The Cookbook Guru Challenge is a new monthly series hosted by Leah over at Sharing the Food We Love and as soon as I read about it I knew I had to get involved. I surely can’t be the only one who has a shelf full of recipe books that I dip in and out of occasionally and the opportunity to to explore new books and cuisines was too good to miss.
The first book Leah chose was English Food by Jane Grigson which was published back in 1974. The only reason I had heard of Jane Grigson was because her daughter Sophie was one of the first TV chefs in the UK back in the early 90’s when I was starting to buy cookery books and be adventurous in the kitchen. I remember cooking a Pad Thai from one of her books not really having a clue what any of the ingredients were. Back then Thailand was the sort of place you went on honeymoon and it was all so exotic to a city girl like me. I’m pretty sure I hadn’t even been to a Thai restaurant and had no idea really what the finished product was supposed to look like let alone taste like.
I almost fell at the first hurdle; finding recipes from the book. Luckily I came across a wonderful blog called Neil Cooks Grigson – the title is pretty self explanatory! Neil has cooked his way through the book over the last five years and as I went through his blog my admiration for his attention to detail and stubbornness increased by the post. You only have to read his review of Recipe #230 or Recipe #336 to understand.
I have to admit a lot of the recipes just did not appeal to me at all. Most main courses seemed to be cooked in milk or cream and just sounded a little boring and unadventurous. Which in itself was an eye opener – food porn in the 2010’s is a lot different to the 70’s when most meals in the UK were meat and 3 veg and eating out was fish & chips on a Friday night.
In the end I settled on oxtail soup and kind of followed Neil/Jane’s instructions. Ever since I’d seen the oxtail back on one of my first visits to the Muslim Market I’d been hankering after cooking with one. But I lost my nerve and went to Carrefour instead.
I bought 2 packets of about 1kg total in weight and went for meat over bone but in hindsight I will buy a pack of the skinny end of the tail next time as well for extra flavour and marrow. Plus after I came home and looked at Neil’s photo I realised I’d probably only got about half a tail. Hohum……must remember to read the recipe through if I’m going to commit to following it……
Everything was browned in my new fake Le Crueset pot and put in the oven overnight at 70C to cook gently away.
This is how I make stock these days – in the oven overnight. I have three gas hobs which probably came off the assembly line at China Eastern Airlines they are that powerful. Great for stir fries and boiling the kettle but no chance with a gentle simmering.
When I lifted the lid ten hours later I was in pure beefy heaven. Cooking slowly overnight means the meat just falls away from the bones and the stock is rich and flavoursome. There is also no scum and no looking after to do. The stock was strained through muslin and put in the fridge for a few hours until the fat lifted off – there surprisingly wasn’t that much. There is something truly satisfying about the wobble of stock you have made yourself!
Jane suggests adding port to the oxtail soup and Neil concurs. If I had any in the house I’d give it a go.
As it was, I had some parsley pesto lurking in the fridge and thought it would cut through the beefiness quite well and it worked a treat.
I kept going into the fridge and digging out spoonfuls of the jellied stock it was that good. There was plenty of hmmmmming and ahhhhing that night and when I get sick this winter (apparently it’s only a matter of when not if in Shanghai) I’m going straight to the freezer and bringing out a container of stock and meat – it’s comfort food in a bowl and it’s all good.
If you’d like to join in the Cookbook Guru fun there’s still time for November – details are here. I’m glad I did it – I’ve finally made oxtail soup albeit a slightly different version from the original recipe and I got totally lost in Neil’s blog. Win win.
Jane Grigson's Oxtail Soup
- 2-3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 kg oxtail pieces
- 3 stalks celery thickly sliced
- 1 white onion quartered
- 1 carrot cut into chunks
- 2 bayleaves
- 1 tomato cut in half
- few sprigs thyme
- 5 peppercorns
- 1 carrot finely diced
- 1/2 cup frozen peas
- 25 g dried pasta per person cooked
Heat oven to 70C.
Over a high-ish heat add the olive oil to a Le Crueset pot or similar and brown off the oxtail pieces and then set aside. Don't crowd the pot - you may have to do this in two batches.
Add the celery, onion and carrot pieces and brown off quickly, scrapping any sticky bits off the bottom of the pan to stop them burning.
Return the oxtail pieces to the pan along with the tomato, bay leaves, peppercorns and thyme. Pour over 2 litres of cold water, cover with lid and place in oven overnight. I put mine in from 8pm - 6am but a couple of hours either way won't do any harm.
Take the oxtail pieces out of the stock and remove the meat - it will just slip off the bone.
Strain the stock and vegetables through muslin and leave stock to cool and turn to jelly and skim off fat.
The stock can be frozen at this point for future use. I freeze the meat separately.
When you are ready to serve, add the carrot to the stock along with the oxtail meat and warm through slowly until carrots are soft. Add the frozen peas for the final 3 minutes. Serve in bowls with cooked pasta. Pesto is a bonus but not necessary.
Recipe NotesIf you prefer a really meaty, beefy stock use 2kg of oxtail, otherwise 1kg is just fine.
2L of water produced around 1.8L of finished stock.
Freezes well - perfect for French onion soup and casseroles.