Sunday, 17 May 2015

Oxtail (Coda di Manzo alla Vaccinara)

Oxtail to me summons up memories of Knorr packet soups of the same name and makes me shudder inwardly.

But recently I have been seeing them in my butcher's display (Flood's of Oldcastle, Co. Meath) and just decided to have a go.

He sells them vacuum packed like this and there is more than enough for two in one tail and for €4 you can't go wrong.

I don't know what prompted me to open up my copy of The Silver Spoon as I rarely bother with cookbooks. I prefer to Google recipes and patch together my version of a few options. I just can't follow a recipe. I don't know why.

Anyway I followed the recipe in The Silver Spoon, sort of.  The recipes are very vague so you need to interpret. With all my recipes the quantities are not exact. Use what you want, more or less. It's a peasant dish so you add what you have.

1 oxtail
2 onions
2 cloves of garlic
1 carton of passata (250ml)
200ml white wine
1 carrot
half a celery
a cinnamon stick
5 cloves
A few bay leaves
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
Salt and pepper

Put on a large pan of salted water to boil. Add the oxtail and one onion and carrot sliced and a bay leaf and some fresh thyme sprigs. Bring to the boil and simmer for an hour. After an hour remove the tail with a slotted spoon.

In a frying pan fry the other onion and garlic until the garlic is burnt. Remove it but save the carmelised onion and transfer it to a casserole. Add the oxtail and brown it evenly all over. Transer it to the casserole. Remove the onion and carrot from the stock pot and toss it on the pan to carmelise. Add this to the casserole.

With the stock, set it back on a medium heat with the lid off and reduce it. This will make a lovely beef stock. Boil until it's reduced by half and cool.

To the casserole add a bay leaf, 200ml white wine and boil until the wine is almost gone. Add in the passata, some of the stock (adding more as necessary) and cover and simmer for 2 hours. Turn off and leave overnight to sit.

Next day add the celery, cloves and cinnamon stick and simmer for a further two hours.

The longer you cook it the better. The meat begins to fall off the bones. You will be left with a lot of sauce but the Italians ever resourceful don't waste this but serve it with rigatoni the next day (rigatoni al sugo di coda).

It's difficult to portray in words how amazing this dish is but I'll try. It's better than the best you have ever eaten. It's just amazingly good.

I served it with a red wine risotto using the beef stock produced above and lots of red wine, red onions, garlic, salt and pepper.

If you can come up with a better tastier dish using cheaper ingredients, let me know......


Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Moussaka Perfected

This is my new favourite dinner. I've tried every permutation and combination and reckon I've hit perfection. Big statement I know but......

I have discovered that you must use lamb. The Greeks don't raise a lot of beef as they don't have the pasture for it. But forget those packets of minced lamb you get in a supermarket. They are invariably greasy and muttoney. The best lamb by a country mile is leftover lamb from a Sunday roast. Just scrape every last bit from the leg or shoulder, including grizzle and fat and with a good knife dice it all up so that it's fine but not like mince.

The next must use ingredient is cinnamon. It's non-negotiable. It's the combination of a spice that's normally used in sweet dishes that gives moussaka it's signature flavour. The last is red wine. The amount you use is up to you. But the more the better.

After that the other ingredients are my own touches. Fresh mint and oregano just seem to work really well with the cinnamon, red wine and lamb.

So here you go. Bear in mind this is a leftover recipe so all measurements are based on what you have. Also if you want to use substitutions I have put them in brackets.

Moussaka Recipe

Cold leftover lamb diced up finely (or at a push lamb mince)
2 aubergines sliced
1 red onion
1 white onion
2 fat cloves of garlic
Half a tin of chopped tomatoes (or passata)
A good squeeze of tomato puree
A good glass of red wine
1 teasp of ground cinnamon (taste and use more if you like)
A handful each of oregano and mint chopped
Salt and pepper

Fry onion and garlic in some olive oil until soft. Add lamb and stir for a few minutes. Add cinnamon. Add tomatoes, tomato puree, red wine. Finally season and add oregano and mint. After about 30 minutes simmering taste and adjust adding more cinnamon, wine, salt, whatever you think you need.

While the above is simmering put the sliced aubergines in the oven on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and put in oven at 180 deg C. They need to just soften for 30 mintues or so.

Layer the aubergines and the lamb mix in an ovenproof dish.

For the topping I have used creme fraiche, Philadelphia, Greek yoghurt. All work equally well. So whatever you have in your fridge.

But you will need about 200g of cheese, yoghurt or creme fraiche and one egg. Add the egg yolk and whisk. Whisk the egg white and fold it in at the last minute. Add a good twist of black pepper and salt and grate some Parmesan into it. Pour this mix over the meat and aubergine. Grate some more Parmesan and pop in the oven at 180 deg C for 40-45 minutes.

Serve with a green salad and some fresh, crusty bread and the rest of the red wine if you have any.