I read a blog post recently where the writer had just eaten their first – their very first – ready meal. I think the blogger was in his or her thirties.

I was utterly flabbergasted!

For some reason, I’ve never spent much time wondering whether other people do or don’t use ready meals. I naively assumed that most home cooks are like us.

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Our Cooking Habits

Pete and I have some kind of ready meal about once a week. I include in this number the meals where one or more main component is ready-made, even if we serve it with home made vegetables or sides. We usually pick things like oven bake chicken Kiev, fresh ready-made lasagne or a chicken or steak pie. And oven chips! We quickly discovered that the higher end supermarket ranges are very good at these kind of dishes and they’re close enough to home made in quality and taste. We also buy ready-made fresh pasta such as tortelloni and ravioli, which we’ll either have with a home made sauce or a fresh ready-made one. And we love sausages – they’re ready-made, of course, since we don’t make our own.

The rest of the time we cook from scratch and we really appreciate how easy it is to make great food ourselves. And we’re enthusiastic about widening our repertoire via ideas and recipes from cookery books, food blogs and friends. The meals we cook are a mix of tried and tested favourites and things we’ve never made before. Cooking from scratch allows us to tweak recipes to our tastes, substitute ingredients according to availability and personal preference and have control over the provenance of our ingredients. And, even if we spend more on higher quality ingredients, it’s still much cheaper than eating out or getting a takeaway.

Some recipes lend themselves well to being made in larger quantities, meaning we can easily make two or three meals in one go, refrigerating or freezing portions. Other recipes provide leftovers that are perfect for turning into something else – roast dinners are the most obvious example of this in our house.

But we’re also susceptible to feeling tired, lazy or just not in the mood to cook. And that’s when we’ll turn to ready meals or the occasional takeaway.

 

How I Came To Do A Survey

My surprise at the statement I came across made me think a lot more about the eating and cooking habits of others, and I started to wonder what the norm is (if there is even such a thing), and most especially, what the norm is amongst my friends.

So I sent some questions to a few friends, talking to non-foodies and non-bloggers as well as foodies and bloggers, and making sure to include families as well as couples and singles friends.

My focus was on evening meals eaten at home rather than lunch, since lunch is more dependent on one’s work situation.

My initial plan was to summarise all the responses in just a paragraph or two but I found myself so fascinated by the similarities and differences in our cooking and eating habits and even more in the reasons and opinions my friends generously shared with me. I decided to share their responses in more detail.

I’ve categorised the responses into two main groups – those who cook virtually all their meals from scratch, and those who eat a combination of ready meals and home cooked, to varying ratios. None of my friends fit into the third potential group of 100% ready meals. Note that I don’t claim that my survey is in any way representative of Britain as a whole, or that my friends’s answers are typical of British cooking and eating habits.

 

100% Home Cooking

Diana, Jennie, Jow and Martine cook all their meals from scratch and do not make use of any ready meals.

Diana explains that she finds it “quite easy to cook meals that are just as or more delicious than ready-made meals” and finds that ready-made sauces are not as tasty as what she makes herself. She is also keen to avoid “chemical additives in processed foods”. She says that although cooking good food doesn’t require much time or effort, it “does require planning”.

For Jennie cooking everything herself is “mainly to do with habit”, as she’s simply never had much exposure to ready meals. She describes herself as “a wee bit fussy about food being seasonal and ethical” and likes to know what goes into her food. Another point she raises is the ability to control diabetes, carb counting, etc. In reference to the common opinion that ready meals are quicker, she says that when she has no time or little energy, she’ll just have some vegetables and an egg. Her husband, on the other hand, will often turn to instant noodles or frozen pizza if he’s eating dinner at home alone.

Jow used to buy more ready-made sauces and food in the past but health issues lead her to re-evaluate her diet, and ultimately that of the whole family. Today, 99% of meals are home cooked, with the remaining percent “accounting for when I cock up and burn something”! She mentions a number of advantages to cooking everything herself including knowing what the family are eating and that the ingredients are fresh. As Jow cooks more and “makes sure to use all leftovers”, “the food bill is less” and she has discovered that she really enjoys cooking. In addition, her “girls are taking an interest in what’s going on in the kitchen and like to come and help”; their increased awareness of what’s going into their dinner and how the meal is made means they are “so much more enthusiastic about eating it”. Jow also points out that she is more aware of the cost of food and has learned to “plan meals in advance to utilise all the produce bought and plan  meals  around leftovers if they haven’t already been frozen for future use”.

For Martine being able to control the content of her and her partner’s meals, in terms of the “level of sugar, fats etc.” is really important and home cooking also means they can ensure the flavours (and spiciness) are to their personal tastes.

Some of my friends make mention of using ingredients like tinned tomatoes, tomato puree, soy sauce, oyster sauce and ketchup, but these are simply part of many normal recipes, and are not what I mean when I talk about ready-made sauces and pastes.

 

Some Home Cooking With Ready-Made Sauces or Pastes, Ready-Made Elements or Ready Meals

The rest of my friends use ready meals, ready-made elements of meals or ready-made sauces and pastes on occasion, with the frequency varying from rarely to regularly.

Helen likes to cook in larger quantities so she can “make and freeze [her] own ready meals”, that can quickly be reheated when needed. She is happy to use ready-made pesto, mayonnaise, stock cubes and Thai curry pastes. She feels that “ready meals are expensive”, skimp on taste and are too salty. But she does appreciate a “supermarket curry from time to time”, suggesting the supermarket meal deals as good value.

Like Helen, Lisa cooks most of her own meals, relegating both ready meals and takeaways to “last minute can’t be botheredness”. Because much of her cooking is during the week after work and she also finds it difficult to stand up for long periods, time is a key factor for her. She appreciates “the speed of a ready made stock or spice mixture” but has found that “ready made sauces always taste odd”.

Danny says that although the family cooks from scratch most of the time, they “don’t shun ready meals”, and will buy them once every few weeks when caught on the hop, popping into M&S on the way home from visiting his Nan, for example. They do use ready-made curry sauces a lot, because when Danny makes curry from scratch, he “always bugger things up by making them too hot”! He says that premium end ready meals “can be quite nice to eat” but he doesn’t think he’s every found one “absolutely amazing”, though wonders if that’s partly psychological. He does “wrinkle [his] nose” at the really cheap ready meals “that come in a plastic tray that costs £1” because he “sincerely believe[s] that they are full of shite and shite to eat”.

