Monday, November 20, 2006

Melt in your mouth shin stew

Stew is one of the meals that shows how far I have come since The Picky Years and even since my student days. When I was a student, I wasn't actually that picky, but I lived on bastardized versions of Chinese, Thai and Italian food (aka pasta and stir-fries) and I suppose I despised stew as the sort of food your grandparents would eat, rather than the kind of food an upwardly mobile pseudo-sophisticate might go for. There may well have been a foodie revolution going on, sparked off I would guess by the rise of the gastropub, which made sausage and mash trendy, but I lived in Cambridge and I missed it (Cambridge is rightfully known for greatness in many areas - food is not one of them...). By the time I cottoned on to it, more through reading (and craving!) Nigel Slater's deliciously comforting Real Food than through frequenting the 'in' eating establishments of the time, I was hooked and I haven't looked back. I still love spicy food and I still eat a lot of pasta, but I also eat sausage and mash, lamb shanks (okay, so everyone likes lamb shanks these days, but I really, really like them), slow-cooked, gently warming casseroles, and shepherds pie. Somehow these dishes make the world feel safe; you can lock the doors and close the curtains and shut out the freezing darkness outside, and allow yourself to be comforted, cocooned by the reassuring, honest simplicity of that sort of food. It is this sort of food that makes the cold weather and short days not only bearable, but even in some ways desirable; if it really were 'forever summer', as Nigella put it, we would have to live on salad, and that is enough to make me welcome the autumn.

Jamie's shin stew is a fairly typical beef stew, with the usual ingredients - onion, celery, carrot, garlic, rosemary and bay, plum tomatoes and red wine - with cinnamon and dried porcini. Like all stews, the only effort it requires is chopping the vegetables - otherwise it is as easy as can be. Yesterday we started Christmas shopping, which for me tends to involve prolonged browsing in book shops and cook shops fantasizing about my ideal presents and then trying and failing to imagine what other people might want. I confess that I almost always buy people books; this is probably because that is what I want, and I find it hard to imagine that other people are less keen. I also have to resist the temptation to buy everyone a kitchen gadget that is essential to my life and utterly foreign to theirs. Anyway yesterday I did start Christmas shopping, while the stew simmered gently in the slow cooker (I increased the cooking time and used the slow cooker rather than the oven for convenience), which seemed like a highly productive way to spend a Sunday. I served the stew with mashed sweet potato and steamed curly kale (both from the farm shop).

Mmm. This really is as Jamie says 'fantastic comfort food', easy, simple, but certainly not to be despised or scoffed at. Oh and the best thing about stews is that you make far more than you need so that you can have leftovers when you are feeling down/tired/grumpy, and need a bit of food therapy - by which I mean food that warms you up inside without making you feel guilty afterwards. They should prescribe beef stew on the NHS.


Anonymous said...

Kathryn, you write so beautifully about stews and the comfort of being near something warm and familiar that you almost, almost convinced this forever-summer gal to ditch the flip flops and sunglasses and don warm sweaters.
Haha, I actually really like the idea of slow cooking - my mom's veal stew is a beauty to behold -- the potatoes the color of pumpkin. :)
I don't know how anybody cannot fall in love with the idea of comfort eating and cooking after reading this post. I'm glad you are enjoying this journey through Jamie's work of art.


TheGrem said...

I had curly kale for the first time aoucple of weeks ago, having eyeballed it in the veg aisle for an unhealthily long time. I just steamed it.

It smelled rank and tasted even worse.

What did I do wrong folks? It was so disctintive a taste that I can only assume that local grown organic farm versions couldn;t imporve it enough.