Today was one of those days when without even trying I found some meats that are always cheap and cheerful and which we, for some reason that I am yet to understand, no longer embrace! I need to pose the question...
Why do we always have to have meat that is - over trimmed - fatless - oven or pan ready - or even worse - tasteless?
I was strolling through the market and came across these 'lamb off cuts' I suspect that they are neck of lamb, which for a while when some celebrity chef or aspirant, used in some fancy dish, at that moment, the price was doubled, they have now given way to what I always knew as forequarter of lamb/sheep/2 tooth and which my mother loved and most often boiled, but that not todays story. Suffice to say that Lamb Shoulder, SLOW COOKED, has become hugely celebrated for much the same reasons as the shanks and necks did, no doubt it too will fade back into yesterdays hero and lamb/sheep/2 tooth will again become a single dimensional meat, well trimmed and in the case of the chops (loin or what is now called bbq) will be tough and hard to eat, no matter how you cook them.
I was lucky, I bought four of these meaty on the bone items, not much fat and paid the princely sum of $8.95. A great bargain. I knew immediately what I was going to cook and I even bought some papradelli egg pasta when I saw some a little later. Dinner solved. It was a Ragu of Lamb cooked in the Greek style with some Papradelli and a good salad. Easy. Recipes follow. I have given you a recipe, very easy, I cooked mine in the heavy enameled iron pot on the oven for about three hours, let it sit to allow the fat and oil to rise to the top, skimmed that and as the pasta was cooking, put the pot back on the heat, added some fresh herbs, basil and parsley in fact and it was delicious.
Earlier in the week in my ceaseless quest for pork, I dashed into the local Vietnamese butcher across the road in Smith Street Collingwood (near the factory) I had seen some delicious looking pork belly in the window. A quick conversation with the butcher elicited the fact that it was female pork and dam fine it was too. But there, sitting next to the pork belly was a tray of pigs trotters at $3.50 each. I immediately bought four. As it turns out I had been chatting with two of my part time staffers, one Indonesian (Chinese) and one Thai and both had said that there was a very good little Thai restaurant tucked away in the arcade near the railway station in Hawthorn called I-Spicy (shop 19, 674 Glenferrie Road Hawthorn), a hole in the wall really and clearly focused at the many Asian students who attend Swinburne. The recommendation was a pork dish with water spinach but as ever I was seriously attracted to the pork trotter on the menu described as having been gently poached for three hours and then deep fried and sauced to a delicious stickiness and served on rice. Delicious does not do it justice.
Pork Hocks (or Trotters) are a much maligned bit of the pig, in many parts of Europe and the Mediterranean they are used as a casing, all the bone is removed and the cavities filled with minced meats and herbs, reshaped and poached and often fried (Cotechino of Italy is an example) There are many many recipes from almost every cuisine on earth. It needs to be remembered that pork was a meat that was in fact a peasant food, since the pig was an easy animal to breed and the litters were large. In times gone past, most people would have had a pig that they raised and eventually when it was fully grown, fat and often almost a member of the family, was slaughtered and in most countries, every single bit of the animal was used.
In so many ways we look back on this aspect of life gone past with great nostalgia and we are encouraged to dibble at the side here and there, slow cook this and that, but in fact we are so persuaded by media, medical and celebrity and lack of time, that we have very little remaining in our lives that embraces old ways. Media is so money driven that it follows the dictates of its major advertisers and rarely if ever, even consider suggesting to the public that foods, other than those sold directly by their major advertisers, has any merit. The medical lobby has succeeded in scaring the hell out of everyone with the tick campaign and instilled fear and loathing in everyone over fat and cholesterol. Whilst one must acknowledge that to eat excessive fat is not a good thing, its a little hard when (a) my grandfather lived to 94 and ate every bit of fat, butter cream he could find (b) We need a certain amount of fat in our diet and, how come the French are not a nation of fatties? They eat more butter than any other country on the globe? (c) The information we get is constantly conflicted, butter is bad, butter is good, fat is bad, fat is good. It may be of some advantage if internationally some sort of consensus was to be found and then, lay data on the unsuspecting public.
In the meanwhile I am going to toss my lot in with the French, the Greeks and the Italians and hope that, even if I don’t live a long life, I at least live a good one.
The recipes are as follows.
Ragu of Braised Lamb as cooked in Greece.
1kilo. of lamb shoulder (bone in) Or in my case neck of lamb off cuts.
