Cheap cuts rich in flavour

AT A SMART dinner party last weekend for a world-renowned wine writer, our host proudly announced that the meat for the meal had cost just €12, there were nine of us and we had eaten very well.

We had polished off large plates of shin of beef stew with fluffy mashed potato. It was rich, unctuous and meltingly tender and could have graced the table of any fine restaurant.

These cheaper cuts of meat have been neglected by many in recent years, particularly during the prosperous era of the Celtic Tiger. Butchers were in despair trying to interest their prime cut customers in a bit of scrag end. Only the “new Irish” really valued these cuts or, for that matter, knew what to do with them.

This generation has lost the skill of how to make delicious meals with cheap cuts. Anything more challenging than slapping a steak on the pan is now a mystery to most of us.

Well, let’s ask our grans if we are fortunate enough to have them still with us, particularly in Cork, which has been a provisioning town for centuries. Hence, there has been a long tradition of eating offal and the cheaper cuts so there are many people who can still cook a fine pot of tripe and onions, skirts and kidneys or pigs’ tails and turnips. If the latter seems a bit too esoteric for your next dinner party why not start with some pork knuckles or ham hock terrine. Coincidentally, I was amused to read that the sale of swede turnips has gone up 80% in Britain in the past few weeks; the credit crunch is obviously giving us a new appreciation for winter root vegetables.

Ham hocks are also delicious when served cooked until the meat is almost falling off the bones. You can imagine how good they are with cabbage and parsley sauce or mashed swede turnips and of course some flowery Golden Wonder potatoes. The Cork market is a rich source of all these meats, and nowadays the label and price may also be in Polish and Russian as well as English.

Local butchers will have all the cheaper cuts and many are knowledgeable about how to cook them. Canny chefs also enjoy the challenge of dealing with less expensive joints. Paul Flynn at the Tannery, Dungarvan, has delighted his customers for years with his ham hock, belly of pork and beef cheek recipes. La Gueuleton, Chapter One and The Winding Stair, among others in Dublin and the Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore all serve delectable dishes using less expensive cuts side by side with steaks and rack of lamb.

Beef short ribs also make the most delicious succulent stew and the flavour will be even better if it is made the day before you plan to tuck in. Kay Harte in the Farmgate Restaurant in the English Market in Cork often serves wonderful traditional Cork dishes: one of my favourites is corned mutton with caper sauce and scallion champ. Here are a few recipes to whet your appetite without breaking the bank.

Jellied Ham Hock and Parsley Terrine

Serves 12 — 16

4kg (9lb) ham hocks, or a nice 2.7kg (6lb) piece of dry cured ham, bacon or oyster cut is good Water and dry white wine

2 onions, stuck with 1 clove each

2 carrots

1 stick celery

1 small bay leaf

A few sprigs of thyme

10 black peppercorns

Parsley stalks (keep the leaves for later)

4-5 teaspoons of powdered gelatine

50g (2oz) parsley

Accompaniment:

Tomato salad

Spring onion

Gherkins

Green salad

If the ham or bacon is salty, soak in cold water overnight or at least for a few hours, then discard the soaking water.

Cover with fresh water and blanch and refresh three or four times depending on how salty the ham or bacon is. Finally, cover with fresh water and a dash of white wine.

Add all of the remaining ingredients except the gelatine and parsley. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 2-2.5 hours depending on the blanching time: a skewer should go through easily.

Remove the ham, strain the liquid through a fine sieve or one lined with muslin, then degrease and allow to cool.

Remove the rind and cut the ham into cubes of about 2.5cm (one inch). Measure the liquid and allow four teaspoons of gelatine for each 600ml (one pint) — you won’t need much more than that. Put four tablespoons of the cooking liquid into a small bowl, sprinkle on four rounded teaspoons of gelatine and allow to sponge for a few minutes while you bring a small saucepan of water to the boil. Put the bowl into the simmering water to dissolve the gelatine. When the gelatine is clear add a little of the measured liquid, stir well and then mix with the remainder, finally stirring in the finely chopped parsley. Mix well. Pour the liquid over the ham and then fill into an oiled bowl or terrine (it should be about 10cm/four inches deep). Cover and refrigerate overnight.

