A lazy lunch à la française
Classical cooking, where multiple steps are required to create lustrous sauces with complex flavours, is out of fashion. But there are dishes that cannot be done better any other way, and slow-cooked beef is one.
If I were forced to choose a last supper, it would be beef cooked like this – served in a silky sauce and so soft you can cut it with a spoon. I was introduced to it in Paris by Bambi Sloan, who helped decorate our early Leon restaurants. (She’s French. She’s an interior designer. It’s her real name.) The beef was ox cheek. It came to the table in the cooking dish, alongside a bowl of smooth mash. We spooned both on to our plates and swooned.
The secret is to strain the vegetables after they have been cooked to leave you with a luxuriant sauce, and to use a cut of meat with plenty of connective tissue. During the slow cooking, this breaks down and makes the meat succulent – almost gooey.
In today’s recipe, Jane has combined the beef with an equally smooth parsnip puree, some gremolata to give it zing, and seasonal cauliflower and purple sprouting broccoli for crunch.
Braised feather blade
Feather blade is a cheaper cut of beef from the shoulder of the animal. The top part of it is sometimes sold under the American name, flat iron steak. But be warned: it will have been carefully trimmed of all the sinewy bits that, when cooked for a long time, make this recipe so delicious. It will also be much more expensive.
Serves 4 -6
1-1.5kg whole feather blade(s) 1 tbsp seasoned flour 1 tbsp butter 1 tbsp olive oil 2 onions, sliced 1 carrot, sliced 1 slice swede, roughly chopped 3 garlic cloves, crushed 1 sprig rosemary 2 bay leaves 250ml red wine 50ml red wine vinegar 700ml chicken/beef stock
1 Preheat the oven to 140C/275F/ gas mark 1. Dust the beef with the seasoned flour.
2 Heat the butter and oil in a large frying pan. Brown the meat well on all sides and remove from the pan.
3 Add the veg to the pan and brown for 5 minutes over a medium heat. Stir in the garlic and herbs and cook for a minute. Deglaze the pan (scrape the bits off the bottom) with the red wine, vinegar and stock. Bring to the boil.
4 Transfer the meat to an oven-proof casserole, then tip over the stock and veg. Season well. Cover tightly and place in the oven for about 2 ½ to 3 ½ hours or until the beef is tender.
5 When cooked, remove the meat from the stock and set to one side in a container that will fit in your fridge. Strain this in a sieve (pushing the softer vegetables through to thicken it) and pour it over the meat. Allow to cool and leave in the fridge until needed.
400g chestnut mushrooms, quartered (you can use button mushrooms) 1 tbsp olive oil 1 tbsp butter The strained beef stock 1 tbsp English mustard
For the gremolata
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated 1 garlic clove, very finely chopped Salt and black pepper
1 Take the beef out of the stock. Cut it across the grain into 1-2cm thick slices.
2 In a large frying pan, heat the oil and butter until hot, then saute the mushrooms for a few minutes until golden brown and tender. Season well.
3 Remove the mushrooms from the pan. Add the beef stock and the mustard to the pan. Whisk together and bring to the boil for as long as needed to reduce the sauce to the desired thickness.
4 Add the mushrooms and beef to the sauce. Simmer gently for a few minutes to heat through. Season if required.
5 Combine the parsley with the lemon zest and garlic to make gremolata, and sprinkle over the beef before serving.
750g parsnips, peeled and thinly sliced 350ml milk 2 garlic cloves, crushed Juice of 1 lemon 30g ground almonds 70ml olive oil Salt and black pepper
1 Place in a pan with the milk and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the parsnips are soft.
2 Drain well and transfer to a food processor. Add the garlic, lemon and almonds. Blitz and slowly add the olive oil until you have a puree. Season well and serve.
Roast cauliflower and purple sprouting broccoli with walnut-tarragon dressing
1 small cauliflower 1 tbsp olive oil 300g purple sprouting broccoli
For the dressing
½ garlic clove, crushed to a paste 2 tsp chopped tarragon 1 tbsp cider vinegar 1 tsp maple syrup 2 tbsp rapeseed oil 1 tbsp walnut oil 50g toasted walnuts, crushed Salt and black pepper
1 Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/gas mark 3. Break the cauliflower into small florets. Toss in the olive oil and season well. Place on a baking tray in a medium oven for about 20 minutes or until tender and slightly browned.
2 Make the dressing by blending all the ingredients together with half the walnuts – use a stick blender or whisk.
3 Trim the broccoli and blanch in boiling salted water for 3 minutes until tender. Drain well. Toss with the cauliflower and the dressing. Sprinkle with extra walnuts.