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
2 carrots, fine dice
2 stalks of celery, fine dice
1 tsp. dry rosemary
3 - 4 sprigs of thyme (pull the leaves off the stems)
3 bay leaves
2 cups of good tomato puree (passata) (I used two small cans of whole tomatoes, I like it better)
Really, simplicity itself, place all the ingredients in a heavy based pan, I added no extra water or wine, just the juice that accompanied the tomatoes and put into a slow oven 150 C for three or so hours until the meat was falling off the bone.
Serve with pasta of choice, the Greek solution may well have been to add some pasta to the pan itself, along with a little water to cook through and then its a complete dish.
The below dish is a good dish with lamb shanks...
Greek Braised Lamb Shanks
by AT THE GREEK TABLE on Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 11:11am
Greek Braised Lamb Shanks Every Greek kid grew up with some version of this dish – manestra – braised lamb shanks. My Mom would cover the roast and cook it in the oven for two and a half hours, then add a box of Orzo pasta and slow cook it for the last half-hour. In this contemporary twist of the recipe, I add a little of balsamic vinegar to cut into the fattiness of lamb shanks, crushed red pepper to give it a little bit of background heat, and natural honey instead of sugar. This is a nice dish for Sunday dinner with friends when you don’t want to have a lot of pots going. It can be prepared the night before and baked off Sunday morning. You can add baby potatoes after the first two hours of cooking or pasta for last half hour.
6 large lamb shanks
3 tablespoons olive
oil • salt, pepper and flour
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrot
6 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon dry thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
28 ounce can of tomatoes
2 cups red wine (merlot or cabernet)
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup honey
2 cups chicken broth
baby potatoes or orzo pasta
Preheat oven to 170 C
Heat oil in large ovenproof pot (wide enough to hold lamb in single layer) over medium-high heat. Sprinkle lamb on all sides with salt, pepper and flour. Add lamb to pot and sauté until brown, turning occasionally, about 10 minutes. Transfer lamb to plate. Add next 15 ingredients to pot and bring to a gentle boil, continue this until the liquid is reduced by half, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Return lamb to pot, arranging in single layer; add any accumulated juices and cover with lid or parchment paper and foil. Bake for 3 hours. (until the meat is fall off the bone tender)
Pork Trotters (Hocks)
I paid $3.50 per hock from my now favourite Vietnamese Butcher...
If you don’t have a master stock... just make this one up...
Master Stock - Chinese
5 litres of water
3 cloves of garlic (I leave them whole with the skin on)
1 decent knob of ginger, sliced about 3 cm
1 stick of Cassia Bark
2 Large Star Anise
3 Cardamom pods (green)
250 mil of Soy Sauce
250 mil Chinese Rice Wine (Shoaxing)
50 grams sugar (I used Palm Sugar)
Bring to the boil and allow to simmer for 10 minutes before using... add the pork hocks and turn way down to the lowest setting. Some say its good to do these in the oven, but they should cook for three hours and be butter tender. I think also you need to turn them once or twice and let all sides absorb the stock.
When cooked, remove them from the stock (carefully, they can easily fall apart..) now the hocks will have a central bone, keep the skin intact and remove the bone by pulling it out. Wrap each one individually in some cling wrap, making it into a nice shape. Place in the refrigerator over night.
The next day when the pork is cold, remove the cling wrap and slice into good thick slices... if you have a deep fryer, so much the better, if not, place them into a pan and fry both sides, hopefully the pork skin will get some cooking as well and become crisp.
Meanwhile, or maybe before you start the frying, make the following.
Chili Caramel Sauce
450 mil water
500 gr of palm sugar
45 mil fish sauce
60 mil of lime juice
2 red chili, finely chopped.
(you can add more chili if wanted)
Place 400 mil of the water and sugar into the pan and allow the sugar to melt and begin to boil and make a caramel, you can brush down the sides of the pot with a brush to stop the sugar crystals from forming (the brush needs to be dipped in water). When the caramel is well done, remove from the heat, add the 50 mil of water and allow to mix, add the chilies and the lime juice and fish sauce, cook for a few minutes.
Serve the Hocks on a bed of rice drizzle generously with this sauce. I also think a Thai vegetable salad is an essential accompaniment.
Good luck and do try and find and support butchers who offer you the full range of meats, great beef for braising that only comes when they break down a full carcass, lamb (not yet, but soon) right now 2 tooth and pork that is both well fed, allowed to free range and do what pigs do best, get fat.