Cooking slow

Cooking slow

By
James Martin
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
978 184949 123 5
Photographer
Tara Fisher

Remember the food your grandmother used to make? The cakes, stews and casseroles filling the house with the most memorable smells? Even before the lid was removed, or the oven door was opened, you just knew it was going to be good because of the delicious aroma. It’s the smell that makes it worth waiting for. When it comes to slow cooking, you know what I’m talking about!

Slow cooking is the ultimate in foolproof, stress-free food. It’s all about minimum effort and maximum flavour, mainly because it usually involves using cuts of meat and vegetables that aren’t too expensive. My family were pig and cattle farmers, so we used to eat the best food there was. My mother would put a beef stew in the slow cooker before we left for school, and it would tick over for eight hours, slowly bubbling while I was at school learning all about the genetic make-up of eggs. All she did at the end was to add the suet dumplings while we mucked out the pigs, and then it was ready. The stew filled the whole farmhouse with smells better than those of any Michelin-starred meal I’ve eaten. It was there that I learnt the art of slow cooking. My mum had learnt it from my gran, my gran from her mum, and so on. It just made perfect sense to them to use cheaper cuts of meat, and to cook them well.

Of course, all of this was before chefs came along with their fancy test-tube cooking and unachievable recipes that need endless equipment, a science lab and 12 people to help prepare them! That’s not real cooking as far as I’m concerned. Cooking is a science, of course, but it’s a simple application of heat to good-quality ingredients. Most of us would choose a beef stew and steamed sponge pudding over a picture on a plate. In fact, ask any chef what their favourite meal is and it will almost certainly be the last good meal they had at home. I learnt the art of cooking by coming to London and then travelling around Europe working in restaurants, but it’s the slow-cooked dishes I remember the most. I learnt to make the best confit of duck from a French grandmother in Bordeaux when I was 13; I remember cooking braised lamb shanks with beans, tomatoes and olive oil mash at age 17; and, later, slowly cooking pigs’ trotters in a three Michelin-starred restaurant in the heart of London. It’s these dishes I remember more than any others, so I jumped at the chance to write my first book on slow cooking.

There are a few key things to be aware of when cooking slowly. Firstly, it’s all about the ingredients. Being a Yorkshire man and having been brought up on a farm, I’ve learnt to keep things as simple as possible. It helps to understand that whatever part of the animal does the most work needs the longest cooking, but has the best flavour. So look out for lamb neck, trotters and shoulder of pork next time you’re buying meat: they’re such cheap cuts to buy, and any butcher will be only too glad to sell them to you. Thankfully, many chefs are coming round to this way of thinking, too, and pigs’ cheeks and pork belly are staples on many restaurant menus these days. We should follow their lead, as the ingredients available have never been as good as they are nowadays, with artisan producers selling excellent quality produce all over the country.

I’m hoping this book inspires you to dig out that old casserole dish or slow cooker in the back of the cupboard. Dust it off and have a go! You don’t need any new gadgets for these recipes – many of them can be done in a slow cooker or pressure cooker if you have one, but they’re not essential. I was brought up with slow cookers, and thankfully they’re coming back to the shop shelves. They’re great to cook with, and you can do more with them than you might think. The best recipes to cook in them are the ones where the meat doesn’t need browning first, so it can just be added straight to the pot, like the Scotch broth, braised octopus with herb tabbouleh or Irish stew. Otherwise, if the meat needs to be browned, this can be done in another pan on the stove, and then, once the sauce is added, it can all be decanted into the slow cooker. The same goes for pressure cookers, which can be effective for dishes such as octopus or mutton, where plenty of moisture is vital to the finished dish. I’d choose a slow cooker over a pressure cooker, though, as they’re more versatile. Although the flavour is never exactly the same as it is when you cook something slowly on the stove, since we’re all short of time these days, what could be better than putting it all in the pot before you go to work and having a great meal ready on your return?

This book contains a large selection of recipes from all corners of the UK, which I hope will reignite some long-lost memories of your childhood. There are many international dishes here, too. As well as the very best comfort food, such as beef stew, the ultimate roast chicken and French onion soup, there are tips and surprises straight from some of the top chefs’ kitchens. Cooking a fillet of beef at 80°C in clingfilm is just one of these: it’s completely foolproof and will wow your guests, and you’ll never return to the old way of cooking beef again. Fish can benefit from the slow treatment, too, whether it’s marinated, as in the treacle-cured salmon, or baked whole, as in the whole roast salmon with herbs. As a pastry chef for many years, it was a struggle for me to keep puddings and bakes out of a book on slow food! Meringues are always cooked slowly, and adding fresh strawberries to the mix makes all the difference. And it wouldn’t be slow cooking without some proper puddings – there are plenty in here for you to enjoy, from classic custard tart to steamed ginger sponge.

Now you know what slow food is all about: proper honest grub that is as basic as cooking can get. I like to keep it simple, and this method of cooking gets rid of all the guesswork. It can be a great way to cook prime cuts of meat as well as the less well-known ones. I hope you enjoy it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing and cooking for it. Oh, and by the way: all the dishes were cooked and the photographs taken at my house, because I wanted to look forward to coming home as much as I used to when I was a kid. And I did!

Enjoy!

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