It seems every other week in Newcastle, my nearest City, there’s a new restaurant/eatery/bar opening up. “Excellent” I hear you cry and I agree.
One thing most have in common is the stripped back austere look, reinforced by enamelled pie dishes, menus on a clipboard and exposed brickwork. Just a few ‘dig for Britain’ posters and some bunting and it’s the 40’s all over again. I actually like this trend. Whilst I’ve no doubt it is styled to within an inch of its life, it feels unfussy and casual especially when pouring milk into my coffee from something that looks suspiciously like a specimen bottle.
Another curiosity is the proliferation of ‘little plates’ and ‘large plates’, which is a new one for me. I think it generally means ‘starter’ and ‘main’ but it does tend to suggest that you can order what you like. Small plates, if you’re peckish, large plates if your famished. It would have been weird to sit in a bar and order a just a ‘starter’ I guess.
A further common thread though and it’s where I’m going with all this, is the trend back toward the good honest food, starting with slow cooked meats (such as the ubiquitous pulled pork sandwich and oxtails) and robust traditional vegetables and pulses (beetroot salads, barley risottos, that sort of thing).
My cooking is no exception, as you can probably see if you browse my site, but one cut that has been eluding me though is the humble ox-cheek. No doubt it was a hard sale for butchers at one time but with the current clamour for ‘low and slow’ I’m surprised it’s still so tricky to find.
I’ve written about it before but I first tried it in a 3 Michelin star restaurant in Vegas and was hooked. It was cooked in a thai broth, but the flavour was amazing, but then I guess it should be at $250 a head.
I got just over a kilo from a a certain higher end supermarket butchers the other week. It was actually all they had on display and at £7.50/kilo, a bargain. It’s a very hard working muscle so needs plenty of gentle slow cooking, but it is worth the wait. Better still, just half of it made two dinners for Helen and I and 4 lunches. Superb value.
One was a typical slow cooked dish, braising the ox cheek in red wine with some creamed celeriac, meaty oyster mushrooms and charred baby leek. The other, a very similarly cooked ragu with fresh pasta. The pasta itself was actually better a day or two later as the flavour really developed. I’ll post the ragu dish soon.
For the Braised Ox cheek with celeriac and charred leek:
For the ox cheek:
- 300g ox cheek, cut into two portions
- 100g bacon lardons
- 2 tbsp oil
- 4 garlic cloves, sliced
- 1 large carrot, finely diced
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 large onion, diced
- 2 large glasses of fruity red wine – I used Malbec
- 500ml beef stock
- 2 star anise
- 2 baby leeks
- Tender stem brocoli
- A couple of handfuls of oyster mushrooms (about 100g)
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 tsp butter
- Half a celeriac
- 100ml light/single cream
- 1 knob of butter
- Salt to taste
Cut the ox cheek into two portions and brown well in a iron casserole pot with a pinch of salt.
Remove and add the onion, lardons, sliced garlic, carrot. Stir until the onion softens – ad a little water if it begins to burn. Deglaze with the wine and return the ox cheeks along with the stock, the star anise and bay leaves. Put the lid on and bring to a simmer.
Either continue then to cook on the hob at the lowest possible heat setting, or a I did, place it in an oven at 120°C/250°F for 5 hours.
When done, remove the ox cheeks carefully, so as not to break them up. Keep warm in an oven at 60°C/140°F
Strain the cooking liquor into a saucepan and gently reduce until thick and viscous (coating the back of a spoon). Taste and season if necessary, but it probably won’t be.
Meanwhile, chop the celeriac into chunks and boil for about 15 minutes until soft – add the broccoli for the final few minutes to save on pans. Remove the broccoli and keep warm. Blend with the cream and butter until very smooth – season to taste. Keep warm in a lidded pan or covered bowl.
Coat the leeks in oil and a good pinch of salt. Char on a griddle pan until nicely marked and tender throughout (about 10 minutes).
At the same time, fry the mushroom in a little oil and the butter until softened and season slightly.
Bit of a juggling act at the end but very much worth it when you plate it all up. May as well finish off the Malbec you just opened too