Dave doesn’t buy ready meals either and cooks all his evening meals himself. However, he prefers to keep cooking time on weeknights to no more than 20-40 minutes, and is happy to use shortcuts such as curry pastes, spice mixes, stir fry sauces and stock cubes. On the weekend, he has more time available and is happy to try recipes that need advanced preparation.

Matt is much the same, and it’s rare for him to buy a ready meal. He cooks most meals himself, estimating that about 40% are from scratch and 60% use ready-made elements such as stir fry or pasta sauces. One of the key motivations for him in avoiding ready meals is his preference to avoid “food where there’s packaging that doesn’t seem to need to be there”. He likes to buy “veg at the local grocer where [he] can buy it unpackaged off the shelf and straight into the one carrier bag”; he’s not a fan of supermarkets individually wrapping fresh produce. “Unnecessary packaging makes [him] sad”, especially as Bristol doesn’t recycle black plastic or cellophane, meaning most of it is headed for landfill. Of course, he doesn’t always manage to stick to this – it depends on “energy levels, how much shopping time I’ve had recently, how well I’ve planned it, and how much washing up I can face doing”. Another factor for him in buying shop-bought sauces is that it “doesn’t feel worth making that kind of stuff up when I’m mostly just cooking for me”. He adds that he also has “no idea how you actually make sweet-and-sour sauce”. Lastly, he likes to “keep packs of microwave rice around for those moments when I realise the main meal is ready but I’ve forgotten to put rice on. Or, as happened last time, turned on the rice cooker without actually putting water in it…

Linda and her husband eat ready meals two or three times a month, and likewise for their use of ready-made sauces. The main constraints for them are the time they get in from work, which can sometimes be quite late. Ready meals and ready-made sauces are “quick & easy to use so very convenient” but they try not to use too many “because of the high salt & fat content”.

Tamsin cooks most of the time, especially for her children, though says that she and her husband eat a ready meal “very occasionally for speed”. During the week she will occasionally use ready-made pesto (though says her husband’s home made is better) but has started to make pasta sauces herself “because [she] was a bit shocked how much salt and sugar is in a lot of them, and also they don’t taste as nice”. About once a week, meals will include a ready-made element such as “ready made fishcakes or chicken in crispy breadcrumbs”. On the weekend, it’s “much more about cooking a whole meal from scratch – the kids have school dinners so don’t need a big meal on weekdays”. In terms of motivation, she says “it’s mostly health factors affecting me making stuff from scratch- only something I have started recently” but adds that she is also getting increasingly “fussier about taste too, and just don’t like the taste of a lot of ready made stuff”. She observes that she’d really struggle to cook from scratch as much if she worked full time, as “horrible work days” are when she’s mostly likely to “reach for the ready made stuff in a jar”.

MiMi’s ratio of home cooking to ready meals and takeaways is probably closest to ours. She estimates that 70% of meals are home cooked, with the remainder divided between ready meals and takeaways. Home cooked meals are most commonly from scratch, with ready-made sauces used only occasionally. For MiMi, “time and energy and lack of both are the biggest factors” and she also cites curiosity “when trying a ready-made sauce or meal”. She also points out that one of the “benefits of a ready meal is it can be cheaper than buying all ingredients separately and is definitely easier”. It’s also a good way to try new stuff without investing too much time and energy and if she likes the idea, she often ends up making it from scratch in the future. One of the big impacts on cooking and eating patterns for MiMI has been the birth of her little girl a year ago. She and her husband usually take turns to eat so “the food usually has to be or ends up cold because the boglin needs so much attention”. The “food budget has gone up” because MiMi buys “a lot more ready to eat ingredients that can be assembled quickly, such as ham or mackerel for salads” and she now buys “organic fish, meat, fruits and veg” which she may not have bothered with before, along with “baby-safe biscuits and snacks” that are sugar and salt free.

Chaundra definitely finds time is her biggest enemy, as she doesn’t finish work till 7 and gets home at 8. She reckons half the meals she and her husband eat during the week are therefore ready-made, and she relies heavily on ready-made sauces and pastes, taking care to source ones that deliver on taste. However, on the weekend, she has more time and really relishes “making a good meal, in quantities” that allow for leftovers to be eaten as future meals. She prefers home made because she takes “pride in [her] cooking and associate[s] homemade food as being an expression of love and affection”.

Like Chaundra, Gary works long days. He estimates that in any given week about 4 out of seven evening meals “have a prepared element”, which could be oven chips, a frozen meat dish (such as a pie) or frozen vegetables. One meal in seven is entirely made up of ready-made elements. But he very rarely eats the kind of ready meals that come in a “little black plastic tray with clingfilm over the top” because he “find[s] the cost prohibitive”. On the weekends, Gary tends to cook more often from scratch, though on some weeknights too. He seldom uses ready-made sauces, though he might use a ready-made paste in an Indian dish. Despite the late nights, cost rather than time is the major factor and he’s noticed that “supermarkets are dramatically more expensive across various ranges” in the last 18 months.

Ruth tells me she and her family “probably have one or two ready meals per week, and one or two takeaways/meals out per week” and the rest is home cooked. Home cooked meals are virtually always made from scratch, though she likes to “buy a Waitrose ‘from scratch’ kit per week which makes [her] feel like [she’s] home cooking with the convenience of having it all prepared for [her]”. She is “most inclined to cook from scratch when making a meal for the whole family” and believes it’s “hugely important that the kids see me cook and that we sit down and eat home cooked food together”. When she and her husband eat after the kids are in bed, they’re “hungry and we just want something fast and easy”.

 

Can I Draw Any Conclusions?

The group of friends I’ve spoken to is neither large enough nor random enough to be representative of the general population of Britain, but the friends who’ve so kindly shared their thoughts with me have certainly given me plenty of food for thought and opened my eyes to how people cook and eat. More importantly, I have a better understanding of the many varied factors which influence their choices, which are as varied as the people themselves.

I don’t think there are any real conclusions to be drawn but certainly the use of complete ready meals is lower than I imagined. That said, a fair few of our friends use ready-made elements of a meal such as fish cakes, breaded chicken, pies or oven chips within a meal that also features home-cooked elements. A fair few use ready-made sauces and pastes in their cooking.

It’s also worth noting that there’s a clearly perceived difference between cheap ready meals and premium ones; this matches my own findings, having tried quite a variety. These days we stick to the premium ranges, though these are significantly more expensive than the budget ranges.

 

What about you?

Do you identify with one or more of my friends above?

What is the balance in your home and what are the key decision-making factors for you?

