Braised Ox Cheek with Celeriac Puree, Oyster Mushrooms and Charred Baby Leek

Braised ox cheek, oyster mushrooms and charred baby leek

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.

Ox cheek

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
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 large glasses of fruity red wine – I used Malbec
  • 500ml beef stock
  • 2 star anise
  • 2 baby leeks
  • Tender stem brocoli

Mushrooms:

  • A couple of handfuls of oyster mushrooms (about 100g)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 tsp butter

 Creamed celeriac:

  •  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.

reduced cooking liquor

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.

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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 😉

 braised ox cheek

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Raby Hunt Inspired Roast Pork Belly with Celeriac and Fennel Puree

Pork belly fennel celeriac puree

Helen recently treated us both to a tasting menu dinner at the Raby Hunt, near Darlington. It’s the only Michelin starred restaurant in the North East of England currently, although with Kenny Atkinson currently working on a Quayside restaurant in Newcastle, fingers crossed, we may get a  second in the near future…

The Raby Hunt Inn Summerhouses

Luckily for me, it’s a very good restaurant. This was our second visit and once again, we pushed the boat out and went for the tasting menu. We stopped short of the wine pairing as last time I think we set sail completely, knocking back glasses as each new one arrived, rendering the last few courses a somewhat hazy blur.

So, with a little more sobriety this time, I can confirm that yes, the food is excellent. In fact, this was the first tasting menu I’ve tried where I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every course. The theme is big flavour and locally sourced produce, with a nod to French cooking.

Being a belated birthday treat, Helen phoned ahead and I was delighted that the Head Chef James Close spent some time with us to chat at the end of the meal.

The story is really quite extraordinary. The restaurant has only been established 5 years or so and yet he has held a Michelin star for the last two of them. Not so long ago, by his own admission, he was serving gastropub meals – steaks and mussels, that kind of thing – so his rise to fine dining has been exponential.

We talked about the meal and I explained the highlight, for me was a smoked eel and duck parfait dish with various forms of beetroot. It was packed with flavour and I had to restrain myself from licking the plate. He looked a little weary when I said that (that it was my favourite, not me wanting to lick the plate) which I was surprised at initially, but he went on to explain that this has become something of a signature dish. With that comes the expectation by returning guests that it will still be available but also, at this standard of cuisine,  that it will vary slightly. This means he must try and come up something novel but strike a fine balance of keeping true to the original concept, but not straying too far. Very, very tricky.

 I was delighted to hear he takes a reccy every now and again to other Michelin starred restaurants for inspiration as it’s something I do shamelessly on a regular basis (though generally not Michelin starred joints of course). I chatted to his Soux Chef Ryan after a brief visit to the tiny (soon to be extended) kitchen and he explained that other restaurants have teams of chefs, even development chefs, to work on new ideas. This makes the Raby team’s accomplishments even more remarkable.

 And so, true to the spirit of reconnaissance dining, this dish is based squarely on Helen’s favourite course: (very) slow roasted suckling pig with artichoke puree.

I used pork belly from a local butcher and paired it up with a simple fennel and celeriac puree. I tried out a croquette of black pudding and apple, which was OK but the chicory addition was ‘acquired’ inspiration.

One of the reasons I made this was James explained that in preparing the pork, he leaves it to rest for a day, at which point it seems to gather up all the cooking liquor and flavour. I’d sort of discovered this by accident myself (I’d forgotten to take some out the oven after it had switched itself off and only remembered after work the next day), so it was great to hear this ‘qualified’ by him.

 The pork was simply roasted in a hot oven in a deep tray with half and half stock and cider filled up halfway. Once the skin was crispy, foil was added tightly and left to slow cook for 4 hours at low temperature. After, I simply turned off the oven and left it alone, completely until the next evening.

I didn’t remove the foil, not even touch the oven door, so in theory, everything inside was ‘sterile’, but you may want to put the pork in the fridge to rest, once cool, if worried. I didn’t as I wanted it to be room temperature when I arrived home, and it was absolutely fine.

For the pork:

  • 1 kg of good pork belly (with a decent layer of fat)  – skin scored
  • 400ml good dry cider
  • 400ml pork stock
  • Sea salt

 For the puree:

  • Half a celeriac
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 30g butter
  • About 200ml single cream (I find double cream a little too rich)
  • 2 garlic bulbs
  • Salt.

Celeriac fennel chicory

For the black pudding croquette:

  • 100g black pudding
  • 1 apple cored and peeled, chopped
  • 1 egg beaten
  • A few handfuls of breadcrumbs

Chichory, peashoots and more apple to serve.

