Secrets To Great Slow Cooking This Winter
As the mercury plummets here in the North-East, many a mind is turning to the joy of slow cooking this winter. Images of slowly bubbling pots of meat on the stove bring fond food memories to many people, often conveying thoughts of comfort, family and warmth. No matter what you want to call it – ragout, stew, braise, or casserole – it is a simple dish of cheaper cuts of meat and vegetables slowly cooked in sauce. Even though chefs can trick up any dish, the beauty of a great ragout is that it is traditionally a peasant food. However, there are few tips that I can give you to really make that ragout a hit. Here is a recipe for a goat ragout that we made recently at the Epicurean Centre. It is very simple and can be adapted to suit any tastes with different cuts of meat.
RAGOUT OF GOAT IN WHITE WINE AND TOMATO
1kg goat shoulder, diced
250ml white wine
2 onions, diced
2 celery sticks, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
200ml chicken stock
1 tbs tomato paste
2 400g tinned tomatoes, pureed with the hand blender
Cinnamon stick, bay leaf, orange zest
- Marinate your diced goat in the white wine for 1 hour. Remove the meat from the wine, setting aside the wine.
- Brown the meat in a hot pan, set aside.
- Sweat down the onion, celery and garlic in some olive oil until soft and shiny. Add the tomato paste and cook down for a minute. Add the white wine, turn up to full heat and reduce until there is very little liquid left.
- Add the stock, tomato, aromatics and meat and bring to the boil.
- Turn to a very low simmer and cook for 2-3 hours until the meat is tender.
The first thing when making a ragout is the choice of meat. This recipe uses goat which can be obviously hard to get at a normal butcher’s shop. We purchase whole goats locally for the Epicurean Centre and butcher them ourselves. The recipe though will work equally well with lamb or pork, but swap to red wine for a beef ragout.
With lamb and pork, the shoulder is the best cut and is easy to purchase, though if you can get hold of some boned lamb necks, they are extremely flavoursome. For beef, I personally can’t go past gravy beef. It may take longer to cook but the flavour is great. Alternatively, chuck steak also makes a great ragout. It is best to avoid buying generic diced meat because the cuts can come from anywhere on the animal.
A simple way to avoid the hassle of having to dice all the meat is to buy a single piece of meat from the butchers. Then you can just cut it into larger pieces, say 200g each. Once cooked for a couple of hours, the meat will easily break apart with a wooden spoon, and it is also much more time efficient when you are browning the meat.
Make sure you get a nice hot pan and get some good colour on your meat as it really adds to the end result.
One important tip when making your ragout is to ensure that the vegetables are cooked down extremely well to bring out their full flavour and sweetness. This can take up to 20-30 minutes because you don’t want to do it too fast and get too much colour on them. The best way to achieve this is to make cooking your vegetables the first step you perform. Then, whilst the vegetables are slowly sweating down on the back of the stove, you can brown your meat and get the other ingredients ready. Carrot, leek or other vegetables can also be used at this stage if you like.
Finally, use some different aromatics to really give your ragout some spice. Cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise, bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, orange zest, lemon zest. The list can be endless. Just remember to get out those hard spices when you have done to avoid a dental bill.
When you are done, serve your ragout with whatever you love the most. Potato puree, gnocchi, or pasta are common, but trying mixing it up. You can make a puree from lots of vegetables, try swede, sweet potato or celeriac whilst they are in season this winter. Finally, cheese is always a great finish. Parmesan is the obvious choice, but there are many other great cheeses out there worth a try, including the truffled pecorino on our finished dish (I know, a tad expensive but worth it, believe me!). Think outside the box though, perhaps some crumbled up goat’s chevre from Milawa Cheese Company crumbled over the top of a lamb ragout. Delicious. We finished our ragout with sautéed mushrooms, spinach gnocchi and topped it with truffled pecorino. Happy cooking.