Please let me know by leaving a comment below. And I’d really love to get a wider range of responses, so please invite your friends to weigh in too.

Let me know what proportion of evening meals in your home are cooked from scratch, home cooked using ready-made sauces or pastes, feature a ready-made element alongside home cooking or are wholly ready-made items or a ready meal.

Share your opinions about these various choices and tell me why you cook and eat as you do, and how you feel about it.

 

Many thanks to those who join in and thanks again to all my friends for so generously sharing their habits and opinions.

 

You know that thing when you come up with an original recipe idea, and it’s utterly brilliant, and you’re so so pleased with yourself, and it’s so damn tasty, and you’re really excited about sharing your genius new idea with the world…

…and then you search the internet and realise that the old adage “there’s nothing new under the sun” really is true after all, because loads of people have come up with the same idea before you, and now you feel rather deflated?

Yeah. That.

Our home made yakiniku (indoor barbeque) was fantastic but the sliced sweet potato just didn’t work, so we had around 350 grams of thinly sliced sweet potato to use up. We also had 4 thick slices of ham leftover from the cheese, ham and chilli jam pancakes we made the day before that. The leap to creating a sweet potato and ham dauphinoise seemed ingenious!

Well, it was! The resulting dish was so darn delicious that I’m going to share it with you anyway, even if it’s not as much of an innovation as I thought at the time!

We decided to base the recipe on the easy potato dauphinoise recipe we make regularly, so we added 150 grams of regular potato to the sweet. And as we had some grated cheese left over (from those same pancakes), we sprinkled that over the top before baking, too.

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Apologies for the photos – I just grabbed a couple of snaps to record it and I want to share it with you right now!

Sweet Potato & Ham Dauphinoise

Ingredients
200 ml double cream
200 ml full fat milk
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
Salt and pepper
350 grams sweet potato, peeled and sliced fairly thin, about 3mm
150-200 grams regular potato, peeled and sliced fairly thin, about 3mm
100-150 grams thick sliced ham, cut into small pieces
Optional: handful of grated cheese

Method

  • In a large sauce pan place the double cream, milk, garlic, salt and pepper on a gentle heat.
  • Preheat the oven to 170 C.
  • Add the potato and sweet potato slices into the hot cream and milk and simmer for 15 minutes, until they have softened a little.
  • Use a slatted spoon to transfer some of the (mixed) potatoes into an oven dish, so that the slices are reasonably flat.
  • Scatter some of the ham pieces across them before adding another layer, and continue till all the potatoes and ham are in the oven dish. You don’t need to worry about being very neat, but it’s best to get an even height to the top layer, so everything bakes evenly.
  • Pour or spoon the remainder of the thickened cream and milk over the potatoes.
  • Bake for 30-40 minutes.
  • Check if done by inserting a knife into the dish; the potatoes should feel soft all the way through.
  • Serve hot.

Tell me, have you had any of those moments I describe at the top of the post?

 

 

I love biryani!

I mean the real deal, with beautifully spiced meat between layers of fragrant basmati rice…

NOT stir-fried rice with a few bits of meat thrown in, served with a side of sloppy vegetable curry, that is sold as biryani by so many curry houses across the UK. *rolls eyes*

Incidentally, if you’re wondering about the difference between pulao (pilaf) and biryani it is in the cooking method rather than the ingredients: rice is the core ingredient in a pulao, often supplemented by meat or vegetables, just like a biryani, however all the ingredients of a pulao are cooked together. In a biryani, the meat or vegetables are prepared separately, then assembled into a cooking pot with the rice, before the biryani is baked to finish. In some variations, the meat and rice are par-cooked before assembly, in others they are added raw.

Biryani” comes from the Persian birian / beryan, which is a reference to frying or roasting an ingredient before cooking it. The actual dish was likely spread across the wider region by merchants and other travellers many centuries ago.

Biryani was very popular in the kitchens of the Mughal Emperors who ruled between the early 16th century to the early 18th century and it remains a much-loved dish in India today.

The Mughals were a Central Asian Turko-Mongolic people who settled in the region in the Middle Ages; their influence on architecture, art and culture, government and cuisine was significant. Mughlai cuisine is today best represented by the cooking of North India (particularly Utter Pradesh and Delhi, where my mother and father are from, respectively), Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Hyderabadi area of Andhra Pradesh in South East India. It retains many influences from Persian and Afghani cuisine.

There are many versions of biryani but two of the best known in India are Lucknowi (Awadhi) biryani and Hyderabadi biryani. For a Lucknowi biryani, the meat is seared and cooked in water with spices, then drained. The resulting broth is used to cook the rice. Both the pukki (cooked) elements are then layered together in a deep pot, sealed and baked. Hyderabadi biryani uses the kutchi (raw) method whereby the meat is marinated and the rice is mixed with spiced yoghurt (but neither are cooked) before being assembled in a deep pot and baked. The flavours of the meat and rice components in a Hyderabadi biryani are quite distinct, as compared to the Lucknowi biryani where they are more homogenous.

Also popular is Calcutta biryani, which evolved from Lucknowi style when the last nawab of Awadh was exiled to Kolkata in 1856; in response to a recession which resulted in a scarcity of meat and expensive spices, his personal chef developed the habit of adding potatoes and wielding a lighter hand with the spicing.

What is common to most variations is the dum pukht method – once the food has been arranged in the cooking vessel, the lid is tightly sealed (traditionally using dough but foil or rubber-sealed lids are a modern-day substitute) and the pot is baked in an oven or fire; the steam keeps the ingredients moist and the aromas and juices are locked in.

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Biryani is often served for celebratory feasts such as weddings, though most don’t take it quite as seriously as the two families involved in a cautionary tale that my friend alerted me to – a wedding was called off after an argument between the two families about whether chicken or mutton biryani should be served at the reception!

My mum, who grew up in Utter Pradesh, makes a delicious pukki method biryani, in the Lucknowi style. However, rather than using the liquid from the meat to cook the rice, she makes a fragrant lamb curry (with just a small volume of thick, clinging sauce rather than the usual generous gravy) and she flavours the rice with fresh coriander and mint and rose or kewra (screw pine flower) essence. Her recipe involves slowly caramelising onions, half of which go into the lamb curry and the rest of which are layered with the meat and rice when the biryani is assembled. The pot is sealed tightly and baked until the rice is cooked through.

You’ll notice that I specify basmati rice for this recipe – and that’s because it’s the most traditional rice used for Indian biryani. Of course there is the taste – basmati is a wonderfully fragrant rice – but it is also important that the grains remain separate after cooking; some rice varieties are much stickier or break down more on cooking. Longer grained basmati is prized over shorter grain, perhaps because rice must be carefully harvested and handled in order not to break the grains or just because it looks so elegant?

