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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Olive(r) Stew

I've made noises here about celebrity chefs before, and a little while ago I posted a meal I cooked out of a Gordon Ramsay Cookbook that I picked up at the Food Show.

Now, the guys at Kamikaze Cookery (Link junkies: Language may offend. You've been warned) have taken it upon themselves to expose the glaring discrepancies between what most people are capable of cooking compared with what the Ramsays and Olivers of the world think we can manage, so I won't try to outdo them on that count.

Instead, I thought it worthwhile documenting my own attempt to pull off a recipe for Peposo - famous hunter's peppery beef stew - out of Jamie Oliver's book, Jamie's Italy. I like to think of myself as a slightly more accomplished home gourmandiser than the average kiwi bloke, so I was not daunted by the challenge.

Perhaps I should've been.

Admittedly I was trying to cook about 600g of beef rather than the 2.5kg in the recipe (I mean, who really cooks 2.5kg of stewing steak at a time? There are only 2 1/2 of us, after all!), and I was using normal stewing steak rather than beef shin on the bone, but you work with what you've got, right? I made the effort to use real french red wine, at least. And anyway, the first thing you do according to the recipe is take the meat off the bone, so why not just use deboned meat to start with?
Simple enough. Meat, onions, rosemary, garlic, bay leaves, salt and pepper.
Layer it all up in an oven dish and cover in wine, topping with water to cover the meat if necessary. Then bring to a boil and place in the oven at 150c for 6 hours. Yes, I did all this. Sounds simple enough, doesn't it?
Then at the bottom of the recipe (not at the top, not at the "when you're layering the dish" part) it says to skim off the fat and remove the bone. Aah. I see. So the bone was meant to go in? That bone I don't have? Right. Well, I didn't. Not only that but my dish didn't have any fat to skim off. It had virtually no moisture at all. Apparently it should have.
Yes, this was quite intensely flavoured as Jamie promised, and the meat was falling apart, if a little over-dry. I wonder if I had a small army to feed rather than my modest family, and I had cooked this in the five-fold quantity suggested by JO if this might have come out better. I can only guess so.

I dished it up on buttered slabs of fresh bread (also Jamie's recipe from his first book - I tried it once and have made it that way ever since), and we agreed that it was good that we had some nice bread for dinner.

So it's worrying that if even I, with my extraordinary powers of making stuff up on the fly and trusting my instincts to salvage the various disasters that arise from my untutored approach to cooking, can be derailed by a Jamie Oliver recipe that seems so straightforward, then how much paper is being wasted in this world in the printing of celebrity chef recipe books that people will simply never use? Or if they do, they'll be disappointed, and thus the book will sit on the shelf forever gathering dust?

I make an effort to make something from one of my many cookbooks every month or so, trying to learn new things and bring a dash of variety to our meals. But if the people who sell the most cookbooks on the planet - I'm looking at you, Jamie, Gordon and Nigella - can't come to terms with what average folk are really looking for in a recipe and capable of achieving in the kitchen, then I worry that even more innocent trees will die as a result.

Please, celebrity chefs. Take a moment to consider the trees. Then pull your heads our of your @rses and give us recipes that we can cook, damn it.


Wanisan said...

The nice way: But you want to try something new, and become a better cook that has an expanded view of the culinary world, right?

Or the harsh way: You didn't follow the recipe; therefore you can't complain about it being bad, which means your gripe doesn't count.

I side with you: most of the time people buy a cookbook they use rarely, at best. I think part of it is building a reference selection, and part of it is to show off for the people you invite over to dinner parties.

And, if I haven't mentioned this before: Buy the "Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook," or any other Kimball book. You won't be disappointed- they're realistic, makable and delicious recipes!

Dan said...


But I do find myself flicking through a lot of the recipe books I have wondering how the authors expect the average family cook to pull off the stuff they call "easy-peasy".

It all takes practice, and patience, and being able to source the right ingredients, and having a big enough pot and a big enough oven etc etc.

I'm left wondering if much of the reason I find these British chefs' recipes unmanageable is their (commendable) shift towards using local ingredients, which leaves me in a position of needing to substitute and thus, making something different, or something that doesn't come out looking or tasting how I expected.

I won't give up. I've pulled off a few winners in my time and there will be more. And I hope that other people will also persevere; otherwise, it's the trees that will be the losers.

And I'll google up a link to YFC for a look. Thanks!

Stefano said...

I actually cooked this last night, would you beleive. I thought it was absurdly easy, you don't even have to brown the meat just boil off some of the alcohol before putting it into the oven. Did you cover the pan with tinfoil before putting on the the lid on like it says in the recipe? That's what stops it from drying out as the water in the wine doesn't get to evaporate.

Dan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dan said...

Stefano - I think I did use the tin foil, but I suspect it was the overall quantity that failed for me. I suspect that because I used only 600g of meat, with everything else reduced accordingly, rather than the 2.5kg of meat and bone as the recipe called for, that there simply wasn't enough liquid in the dish to create the correct result.

I'll probably give it another go next winter, if I can find a bigger pot and the right cut of meat.

Glad to know that it worked for you - it gives me hope of success in the future!

Stefano said...

Yeah, I made it with only around 500g of meat but I putting nearly a whole bottle of wine in so if you used much less than that then that's probably what the problem was. I didn't have a bone either but that won't make a huge difference as a beef bone won't have given up a lot of its collegen/gelatin after only 6 hours.

Dan said...

No, I definitely didn't use that much wine.

Now I want to try it again.

And I'm hungry. Dang.


Stefano said...

Haha. Good stuff. You'll nail it next time!