 Get the oven on hot – 220°C/430°F

Boil a kettle and with the  pork in a clean sink, pour it over the skin to open it up. Dry thoroughly and rub the sea salt into the skin. Place it in a fairly tight fitting tray and fill with the cider and stock until it reaches the skin (don’t pour over the skin or submerge it)

Whack it in the oven until the skin crispens and reduce to 130°C/270°F. Top up the stock/cider and add the foil very tightly. Leave the pork to cook for 3-4 hours more (longer the better) then turn off the oven and leave it alone until ready to use the next day. If you want, put it in the fridge once cool.

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Remove the pork and set on a clean board. Pour the cooking liquor into a saucepan and gently simmer to reduce and concentrate while you crack on with the rest. It’ll be delicious.

Neatly trim the pork into portion sized square and heat an oven proof pan. Fry each side to colour and turn onto the skin side. Put a heavy pan on top (like a iron skillet) to push it down to crisp it up better. Turn skin side up and leave in the oven at 80°C/180°F (or the lowest setting) to warm through.

Belly pork prep

Meanwhile, peel and dice the celeriac and simmer until done. Meanwhile, sautee the fennel gently in a little butter. Put the lot into a blender or food processor and blend with the cream (add a bit at a time, it shouldn’t be to runny) until very smooth. Season, return to a lidded pan and keep warm.

 Blitz the black pudding and apple in a processor with half the egg. Season with salt and roll into croquette shapes. Dip them in the remaining egg, then the breadcrumbs and deep fry (or shallow fry) for a few minutes until crisp and cooked through – use a thermometer if unsure.

Taste the stock reduction and season if needed – it probably won’t – and stir in a small knob of butter for richness and shine. Strain it through a fine sieve or muslin cloth.

Straining the stock

Serve it all up with some chicory leaves and freshly sliced apple at the last minute.

Rich and delicious – brilliant with a bit of Chenin Blanc too

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Sausage roll. Or, Pork and Apple Pastry, Walnut Pesto and Celeriac & Apple Puree.

Pork Pasty, Apple Celeriac Puree

Do you ever find that the best laid plans aren’t always the best? So many ‘good times’ in the past have been completely spontaneous.

There are exceptions, of course there are, but I often find the last minute trip away somewhere, unintended meeting of friends in a pub or off the cuff visit to that ‘restaurant we’ve been meaning to try’ are often more enjoyable.

It must have something to do with expectation of course. For any event, there will be an element of ‘rehearsal’ in your mind where you visualise how it’s going to go. God knows we did as teenagers eh fellas? And it was nothing like we imagined 😉

But, lifting the tone slightly, this can often happen when I cook. I sometimes come up with a great idea (or so it seemed in my mind at least), only to find it falls flat when the dish comes together.

Conversley, when the fridge is bare and you’re forced in a Ready Steady Cook  type improvisation situation (though no doubt minus the annoying presenters and studio audience)  you can come up with some corkers. As I said though, it’s probably about expectation isn’t it?

As you probably deduced by now, this dish was a last minute idea. I had celeriac slowly going soft in the fridge along with a half opened tray of pancetta and a piece of blue cheese rapidly approaching maximum ‘stinkiness’.  Add in the remains of the walnuts from my Khoresh Fesenjan last week and it started to come together itself really.

Although I really should call this ‘pork en croute’, or ‘minced pork parcels’, it was, for all intents and purposes, a sausage roll, albeit a posh one. Whatever though, I must admit, pastry work is not my forte, I really must practice to get some nice lattice work going on.

With it, pureed apple and celeriac and a pesto made from the blue cheese, walnuts a little honey and a little more apple.

You could use minced pork for this, it’ll be lower in fat, but I like making my own from belly slices as that fat keeps it from drying out.

Belly Pork and Pancetta

The puree is a little indulgent too, but you don’t need much.

Makes two large pastries (so 2 hungry people or 4 if you want to share!)

  • 1 large sheet ready rolled puff pastry.
  • 400g belly slices, minced.
  • 50g pancetta cubes
  • 1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
  • 1 tsp english (if you like it strong) or dijon (if not…)
  • 1 apple, peeled and cored
  • 1/2 tsp mace
  • 1 tsp chopped sage
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 beaten egg for washing
  • Flour for dusting

For the puree

  • 1 celeriac, peeled and cubed
  • 4 shallots, sliced
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1 apple
  • 150ml cream
  • About a tbsp butter
  • Salt

For the pesto

  • Two handfuls of walnuts
  • About 40g blue cheese
  • Half an apple, peeled and diced.
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • Salt to taste

For the pastry, blend or mince the belly slices with the pancetta and peeled apple to make a fine mixture. Spoon into a bowl and add the mustards, herbs and pepper.

I used about a tsp of salt, but I strongly recommend frying a little bit in a pan to check the seasoning.

Roll out the puff pastry, and half it (the sheets are a standard size generally, but the size is up to you ultimately!)

Spoon on the pork mixture to the centre of one side of the pastry, not too thickly, so it cooks through.

Pork pasty filling

Brush the edges with egg to seal and fold the empty side over and seal with a fork. Place a small hole in the top to let the steam out.