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Tilda, the best known brand of Basmati rice in the UK, recently launched a new product into their range. They describe Tilda Grand as a longer grained basmati rice, particularly well suited to making biryani and other Indian and Persian rice dishes.

Mum comes from a Basmati growing region of India and has seen Basmati planted, growing and harvested many times. Her family in India buy large sacks of rice when it is newly harvested and store it to mature because the flavour gets better with age; indeed I remember mum telling me how her parents saved their oldest basmati rice to serve to guests and on special occasions. Since I was a child, mum has always bought Tilda Basmati rice, so I asked her to try the new Tilda Grand and give me her feedback.

She didn’t find it as fragrant as usual but confirmed that it cooked much the same as the rice she regularly uses and commented that the grains remained separate and were longer than standard. That said, the grains weren’t as long as she was expecting; she has come across significantly longer grained rice in India in recent years.

This biryani, made to my mum’s recipe, is the first I’ve ever made and it was utterly delicious!

 

Mamta’s Lucknowi-Style Lamb Biryani

I have halved mum’s original recipe. The amounts below serve 4 as a full meal.

Ingredients
For the rice
500 grams basmati rice
Large pinch salt
1.25 litres water
Small sprig mint leaves
Small sprig coriander leaves
For the meat
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil or ghee
3 large onions (about 600 grams), peeled and thinly sliced
500 grams lamb or mutton leg or shoulder, cubed
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped, grated or pureed
2-3 teaspoons (0.5 inch piece) ginger, finely chopped or grated
2 brown cardamoms, lightly crushed to crack pods open *
3 green cardamoms, lightly crushed to crack pods open *
1-2 inch piece of cinnamon or cassia bark *
2 bay leaves *
4-5 black peppercorns *
4-5 cloves *
0.5 teaspoon black cumin seeds (use ordinary cumin seeds if you don’t have black) *
1-2 green chillies, slit lengthwise (adjust to your taste and strength of chillies)
0.5 teaspoon chilli powder (adjust to your taste)
1 teaspoon salt
60 ml (quarter cup) thick, full-fat natural yoghurt
100-150 grams chopped tomatoes
Small bunch of coriander leaves, chopped
Small bunch of mint leaves, chopped
Half a small lemon, cut into small pieces
For the biryani
1 tablespoon ghee or clarified butter
A few strands of saffron soaked in a tablespoon of warm water
A few drops of rose water and/or kewra (screw-pine flower) essence
Optional: Orange or jalebi food colour, dissolved in 1 teaspoo water
Optional quarter cup of cashew nuts or blanched almonds

Note: The quality of the meat is important, so do buy good quality lamb or mutton. I used lamb steaks for my biryani.

Method

  • In a large pan, heat the vegetable oil or ghee and fry the onions until they are dark brown, stirring regularly so they do not catch and burn. This is a slow process; mine took approximately half an hour.
  • Remove onions from the pan and set aside.
  • Add more oil to the pan if necessary, then add the whole spices (marked *) plus the ginger and garlic. Fry for a couple of minutes to release the aromas.
  • Add the lamb, salt and chilli powder and stir fry to brown the meat on all sides.
  • Add the yoghurt, tomatoes, two thirds of the mint and coriander that is listed for the meat, the sliced green chillies, lemon pieces and half of the fried onions. Cook, stirring frequently, until the meat is done and only a little thick gravy is left. This may take 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the quality and cut of the meat.
  • Once the lamb curry is made, turn off the heat and set it aside.
  • While the meat is cooking, prepare the rice. Boil briskly with salt, the mint and coriander leaves listed for the rice until the rice is nearly cooked. (When you squash a grain between your fingers, only a hint of hardness should remain).
  • Drain, rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process and set aside.
  • Grease a large oven proof dish or pan with ghee or vegetable oil.
  • Spread a third of the par-cooked rice across the base of the dish.
  • Spread a quarter of the reserved browned onions over the rice.

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  • Sprinkle a little saffron water, rose and kewra essence over the rice.

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  • Spread  half the lamb curry over the rice.

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  • Repeat to add another layer of rice, onions, lamb curry and the saffron and flavourings.

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  • Top with the last third of the rice, the remaining browned onions and another sprinkling of saffron and flavourings.

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  • Dot the surface with a little ghee plus a few drops of colouring, if using.
  • Sprinkle cashew nuts or blanched almonds over top, if using.
  • Cover the pan tightly with foil and then the lid.
  • Preheat oven to 180° C (fan) and bake for about 30-40 minutes.
  • Serve hot.

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Kavey Eats received samples of Tilda Grand rice from Tilda; as usual, there was no obligation on my part to write about it or to review favourably.

 

After my introduction to sous vide –  in which I explained what sous vide means, its history, how it works and the advantages and disadvantages of this cooking technique – I was planning to share a clever, inventive recipe with you… something to show off the cheffy possibilities… something unusual and impressive.

I’ve been admiring lots of wonderful sous vide recipes online. Delicious ideas by fellow bloggers include Dom’s fennel risotto, Jan’s pork belly with honey and apple cider glaze, Mardi’s caramelized bananas with coconut gel and snow, Helen’s rhubarb compoteJeanne’s 20 hour oxtail stew, and Luiz’ Tamago Onsen. I’ve also found much to tempt via Google and Pinterest, such as 48 hour Momofuku short ribs, 36 hour chashu pork belly, olive oil poached salmonpeach bread pudding with sweet tea rum sauce, duck fat fried potatoes, white chocolate rum caramel bananas and salmon confit in elderflower oil.

But after all that, I decided to talk to you about sous vide steak!

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supermarket sirloin medallions

I have always loved steak and we often cook it at home, varying the cut depending on our mood and what’s on offer, though most commonly settling on rib eye. We were happy enough with our technique – oil (and season) the steak not the pan, heat the pan until it’s properly hot, add the steaks and don’t move them at all until it’s time to flip them over, cook the second side, remove from the pan and rest for several minutes while making the sauce – but it wasn’t unusual for us to cook the steak a little more or less than we’d intended; the finger test is helpful but still a little tricky to call. And then I read that using a sous vide machine to cook steak should make it impossible to over or undercook, so steak was an obvious candidate for one of our first experiments.

And we discovered that cooking steaks accurately is ridiculously easy this way!

