After fresh ideas for meals that are healthy but still pack a flavour punch? We've got salads and vegetable-packed bowls to soups and light desserts.
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Cutting costs doesn't mean you need to cut out any flavour. Secondary cuts of meat are more popular than ever, so we've created these inspiring short cut recipes that'll make your mouth water.
Beef carbonnade is one of the great European stews. Brown some lardons of bacon in a large heavy-based casserole until it has released its fat, remove, then brown some large cubes of well-seasoned beef shin (preferably on the bone), taking your time and making sure each side gets nice and dark. Once the beef is all browned, remove, throw in 4 or 5 chopped onions and cook them down, scraping up the dark bits left in the pan by the beef. Add a couple of bay leaves, some thyme sprigs and a few unpeeled garlic cloves, then pour in a bottle of beer – Belgian beer is ideal, but you really just want something fresh and light rather than a stout. Coopers Pale Ale will work well. Return the meat and bacon to the pan, add a splash of beef stock or water to bring the liquid level up a bit and bring to the boil. Clap a tight-fitting lid on top and either turn it right down (a simmer mat is useful here) or put into a medium oven. Give it a stir occasionally (you'll need to watch it more closely if it's on the stovetop) and it should be done after about 2 hours. You can serve it straight from the pot with mustard, potatoes and a sharply-dressed salad but if you have the time, chill it overnight in the fridge. That way you give the flavours time to develop and you can lift any excess fat off the top before you reheat it.
Never go past a classic – duck liver pâté. Make a reduction by cooking a large splash of Madeira or port with some thyme and finely chopped shallot until the wine is almost evaporated. Set aside. Heat a large chunk of butter in a pan over very low heat, add the livers (your proportion of fat to liver should be around 40 per cent), cook slowly until medium and just pink without browning. Cool, then process with reduction and shallots (thyme removed), season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground white pepper. Pass through a sieve, pushing as much mixture through as possible, then pour into little dishes and chill until set. Finish it off with a layer of Madeira jelly, some melted butter or even some pork lard or duck fat if you're feeling fancy.
Kori gom tang is a Korean oxtail soup that you'll find yourself craving and it's so simple, too. The key to its success is your use of seasoning to highlight the flavour from the perfumed broth. Soak around 1½ kg of tail pieces, then throw into a pot with a large knob of peeled and sliced ginger and around 4 litres of water. Bring to the boil and give it a good skimming to remove the scum. Throw in a head’s worth of peeled garlic cloves and 3 or 4 coarsely chopped green onions and simmer over a low-medium heat for about 2-3 hours or until the broth is infused with heady flavour. In the meantime, keep skimming to remove all the fat that surfaces. Remove the oxtail and either pull off the meat or leave in whole pieces, depending on how lazy you're feeling. Make up a spice mix of salt, freshly ground black pepper, chilli powder and crushed garlic cloves and add to the soup with a little extra left for serving. Scatter lots of finely sliced green onion on top, drizzle with a little soy sauce and serve with kimchi and rice.
HANGER AND SKIRT STEAK
A little birdie tells me this one's a cracker. Season your hanger or skirt steak well with salt, pepper and coarsely crushed cumin seeds, then scorch it over a hot barbecue until rare to medium-rare. Rest it for a few minutes covered with a loose layer of foil in a warm place, and then squeeze over some lime juice. Around the same time you throw on the steak, have some corn on the go, barbecuing until nicely charred. When done, remove the kernels and toss in a bowl with a good handful of torn coriander leaves, very ripe diced tomato, an extra squeeze of lime and a drizzle of olive oil. Slice your steak and serve it with the corn salsa and some sour cream.
For a great braised cheek, firstly render some pork fat by slowly cooking a large amount of pork back fat in a saucepan with a splash of water in the base to prevent the fat from sticking and burning. This is going to take about an hour. Take some of that lovely fat, (keep the rest stored in a jar for future use) and add your flour-dusted pork or beef cheeks (2 cheeks per serve is good) and cook over medium heat, turning, until golden brown. Remove from the pan and set aside, then sweat a very large, finely chopped onion and 4 crushed cloves of garlic until lucent, adding a little more fat if needed. Deglaze the pan with a good slug of drinking-quality Barolo or white vino (white will give you a lighter stew). Let it reduce to half the amount, then return the cheeks and throw in some rosemary sprigs and chicken or beef stock to cover the cheeks (chicken will give you a lighter finish). Add a can of crushed tomatoes and cook, covered, very slowly for about 3 hours until the meat is almost falling apart. Serve with some creamy white polenta and glazed carrots for a hearty Italian-style meal.
The “mahogany glazing” effect produced with this dish brilliantly demonstrates the benefits of slow roasting. Between the meat juices and the addition of a sugar – in this case honey – the outside of the meat becomes caramelised and sticky with a good crust. It's super-simple. Get the oven temperature preheated to 130C. Marinate the pork neck in a mixture of finely chopped ginger and garlic, a large drizzle of honey and a little splash each of soy and fish sauces. Place into a roasting pan with some water in the base and roast for 1-1½ hours, then turn and roast for about the same time or until mahogany in colour and tender. You'll need to keep adding water to the pan to prevent it from burning, or even use some baking paper to line the base. You can also do this on a coal or wood-fired barbecue on a low temperature for extra smoky flavour. The result will be even better if you use a rare breed free-range pork. If you need to get a bit more colour into it, increase the temperature and give it a good flash of heat. Serve it sliced with a spicy green papaya salad.