Brush with egg wash and place in the oven at 200°C for about 20 minutes but ,as always, a thermometer helps to check the middle is cooked.

Meanwhile, chop the celeriac and boil for about 15 minutes until soft. Finely diced and fry  off 4 shallots and the garlic. Place the lot in a blender, with a peeled/cored apple and the cream. Blitz until smooth ( in batches if need be). Return to the pan and season to taste. Place on a very low heat to warm through then turn it off and put a lid on to keep warm.

To make the pesto, simply blend, or pound in a mortar the walnuts, honey, blue cheese and apple pieces until a coarse paste.

And thats it – serve it all up with a very good cider or a nice Riesling

Pork pastry and Apple Celeriac & Apple Puree

Roast Venison with Chocolate Sauce and Celeriac Puree

Roast Venison with Chocolate Sauce
Amazingly, I took a day off with Helen on Friday, primarily to attend the Spice Festival in Newcastle. Unfortunately (or some may say typically), we turned up to find it didn’t actually start until 4pm. Ah well.

So, we headed off into the city for a quick look around, a decent coffee and to make the most of our rare day off together. Somewhat more fortuitously though, there was a small farmers’ market on with some good local suppliers, no doubt doing a great trade thanks to supermarkets shooting themselves in the foot. Good times.

One stall caught my eye – a small supplier selling game meat called Ridleys Game and Fish, based near Hexham in Northumberland. A quick Google on the way to get some cash, revealed they have been awarded Great Taste Awards for some of their produce, which in my experience is a very reliable seal of approval. In particular, there were various cuts of Sika Deer Venison which I’d never come across before. It’s not cheap, but I was keen to try it and I went for a rolled and tied haunch. Thankfully, I wasn’t to be disappointed, this was some of the nicest venison I’ve tasted – so much flavour and yet still tender.

I posted a venison dish a couple of weeks ago, so I apologise for another so quickly, but it is only in season for another month, so make hay while the sun shines eh? I wasn’t sure what to do with it but I did make some comments about making a chocolate sauce with real chocolate next time I made a venison dish. I also found some quince paste and remember seeing a recent BBC show that used it in a sauce. I thought it would work well here, but it is optional.

The venison itself was cooked fairly rare in about 40 minutes. A little longer than the twenty minutes some sources stated I should cook it for. I was ‘johnny on the spot’ with the themometer as it’s a very lean meat and like all leans meat can turn disappointingly dry in the blink of an eye. It really is the best kitchen gadget I’ve ever bought, well worth it.

It’s a game meat, so you can throw some big flavours at it and I added parma ham, smoked bacon lardon and shallots to the roasting process for which I used a cast iron skillet. I made a sinfully rich celeriac puree, which was inspired by a dinner I had last night with good friends in Leeds to finish it off along with simply steamed carrot and cabbage.

I will be honest, this worked very nicely. It was uber rich and all the better for it.

Serves two with leftovers:

  • I rolled and boned haunch of venison (about 1 kg or 2 lbs)
  • 100g smoked bacon lardons
  • 3 slices of parma ham
  • about 10 shallots peeled but left whole

For the chocolate sauce:

  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Rapeseed oil
  • 60ml Port
  • 300ml light stock, I used chicken, but veal/game would be better
  • 1 small knob of butter
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 tsp quince paste
  • 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 20g dark (70% coco) chocolate (or, to taste)

For the celeriac puree:

  • Half a celeriac
  • About 200ml whole milk
  • About 1 tbsp butter or more if you like (I said it was rich….)
  • Salt to taste
  • About 10 whole baby carrots
  • 3 cabbage leaves, stems removed and sliced

Start with the venison:

Get the oven on to about 190°C/375°F.

Get the cast iron skillet smoking hot with a little oil. Season the venison and brown it all over. Remove and wrap around parma ham to cover before returning to the pan. Roast for about 30 minutes and check the centre – about 50-55°C or 125-130°F is right for rare meat.

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In the meantime, peel and half the celeriac, then cut into chunks. Bring to a boil in the bottom of a steamer. Add the carrots in a steamer insert above and leave for around 15 minutes or until the celriac is tender. For the last 5 minutes, add the cabbage to the steamer as it won’t take long.

At the same time, fry off the garlic in a small pan and add the port and stock. Simmer to reduce until halved.

Once the venison is done, leave it to rest for 10 minutes at least, in some foil and finish off the rest.

De-glaze the skillet with the stock reduction and pour it back in the pan. Reserve the roasted shallots and bacon to serve later and keep warm.

Add the chocolate and quince paste to the sauce and stir well. Taste and adjust the seasoning if need be. Cover to keep warm.

For the puree, warm the milk and butter and pour into a blender with the drained celeriac. Blend until smooth and season to taste with salt.

Slice the venison and serve the whole lot up on very hot plates with a glass of good red wine!

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