We have now cooked several steaks in our Sous Vide Supreme, including sirloin medallions (on offer at the local supermarket), rump and some fabulous grass fed New Zealand wagyu rib eye steaks from Provenance Butcher. Each time, we’ve been thrilled with the perfect cooking, even texture and excellent flavour – even less expensive steaks (that haven’t been dry-aged for a long period or aren’t from rare breed animals) taste intensely beefy. The wagyu rib eye in particular really benefited from the gradual melting of the marbling into the surrounding meat.

Recipes list cooking times anywhere between 1 and 6 hours for steak; however, we find 1.5 to 2 hours is plenty of time for the meat to cook through, for steaks up to 3 cm thick. We like our steaks medium rare, so we sous vide them at 56.5 °C (133.5 °F); I found this chart very useful in selecting the right temperature.

Be prepared for the steaks to look rather unappealing when you take them out of the sous vide machine – a rather pallid pinky-grey; the caramelised flavours and dark brown colour that most of us appreciate on a steak are created by the Maillard reaction, for which one needs higher temperatures. For this reason, we briefly sear the steaks after they come out of the sous vide machine.

How To Sous Vide Steak (Medium Rare)

Ingredients
Steaks of your choice
Salt and pepper
Oil for frying

Method

  • Pre-heat sous vide machine to 56.5 °C (133.5 °F).
  • Very lightly season the steaks and vacuum seal into bags.
  • Submerge steaks fully and leave to cook for 1.5 to 2 hours.
  • Before finishing the steaks, cook your vegetables and your sauce, so that they’re pretty much ready to serve.
  • Preheat heavy-based pan to scorching hot and very lightly oil.
  • Remove steaks from the bags.
  • When pan is really scorching hot, briefly fry the steaks on both sides to sear – only for about half a minute on each side as you don’t want the heat to penetrate too far into the steak and change its perfect texture
  • Assemble all your elements and serve.

Note: The steaks can remain in the sous vide for quite a lot longer than the required cooking time – the beauty of sous vide is that they will not overcook, since the internal temperature will not rise above the temperature of the water bath. That said, I have read that leaving steak in the sous vide for a very long time can result in the meat becoming mushy, usually in reference to cooking times of 15 hours or more.

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Grass fed New Zealand wagyu rib eye from Provenance Butcher

One of the questions I’ve been asked, by friends who know I’m experimenting with the Sous Vide Supreme, is whether we’ve found it worthwhile using it just to cook steaks, given that we’d previously cooked them happily enough in a frying pan. I asked myself the same question before I started using it, because it’s quite a bulky piece of kit and it really needs to justify itself, given how much storage space it takes up. In fact, we have found it quick and straightforward to fill with water, set the temperature, seal food into bags and submerge to cook, so it’s not felt like a chore to use it at all. When we’re done, it’s easy to empty into the bath, leave aside to dry and put away again. Of the equipment we own, it’s our deep fat fryer that we use more rarely because filling (and emptying) the oil is far more of a faff. That’s been a good benchmark for us to use for assessing how we feel about the Sous Vide Supreme.

What do you think? Do you have a Sous Vide Supreme? Or have you considered buying one? Do you think you’d get enough use from it? Would it be a white elephant or kitchen hero? I’d love to know your thoughts, and for those of you that have one, please let me know your favourite sous vide recipes and techniques. (For fellow Pinterest users, here’s my Pinterest Sous Vide board).

 

Kavey Eats received a SousVide Supreme and vacuum sealer in exchange for sharing my experiences using the equipment.
The sample of Grass fed New Zealand wagyu rib eye was courtesy of Provenance Butcher.

 

I love Demarquette chocolates!

Run by talented (not to mention warm and cuddly) chocolatier Marc Demarquette and lovely partner Kim Sauer, this award-winning London chocolate company produces utterly delicious and beautiful hand-made chocolates. Not only do the chocolates taste fantastic and look stunning, they are made with carefully chosen high-quality ingredients, many of which are sourced from British producers. Even the chocolate is not off-the-shelf couverture but roasted, conched and blended to Demarquette recipes. A keen and critical eye is focused on ethical considerations too.

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This year, chocoholics craving the very best quality Easter treats can enjoy Marc’s new Caramel Filled Easter Eggs. The size of quails’ eggs, these come in three flavours – dark chocolate with sea salted caramel, milk chocolate with key lime caramel and milk chocolate with banoffee caramel. The eggs are blue, green and yellow and feature a simple hand-painted design – each one is unique!

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The salted caramels are a familiar Demarquette favourite, and just as good in egg form as the glossy domes I’m more familiar with. Both the key lime and banoffee caramel eggs are sweeter, because of the milk chocolate, with their core flavour coming through loud and clear; I like both but the banoffee is definitely my favourite!

Available by mail order, this box of 12 eggs is £19.95 plus delivery.

 

DISCOUNT CODE

I’m delighted to share a special discount code for readers of Kavey Eats.

Enter KAVEYEASTER to receive 15% off your online orders.

The code can be used to purchase any item from Demarquette’s range of chocolate treats.

Valid until 14th April 2014. Discount excludes postage. Minimum spend, excluding postage, is £15. Code cannot be used in conjunction with any other offers.

COMPETITION

Demarquette are kindly offering a box of 12 Caramel Filled Chocolate Easter Eggs to a reader of Kavey Eats. The prize includes delivery within the UK.

HOW TO ENTER

Please read the terms and conditions before entering.

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment below, sharing your idea for a new caramel filling flavour.
Please include your name and provide a valid email address.
If you are intending to tweet a bonus entry (see below), please include your twitter name in your blog comment.

Bonus Entry – Twitter
Once you have entered via the blog, give yourself an extra entry via twitter!
Follow
@Kavey and @DemarquetteChoc on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter!
Then tweet the (exact) sentence below.
I’d love to win a box of @DemarquetteChoc caramel filled easter eggs from Kavey Eats! 
http://goo.gl/nKkfw1 #KaveyEatsDemarquette
(Please do not add my twitter handle into the tweet; I track entries using the competition hash tag.)

RULES, TERMS & CONDITIONS

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 11 April 2014.
  • Kavey Eats reserves the right to alter the closing date of the competition. Changes to the closing date, if they occur, will be shown on this page.
  • The winner will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
  • Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address.
  • By entering this competition, you give permission for your email address to be collected and provided to Demarquette Ltd, for marketing purposes. Kavey Eats will store the data until the end of April 2014 only.
  • For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kavey and @DemarquetteChoc at the time of notification.
  • Twitter entries without an associated blog comment are not valid. Please include your twitter name in your blog comment to make the association clear.
  • The winners will be notified by email. If no response is received within 7 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • The prize is a box of 12 Demarquette caramel filled easter eggs, as shown above. Delivery within the UK is included.
  • The prize cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prize is offered and provided by Demarquette Ltd.

