow cooking. You get your big centre piece dish on and cooking away early in the day and then that frees you up to look after getting the kids ready, cleaning the house, doing up your special mash potato that your Dad loves, whatever takes our fancy really. It is a great way to cook as once it’s in, the meat bastes itself and makes it’s own sauce, it quite literally does most of the work for you. No wonder it has become such a popular trend in the last few years.
A special mention has to go the Claire’s Beef Pies. these things were delectably moreish. Nicola gave us a cool recipe for shortcrust pastry using sour cream which turned out to be a stroke of genius. To make the filling she just cooked up a big hearty traditional Beef Stew. It was earthy, it was herby, the gravy was delicious, it was a meal in its own right. After allowing it to cook and making up the pastry dough Claire set about filling these little pastry packets of wonder, twenty minutes in the oven and they were ready for us to devour. Easily the best beef pie I have ever had. If and when I open a place of my own, these will most certainly find a home for themselves on the shelves, along with the other hundreds of amazing things I have made here. I’m going to need some big shelves.
~ Mark O’Brien