The old school of thought with traditional Irish stew is to incorporate two potatoes into the mix: a floury potato to thicken and a waxier one for looks and texture. Don't spoil it by adding too much liquid based on that common misconception that it should be soupy. Fill a casserole with a good layer or two of lamb neck chops, don't worry yourself with browning them, add 1 sliced onion, next add your two different types of peeled and sliced potato. Perhaps a desiree for waxiness and a russet Burbank for flour factor. You can add some carrots here too, but it's also a belief that all vegetables should be white for a proper Irish stew. Pour over around 3 litres of chicken stock or water or enough to cover by about 2cm and season well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bring to the boil, then transfer to a 150C preheated oven and bake, covered, for 1½ hours or until lamb and potato are tender. Scatter over lots of chopped parsley to finish.
PORK HAND AND HOCK
There is nothing so divine as a corned piece of pork cooked in hay. Strange as it may seem, you can taste the barnyard flavours – this is country cooking, through and through. Firstly, buy some hay. This may be a little challenging to those who live in the city, but any large rural or pet produce store should have it, just make sure it's organic and untreated. Scatter a large crop of hay in the base of a large stock pot. Place the corned hand and hock on top, then cover with another generous crop of more hay. Cover all of that completely with water and slowly bring to the boil. Cook it gently over a low heat for at least 3 hours until the pork is very gelatinous and tender. Carefully drain it, throw away the hay and serve the ham hot or cold with a zesty, portly Cumberland sauce.
BEEF SHORT RIBS
Double cooking the one dish is common in China. Master stock is religiously used first to slowly poach meat until succulent, followed by a quick deep-fry or stir-fry to add crispness and texture. It's all part of Yin-Yang philosophy that all things must balance out. First, slowly poach the ribs in a stock made from water seasoned with soy, rock sugar, ginger, green onion, mandarin peel, cassia bark and star anise until it's juicy and falling apart; a couple of hours would be recommended. Then remove the ribs, cool and pull the meat from the bones into large pieces or, if you prefer, cut into individual ribs on the bone. Next, get a wok smoking hot. Add a good splash of peanut oil, then a decent amount of shredded ginger, garlic and Sichuan pepper. Throw in some dried chilli for colour and heat, then the rib meat and a good handful of green onions and stir-fry quickly to just crisp on the outside. Finish it all off with a little soy and Shaoxing wine.
If you have a wood-fired or even a coal-based barbecue, light a fire well before cooking and let it sustain a good heat when the flames die down. In the meantime, give your flank steaks a bit of a seasoning. You can go all out here and use something complex, like a Jamaican jerk rub, but less is usually more. A little freshly ground coriander and white pepper will do just fine. The steaks won't take too long to cook as you want them medium-rare, so get your accompanying chimichurri ready before you cook them. Blend some coriander and parsley leaves with salt, pepper, paprika and olive oil. Add some vinegar or lemon juice to taste and set it aside. Cook the steaks for about 3-5 minutes each side and top with lashings of sauce. Eat immediately.
Place a good-sized piece of corned silverside in a large pot. Cover completely with water. Add a mirepoix (coarsely chopped onion, carrot and celery) and a few herbs (parsley, bay and thyme). Bring it all to the boil slowly, then simmer until the silverside is tender, giving it at least 1½ hours. When the silverside is almost cooked, drain the stock vegetables from the pot and add some baby new potatoes. While that's cooking until potatoes are tender, make a roux of equal quantity butter and flour (about 50gm each) and cook in a saucepan until starting to turn a sandy colour. Add about 500ml cold milk a little at a time and whisking well after each addition (you can make a larger quantity, but for a good consistency, the ratio should always remain 1 part butter, 1 part flour, 10 parts milk or stock). Just before serving with your sliced silverside and boiled potatoes, stir through a good amount of finely chopped parsley.
To salt beef, take 1½kg coarse sea salt and mix it up with 500gm raw sugar, some juniper berries, black peppercorns, thyme, bay leaves and 4 litres of boiling water. Cool the mix to refrigerator temperature, and then pour over a slab of beef brisket in a non-reactive dish, covering the beef with the curing mix. Leave it for 5 days to cure, then drain and cook in a large pot of water over a low heat for 3 hours. Warm some bagels, spread them with mustard, pickles and some cress, then top with warm salt beef.
In the spirit of one-pot cooking and for a rich, sweet and spicy tagine, throw together some browned lamb shanks, 1 thickly sliced onion, a couple of smashed garlic cloves, 1 sliced carrot, a cup of chickpeas (that have been soaked overnight and drained), some chopped chilli, a can or two of crushed tomatoes, a couple of tablespoons of honey and some chicken stock to cover. Then add the spices: ground paprika, chilli, allspice, and toasted and coarsely ground coriander seed, cassia, cloves and green cardamom. Cook slowly in a casserole with a lid for about 2-3 hours or until the meat is falling from the bone, adding a good handful of dates in the last 30 minutes. Scatter over some finely chopped preserved lemon, chopped coriander and some toasted almonds and serve with fluffy couscous. This can also be made in a pressure cooker if you aren't equipped with a tagine or the fire to cook it on.
WORDS LISA FEATHERBY PHOTOGRAPHY WILLIAM MEPPEM
This article appeared in the April 2009 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.
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