 

Kavey Eats received a review sample from Demarquette.

 

During our two recent holidays to Japan, we discovered a real love for yakiniku.*

I was determined to recreate this indoor barbecue experience at home. But there were obstacles: no smokeless charcoal; no indoor barbecue container; no working extractor fan in the kitchen (it died and we’ve not had it fixed); and it can be tricky to find the kind of tender and beautifully marbled beef that is prevalent in Japan.

The first two, I decided to ignore. The third too, though we opened the large kitchen window as wide as it would go. And Provenance Butcher came to the rescue on the fourth.

Founded by a team of three Kiwis and a Brit, this Nottinghill-based butcher’s shop opened just eight months ago. None of the founders have a background in the butchery business – Erin, Guy and Tom grew up on farms in New Zealand and Brit Struan gave up a career in marketing to retrain as a butcher a few years ago – but all four are committed to sourcing and supplying top quality meat. The team have a deep love for 100% grass fed beef, which they currently source from New Zealand wagyu herds. These cattle spend their entire lives outdoors, eat a natural grass diet and are not given growth promoters, hormones or antibiotics. The meat is broken into sub-primal cuts at a New Zealand processing plant, vacuum-packed and transported to the UK by boat. It’s chilled rather than frozen, so further wet-ages during the six week journey. Here, it’s butchered into individual cuts, ready for the customer. Of course, Provenance also sell lamb, pork and chicken and this they source in the UK; the lamb comes from two British farms, one in North Yorkshire and the other in Wales; two fourth-generation farming brothers in Staffordshire supply free range pork and chicken.

When they asked if I’d like to try their New Zealand wagyu I figured it would be perfect for my yakiniku experiment.

One of the cuts they sent was Flat Iron. According to this 2012 article in The Wall Street Journal, Flat Iron is filleted out of the chuck. Care must be taken to avoid a line of tough connective tissue running through the top blade of the shoulder area and, as there are only two such steaks in each cow, many butchers don’t bother, hence the cut is not that widely available. In the UK, it’s more traditionally known as Butler’s Steak or Feather Blade; the Aussies and Kiwis call it Oyster Blade.

Regardless of what name it goes by, it’s a very tender cut that is perfectly suited to being cooked rare or medium rare.

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When our Provenance wagyu Flat Iron arrived, we were hugely impressed at the deep colour and beautiful marbling of fat.

Pete sliced this 500 gram piece thinly across the grain. I arranged some of the slices on a plate and the rest I submerged in a bowl of miso yakiniku marinade (see recipe, below).

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As well as the marinade, we had three sauces in which to dip cooked meat – some beaten raw egg (with a few drops of soy mixed in), a goma (sesame) dipping sauce and another yakiniku sauce I made with dark soy sauce, sesame oil, shichimi (seven spice powder), sugar, fresh ginger and garlic.

The raw egg dip didn’t add much (I was way too stingy with the soy) and my yakiniku dipping sauce just wasn’t very balanced – way too much sesame oil and soy, not enough sugar, ginger and garlic. We quickly discarded these as failed experiments.

Our favourites proved to be the miso yakiniku marinade (which we dunked beef into before cooking) and the goma sauce (which we dipped the non-marinaded strips of beef into once cooked). We bought our goma sauce back from Japan; it’s Mizkan brand, a Japanese vinegar and condiments producer and available online from Japan Centre.

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Vegetable wise, we had some thin spring onions, mild long peppers (from our local Turkish grocery store) and thinly sliced sweet potato. We’d meant to have mushrooms too, but forgot to buy them!

The sweet potato didn’t cook well, blackening on the outside before softening at all inside. It’s definitely a vegetable we’ve been served in Japanese yakiniku restaurants so I’m wondering if they par-cooked it first, though I hadn’t thought so at the time. Or perhaps some varieties of sweet potatoes are better suited than others? I am on the hunt for the answer!

The spring onions and peppers worked very well.

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We used a disposable barbecue, which Pete lit outside, and bought in once the worst of the initial smoke had died down. We placed it over some old cork boards on a folding garden table we’d set up in the kitchen. It worked well enough, and wasn’t as smoky as we’d feared (though the smell did linger in the house for several hours afterwards). But the main weakness was that the disposable barbecue didn’t generate the level of heat we needed for a sufficiently long time, which meant the last several items took too long to cook.

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Oops! It was only when Pete took the disposable barbecue back outside that we discovered this little scene underneath!

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All that said, I was utterly delighted with our first home yakiniku!

I was also hugely impressed with the New Zealand grass fed wagyu which was full of flavour and wonderfully melt-in-the-mouth because of its beautiful marbling.

 

For next time:

  • I want to find food-grade smokeless charcoal – the British brands I have found seem to be sold for use in fireplaces rather than barbeques. What I’d like to use is Japanese binchōtan, a white charcoal produced from Ubame oak steamed at high temperatures; it is prized for burning characteristics which include very little smoke, low temperatures and a long burning time. Unfortunately, it’s also pretty expensive.
  • I’ll need to source a small bucket barbecue that can safely be used indoors.
  • And perhaps a cast iron trivet or a concrete paving slab might fare better than our cork boards to protect our table from the heat of the barbecue; they did protect the table but didn’t survive themselves!
  • The miso yakiniku marinade was super but I need to find a better recipe for the yakiniku dipping sauce. I might investigate some other tasty dipping sauces too.
  • We definitely need more vegetables and I’ll need to think harder about which ones will work well and whether they need to be par-cooked ahead of time.

 

Miso Yakiniku Marinade

Ingredients
100 ml light soy sauce
1 tablespoon miso
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon garlic, grated or pureed
1 tablespoon ginger, grated or pureed
1-2 teaspoons shichimi (Japanese seven spice mix) or half to 1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 tablespoon cooking sake
1 tablespoon mirin (slightly sweet Japanese rice wine) or additional tablespoon of sake plus teaspoon of sugar

Method

  • Mix all ingredients together.
  • Either heat gently in a saucepan or for 10 to 20 seconds in a microwave. This helps all the ingredients to melt and combine more easily.
  • Add sliced beef to marinade about 30 minutes before cooking.

Note: As we were using this as a marinade, the slightly runny texture suited us well. However, if you’d like a thicker yakiniku sauce, continue to heat gently to reduce and thicken.

