Comfort food, good friends and relaxed conversation must be one of the best ways to spend a wet, autumnal evening in the Donheads. And that’s how I spent last night with my foodie guinea pigs as I tried out a new recipe for the Donhead Digest. I don’t know why I always leave it until the last forty-eight hours before the copy deadline, however impromptu entertaining can often be the best kind. And although I say so myself, this month’s recipe is comfort food of the highest order, and comes highly recommended by Jo and Phil at Ludwell Stores. I have tweaked Barnaby Meredith’s gastro-pub recipe for Shepherd’s Pie to add a little sweetness and tang. Last night I served it with shredded cabbage and leeks, quickly cooked in a little butter, ground black pepper and a splash of water. I find a wok is the perfect size to cook vegetables like this in a couple of minutes. They retain their bite and their vibrant bright green colour.
Kitchen suppers with good wine to fuel the conversation, are the supreme place for debate, and last night did not disappoint. We explored the value of wood burners, solar panels, the beauty, in my opinion, of corrugated iron buildings and the measure of a stock, so thick and jellied it stands solid when cold and is thick and syrupy when warm. What is it about a jellied stock that makes it like a liquid gold, a glace or demi-glace? In my chefy days, we would start every morning with the arduous and expensive process of making a fresh demi-glace to add to the pan of cooked to order game or any red meat dish. Making a demi-glace is a long, long process. You rarely see it served now, fancy chefs preferring to use a jus or some buttery emulsion. Personally I am still in favour of a puddle of intense reduction as my sauce.
For all that reminiscing, our liveliest debate was about bay leaves. This recipe calls for them, so I obliged but have never seen the point of them. Dry or fresh, I just don’t get it. I follow tradition and add them to milk for bread sauce; fish dishes, chicken casseroles etc however they are lost on me. We need to put this laurel to better use, reserving it for crowning warriors and athletes in classical plays or train and clip it into a handsome bush for the garden. Thyme however is a different story and I have doubled the quantity in this recipe. Fresh thyme of course, not the dried, cardboard stuff. Thyme, of which there are many varieties may also be used for sweet dishes. Try roasting figs with thyme and honey or add it to ice cream or pancakes. I didn’t win the ‘bay’ debate so will no doubt continue to use it, being fooled by the masses.
I have just looked bay up in my Oxford Companion to Food - and stumbled upon ‘badger’. Yes, that’s culinary badger. Compared with pork or mutton in the eighteenth century with a peculiar smell. Well, if badger protection is lifted, that’s my next recipe sorted and I won’t leave it to the last moment. Not sure my guinea pigs will join in though. Have a great Christmas one and all. aif
Shepherd’s Shank Pie
Serves 6 Approx.
£14.80 when all ingredients purchased in Ludwell.
4 lamb shanks
2 large onions
2 large carrots, peeled, topped and tailed
2 celery sticks
6 cloves of garlic - roughly chopped
1 bay leaf - if you believe in its value!
6 thyme sprigs
2 tsp Tracklements onion marmalade
A few shakes of Lea & Perrins Worcester sauce
Chicken stock to cover
Small handful chopped fresh parsley
Vegetable oil for frying
For the mash topping
5 large red potatoes, peeled
150 ml double cream
100g unsalted butter
Preheat the oven - 180C / Gas Mark 4 / AGA simmering oven
1. Season the lamb shanks well. Heat the vegetable oil in a hot frying pan or deep casserole then brown the shanks all over
2. Transfer the shanks to a deep casserole with the whole vegetables, garlic, bay and thyme and cover with chicken stock.
3. Cover the casserole with a lid or double sheet of greaseproof paper, and place in the oven to braise for 2 ½ - 3 hours, until the meat is falling off the bones.
4. Remove the meat and the vegetables from the stock and pick out the sprigs of thyme. Either chill the stock and bones separately to allow for skimming of the stock when cold, (recommended) or move to the next stage immediately.
5. Pick the meat off the bones and flake. Squash the vegetables through your fingers and put the meat and vegetables into an ovenproof dish with the chopped parsley.
6. Bring the stock to the boil, adding the Worcester sauce, onion marmalade and the picked bones. Reduce by two thirds.
7. Check the stock for taste, adjust, sieve and then pour onto the meat and vegetables.
8. Cook the potatoes until tender, drain and let them rest for 3-4 minutes.
9. In a small pan, slowly bring the cream and butter to the boil.
10. Mash the potatoes, adding the cream and butter mix, and season.
11. Pipe or spread the mash on top of the meat, and cook in a preheated medium oven for 25 - 30 minutes until golden brown.
A truly, truly scrumptious dish.
These musings and recipes are gleaned from The Donhead Digest with the permission of AIF, their author.