In France it is traditionally made in a round-bottomed bowl but it can also be made in a rectangular terrine.

Serve in slices with summer salads.

Braised Short Ribs

Serve 10-12

6 beef short ribs, trimmed

8oz (225g) streaky bacon (in a piece if possible. Remove rind, dice bacon, fry out fat in 1 tbsp olive oil or duck fat)

7-8 small or 2-3 large onions (1 sliced)

8oz (225g) diced carrot

6-8 cloves garlic

1 chilli, sliced

6ozs (175g) diced celery

1-2 red or yellow peppers, diced

2 level tbsp tomato puree

200-250ml (7- 9fl ozs) red wine

3 large sprigs of thyme

1 cinnamon stick

1 spiral of orange zest

2 bay leaves

If possible trim and salt the beef the night before cooking.

Remove rind and dice the bacon. Save the rind to cook with beef, it adds gelatine to the sauce. In a wide sauté pan render the fat from the bacon using a little olive oil or duck fat. Alternatively use all duck fat and omit bacon. Remove bacon dice.

Brown beef in batches; do not overcrowd the sauté pan. Leave 2 tablespoons fat in pan and sweat onion, carrot and celery, stirring to dissolve all browned bits in the sauté pan. Add the garlic, optional pepper and sweat for 5-6 minutes or until limp.

Put the beef and vegetables in to a casserole or heavy braising pot, preferably enamelled cast iron.

Add tomato paste to the hot sauté pan and cook briefly. Add wine and bring to boil. Pour wine over beef and add thyme, bay leaf, orange zest and cinnamon stick. Cover with a butter paper and tight fitting lid. Braise in a moderate to low oven until tender, 3 — 4 1/2 hours (depending on the size). The meat should be really tender and falling off the bones.

Remove herbs, cinnamon stick and orange zest, strain the liquid, skim fat and discard.

Taste and correct seasoning and sprinkle with lots of snipped flat parsley. Serve with mashed potato.

Braised Lamb Shanks with Garlic, Rosemary and Flageolet Beans

Lamb shanks were served as a main course at a posh wedding I attended recently and got a tremendous response.

Serves 6

6 lamb shanks, 1 kg approx.

12 small sprigs of rosemary

12 slivers garlic

8 anchovy fillets, halved

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Braising ingredients:

1 oz (25g) goose fat or duck fat or olive oil

2 carrots, roughly chopped

2 celery stalks, roughly chopped

1 leek, roughly chopped

1 onion, roughly chopped

1 head garlic, halved horizontally

7 fl ozs (200ml) bottle good red wine

5 fl ozs (150ml) chicken or lamb stock

1 sprig of thyme

2 sprigs of rosemary

2 bay leaves

2 strips of dried orange peel

Sauce:

4 ozs (110g) streaky bacon, cut into lardons and blanched

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

½ carrot, finely diced

½ celery stalk, finely diced

½ onion, finely diced

6 cloves garlic

4 very ripe tomatoes, peeled and diced or ½ x 14 oz tin of tomatoes plus juice

2 sprigs of thyme leaves from 2 sprigs of rosemary, chopped

1 x 14oz (400g) tin flageolet beans, drained or 4-7 ozs (110-200g) dried flageolet beans, soaked overnight and then boiled rapidly for 20 minutes

Garnish: Sprigs of rosemary and garlic

Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/regulo 2.

Remove most of the fat from each shank, then scrape the meat away from the bone to loosen it. Make 2 deep incisions in each joint and insert a sprig of rosemary and a sliver of garlic wrapped in half an anchovy fillet into each incision. Season the meat with salt and black pepper. Heat the goose fat in a heavy sauté pan or casserole and sauté the meat in it until well browned on all sides. Remove the meat from the pan. Add the carrots, celery, leeks, onion and garlic and cook over a high heat until well browned. Add the red wine to the pan and bring to the boil, stir for a minute or two. Add the chicken stock, herbs and orange peel to the pan, then place the lamb shanks on top. Cover and cook in the oven for 2½ hours.