 

* Read more about the history of yakiniku in Japan and what to expect at a yakiniku restaurant.

Kavey Eats received samples of New Zealand grass fed wagyu from Provenance Butchers.

 

Just Eat, the online takeaway ordering service I reviewed a few months ago, have asked me to share their Tried & Tasted 2014 Awards with you. They are calling for votes to decide the best Just Eat Chinese, Italian, Turkish (and so on) in each region of London. They have created shortlists based on customer feedback, and now it’s up to Londoners to vote for their favourites.

Just click on your region of London, view the shortlist of restaurants and give your vote to your favourite for each cuisine listed.

As a thank you (or incentive) for voting, you will also be entered into a draw to win a prize – these include a £25 Just Eat voucher, an iPad Mini 16GB, a Kindle Fire HD, a Samsung Galaxy Tablet and, erm, Just Eat branded onesies. I guess those’ll keep you warm while you sit on the sofa enjoying your next takeaway!

JUST EAT T&T 2014 Logo v1

Yahe Garden, the Chinese restaurant we order from regularly, is shortlisted for best Chinese in North London, and I’m very happy to give it my vote. We find the food, service and delivery time consistently good and the prices are reasonable. We sometimes order from Xian, which isn’t shortlisted for an award – their food is the best but their prices are really high and the delivery times can be shockingly inconsistent.

I’m not familiar with either of the Turkish restaurants listed for North London. We really like Aamu, which sells Turkish, Persian and Afghani dishes, including some that are less common on ocakbasi menus. If they had made the shortlist, they would definitely get my vote.

To view and vote for your favourite London Just Eat takeaway restaurants, visit the Tried & Tasted 2013 Awards London page. Just Eat are also on Facebook and Twitter.

 

This is a sponsored post. Kavey Eats has received payment to share these awards with you. All opinions expressed about individual takeaways in my local area are my own.

 

I’ve written before about my addiction to Pinterest. I think it’s a super tool – fun to use and hugely useful too. Recently, Pinterest UK have formed a community of keen UK pinners and have been busy facilitating discussions and organising events to engage with the group.

Recently, I attended a delightful evening with Paul A Young, one of my favourite chocolatiers, organised by Pinterest and Great British Chefs. The event was not only fun but also informative and hands on. Paul taught us his signature Port & Stilton Truffle recipe, making it in front of us from scratch so we could see just how achievable it is. Once the filling was made, everyone was invited to roll and dip to finish the truffles and of course, to taste!

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Here’s an old post featuring a fun video interview I did with Paul back in 2011, just after he opened his Soho shop. Do watch the video, it’s wonderful to see creative forces like Paul talk about what they do – he just lights up as he talks.

Kavey Eats attended this event as a guest of Pinterest UK.

 

It’s that time of the year again when the supermarkets line shelf after shelf with Easter eggs, bunnies and chicks. But although there are some decent quality items on the shelves, much of the chocolate is cheap, full of vegetable oil (rather than cocoa butter) and ultimately pretty unsatisfying. The chocolate eggs are often so thin that it feels like there’s more cardboard and plastic packaging than chocolate; the prices can seem cheap but I seldom find them good value.

If your budget allows, I’d suggest choosing something better.

When I attended Hotel Chocolat’s press preview of this year’s Easter range, I found lots that appealed.

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Your Eggsellency Extra Thick Easter Egg, The Facet Luxury Dark Chocolate Easter Egg and The Splat Caramel Chocolate Easter Egg

As always, I was struck by their new packaging design for 2014. The pattern is wonderfully curvaceous and the gold detailing is marvellously opulent. I was told that the Hotel Chocolat design took inspiration from 20th century British artist Paul Nash, though I’m not sure I see any similarities. For me, the organic nature of eggs and leaves or petals, has a retro feel that reminds me of Art Nouveau.

Also new this year is the Facet egg, available in dark and milk chocolate versions, with bold geometric designs in both the packaging and the chocolate.

Extra Thick eggs come with a variety of different chocolates inside, in beautiful arch-shaped boxes. There’s also a Rabot 1745 version in the same shape of box but with the signature black and gold branding. And if you’re really pushing the boat out, look at the Ostrich egg, an enormous arch-shaped box containing two thick shells and lots of chocolates.

Although the big eggs are always striking, there are lots of lower priced items in bags and small boxes: the egglets are still in force as are the fried egg slabs and egg and soldiers sets; adorable pastel bunnies in pink and yellow use only natural colourings and flavourings; chocolate chicks come in white, milk or dark; choc cross buns that bring the flavours of easter baking to chocolate; Danny the City Bunny (presumably because of his bowtie, but leaves me wondering if a country bunny would have a straw hat) and a number of sandwich eggs. Go up just a little more in price and choose from the new Splat eggs; a bird’s nest of egglets; goose eggs in pretty pastels or larger bags and boxes of the chocolates above.

As has become a tradition on Kavey Eats, instead of offering one big prize, I liaise with Hotel Chocolat to choose three of my favourite items so that not one but three readers can win an Easter treat.

 

COMPETITION

Hotel Chocolat are offering three wonderful Easter egg prizes to readers of Kavey Eats. Each prize includes delivery within the UK.

First Prize: Your Eggsellency Extra Thick Easter Egg
375 grams £28 – An extra thick egg with one 40% milk shell and one 70% dark shell, filled with real cream truffles with champagne, port, amaretto and other delights.

Second Prize: The Facet Luxury Dark Chocolate Easter Egg
200 grams £20 – A dark chocolate egg in a beautiful new geometric design, with matching packaging,

Third Prize: The Splat Caramel Chocolate Easter Egg
150 grams £12.50 – With a design based on the idea of an explosion in a chocolate factory, this caramel milk chocolate egg features a colourful white chocolate splat.

 

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the competition in 3 ways:

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment below, sharing one of your favourite childhood memories about Easter chocolate.

Entry 2 – Facebook
Like the Kavey Eats Facebook page and leave a (separate) comment on this blog post with your Facebook user name.

Entry 3 – Twitter
Follow
@Kavey on Twitter. Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter! Then tweet the (exact) sentence below.
I’d love to win one of three @HotelChocolat Easter Eggs from Kavey Eats!
http://goo.gl/hbFOyh #KaveyEatsHCEasterEggs
(Please do not add my twitter handle into the tweet; I track entries using the competition hash tag. And you don’t need to leave a blog comment about your tweet either, thanks!)

RULES & DETAILS

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Friday 4 April 2014.
  • Kavey Eats reserves the right to alter the closing date of the competition. Changes to the closing date, if they occur, will be shown on this page.
  • The three winners will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator.
  • Entry instructions form part of the terms and conditions.
  • Where prizes are to be provided by a third party, Kavey Eats accepts no responsibility for the acts or defaults of that third party.
  • There are three prizes, which will be awarded to the winners in the order that the names are picked out. Each prize is a Hotel Chocolat Easter Egg, as described above and includes free delivery within the UK.
  • The prizes cannot be redeemed for a cash value.
  • The prizes are offered and provided by Hotel Chocolat.
  • One blog entry per person only. One Twitter entry per person only. One Facebook entry per person only. You may enter all three ways but do not have to do so for your entries to be valid.
  • For Twitter entries, winners must be following @Kaveyat the time of notification. For Facebook entries, winners must Like the Kavey Eats Facebook page at time of notification.
  • Blog comment entries must provide a valid email address for contacting the winner.
  • The winners will be notified by email, Twitter or Facebook. If no response is received from a winner within 7 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

 

Kavey Eats attended the Hotel Chocolat Easter preview event and received a selection of sample products.

The winners of this competition, in order of prizes, were Yasmin Jafri, Lianne Walsh and Jan Beal.

 

The generation of cooks before me bemoan the price of lamb shanks. Lamb shanks were once a really cheap cut, they say, but chefs made them trendy and demand and costs went up and, oh no, now they are just so expensive. And I nod, because I didn’t discover them in the days when they were cheap as chips, so their change in fortunes doesn’t really affect me.

But ox cheeks? That’s a different matter. For the last few years, I’ve become more and more single-minded about ox cheeks being the best cut of beef for braising and, simply put, no other stewing cut will do. So imagine my distress when I noticed that ox cheek is now £7.49 a kilo at Waitrose – yes, the price is creeping up. It’s no surprise really, given ox cheek’s popularity on restaurant and pub menus, but there’s still a part of me selfishly wishing that more shoppers would carry on dismissing it as some odd or offal-ly cut.

And yes, I do realise there are those who’ve been cooking ox cheek for years and years and years; I’m still a Johnny-come-lately in their eyes!

I don’t help my case in hoping the enthusiasm for ox cheek will die down again – when I bought the ox cheeks for this recipe, another customer came to the meat counter while the butcher was carefully cubing it for me (far faster with his sharp knives and experience than I am at home); I ended up telling the waiting customer how wonderful a braising cut ox cheek is and, when she expressed more interest, we chatted about potential recipes. Now I’m torn between hoping she’ll go ahead and discover for herself just how good it is and wanting her to dismiss it as the ravings of a talk-to-strangers crazy lady. Hey, I’m a contradictory creature, what can I tell you?

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A couple of weeks ago, when we made baked chorizo, cod and potato, I mentioned foul weather being the inspiration for hearty dishes. As we move into March it’s still pretty cold, though the rain has been punctuated by some gloriously sunny days. I’m still craving comfort food.

We made this simple Chinese-Style Braised Ox Cheek for visiting friends and it was utterly delicious. We followed this BBC Good Food recipe almost exactly, but added button mushrooms; mushrooms work so well with Chinese flavours plus they’re a favourite of mine in any meat stew. One of the things that drew me to this recipe was its recommendation of ox cheeks as a perfect cut for the dish.

Please note, this dish makes no claims to be authentically Chinese – the technique of flouring and browning the meat is a firmly European method of stew-making, as far as I’m aware. However the Chinese five-spice, anise, garlic, ginger and soy sauce create a distinctly Chinese flavour profile that is very satisfying!

Chinese-Style Braised Ox Cheek

Serves 6

Ingredients
3-4 tablespoons cooking oil
6 garlic cloves, crushed (or equivalent good quality garlic puree)
Large thumb-size piece fresh root ginger, peeled and shredded (or equivalent good quality ginger puree)
1 bunch spring onions, cut into 4 cm lengths
1 red chilli, deseeded and thinly sliced (or equivalent good quality chilli puree)
1.5 kg ox cheek, cubed (or other braising beef)
2 tablespoons plain flour, well seasoned
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
2 star anise
2 teaspoons muscovado sugar (or any sugar you have in stock)
3 tablespoons Chinese cooking wine (or dry sherry)
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
500ml beef stock (from cube or melt pot)
200-300 grams small button mushrooms, washed

Note: ox cheek is the common name for this cut of beef, but it’s also sold as beef cheek in some shops.

Note: I was introduced to Gourmet Garden’s herbs and spices last year. These are pureed and packed into tubes, genuinely do taste just like using fresh, and last for 90 days in the fridge after they’ve been opened. We’ve really loved using them in our cooking and I’m really pleased they’re now available in some of the major supermarkets.

Method

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  • Heat two tablespoons of cooking oil in a large casserole and fry the garlic, ginger, spring onions and chilli for a few minutes until soft. Tip into a bowl and set aside.

ChineseBraisedOxCheeks-4937 ChineseBraisedOxCheeks-4936

  • Toss the beef in seasoned flour, add more cooking oil to the pan and brown the meat in batches, adding more oil as and when needed. Don’t try and brown too much meat in one batch as this causes it to steam. It took us 4 to 5 minutes to brown each batch. Put the browned beef into a large bowl or plate and set aside.
  • Add the five-spice powder and star anise into the pan, add back the spring onion mix and fry together for a minute. Add the sugar and all the browned beef. Turn the heat to high, add the Chinese cooking wine or dry sherry and mix vigorously, scraping any meaty bits at the bottom of the pan into the liquid.
  • Preheat the oven to 150 C.

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  • Pour in the soy sauce and stock, bring to a simmer, place the lid onto the casserole and transfer to the oven. Cook for 2.5 to 3 hours, stirring after the first hour.

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  • An hour before the end of the cooking time, add the button mushrooms and stir them in.
  • If the stew has a lot of liquid, remove the lid half an hour before the end of the cooking time, to allow it to reduce a little.

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  • When the cooking time is up, the beef should be very very soft. Taste, season if necessary and serve.

We followed the original recipe’s serving suggestion of pak choi (which we stir fried with a little garlic and sesame oil) and basmati rice.

As we were cooking for four, we had some leftovers. These were delicious the next day, re-heated, the beef shredded into small pieces and served mixed into big bowls of pasta!

Does winter weather make you long for hearty stews too? If so, what’s your favourite recipe and which cuts of meat do you like to use?

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