Meanwhile, make the sauce. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and brown the bacon in it. Then reduce the heat and add the carrot, celery, onion and garlic and cook for 8 minutes approx. or until the vegetables have softened. Add the chopped tinned tomatoes, herbs, flageolets and enough stock to half cover the beans. Cover and simmer for 3-3½ hours.

When the lamb has finished cooking, remove the thyme, bay leaves and orange peel. Taste and correct seasoning.

Serve the lamb shanks on a hot deep dish with the beans and vegetables poured over and around. Garnish with sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme.

Stuffed Lamb’s Heart

Many children who happily watch bloodcurdling scenes on TV, would scream with horror if one of my favourite dishes, roast stuffed lambs heart were put on the table for dinner! Sheep’s hearts are more tender and juicy than beef hearts.

Serves 6 approx

6 lamb hearts

Stuffing:

75g (3oz) butter

175g (6oz) finely chopped onions

1 tbsp chopped chives

1 tbsp thyme leaves

1 tbsp annual marjoram

1 tbsp chopped parsley

175g (6oz) white breadcrumbs

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Gravy: 300ml (½pint) beef stock 2-3 tbsp mushroom Ketchup (optional) Roux

Trim the hearts, cut away any sinews to make a nice pocket. Wash thoroughly in cold salted water, dry well. Next make the stuffing by combining all ingredients. Allow to cool.

Season the inside of the hearts with salt and freshly ground pepper. Fill with the fresh herb stuffing, piling the extra on the top. Cover with a butter wrapper and tie with cotton string if necessary. Put into a small roasting tin or casserole and add about 300ml (½pint) of beef stock. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and bake in a moderate oven 180C/350F/gas mark 4 for about 1-1½ hours or until tender.

When fully cooked, lift carefully onto a serving dish.

Bring the cooking juices to the boil, thicken with a very little roux and correct the seasoning. Serve with the stuffed hearts.

Stuffed Beef Hearts

Follow the above recipe — the stuffing will be sufficient for one beef heart, but the cooking time should be increased to 3 — 3½ hours.

Foolproof food

Maronchinos Almond Cookies

From Claudia Roden “The Jewish Book of Cooking” I know these little sweets are highly esteemed in Turkey and the Balkans, because one of my elitist grandmother’s ironic remarks was “a los asnos maronchionos“, implying that you don’t give maronchinos to donkeys. They are perfect to serve with coffee — softer than macaroons, a little moist and not too sweet — and they never fail.

Makes about 30

400g ground almonds

125-200g superfine sugar

2 or 3 drops of almond extract

2 tbsp rose water

2 eggs, lightly beaten

Confectioners’ sugar to sprinkle on

Mix the almonds and sugar. Add the extract, rose water, and eggs and work to a smooth paste with your hand. Role into walnut-sized balls, flatten them slightly, and place in little paper cases or on greaseproof or parchment paper on a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 oven for 25 minutes. Let them cool before dusting with confectioners’ sugar.

Hot tip

For value for money it would be well nigh impossible to beat the early bird menu at L’Atmosphere in Waterford, €20 for 3 courses of delicious French brasserie food. Plus a glass of wine. Chef Arnaud Mary also offers an à la carte with such temptations as ox tongue and lamb. L’Atmosphere is just off Custom House Parade on the N25 in Waterford City. Open Monday to Friday for lunch and dinner 12.30-2.30pm and 5.30pm til late. Saturday and Sunday for dinner from 5.30pm until late. 051-858426

If you would like to add value to your home-produced raw materials be it meat, milk, cheese or grains you might want to enrol in the excellent UCC Diploma in Speciality Food Production. Enquiries: Dr Angela Sheehan, Food Industry Training Unit, UCC. Tel: 021 4901423; email: a.sheehan@ucc.ie

Thrifty Tip: — If you have access to surplus cooking apples why not store them for winter use in single layer on stacking trays in a cool garage.


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