February continues and the last few days have been horribly cold on the Market and we have been grateful that our regular customers braved the conditions. It would have been wrong to have let them down by staying at home ourselves, tempting though it was. The North wind certainly has not helped, but I should’ve seen it coming. This weekend saw the annual ‘Grand Feu’ and for the three years I have lived here it has always been bitterly cold. Each January a team made up of our neighbour, a local farmer and a couple of other strong-arms, come around the village collecting the Christmas trees in a big tractor-pulled trailer. They’ve been doing it for years and are always in high-spirits. I suspect Peket is involved. The trees are then taken a nearby field. For the last few weeks I have also been watching people who missed the ‘Grande Collecte’ dragging trees to the field along the road in front of the Market on Saturdays.
It is a real social occasion and much of the village comes along the Grand Feu, at least those of us who value an occasion to get together. There is a Peket (a sort of flavoured gin) tent which does a good trade, I prefer the lemon one. Naturally there are sausages too and this, along with the 7pm start ensures that there is a wide age range at the fire. There are no Pompiers (fireman) in attendance, something which couldn’t happen in the UK. There is also no drunken boistrousness either despite the availability of alcohol.
The fire is lit and rapidly the deadwood catches fire, tongues of red, amber and yellow leap into the night sky and it all feels very primeval. And so it should, it is an old ceremony and is meant to chase away the spirits of winter and call to the warmer weather ahead. This year it was a real battle of the elements as it started to snow.
As I look out the garden there is a good covering of snow, the chickens are staying in their house and the bird-feeders are busy. Chaffinches, Blackbirds, Sparrows, a Robin and a Wren busily mop up the droppings from choosy Tits. I have seen Blue, Great and Marsh Tits as well as Nuthatches and Tree Creepers at the feeder this winter, nothing exotic but lovely to watch nonetheless.
All this cold makes me glad that I have some short-ribs in the oven. The couple of hours they need simmering away is just enough time to write this. And joy of joys, it isn’t just any old beef, but Dexter beef from Carl the butcher at the Goods Shed, Canterbury. We are over there once a month on our buying trip and always come back with wonderful and fairly priced English meat from him. I have based the recipe on one of Mark Sargeant’s but have left out the star anise (probably would use it with lesser meat), changed the soy sauce for Watkins’ Mushroom Ketchup and although a Dubbel or Tripel Westmalle would have been excellent, I drank them yesterday. As a consequence I have used The Black Isle Brewery’s organic Hibernator Oatmeal Stout. Most organic beer is quite frankly horrid, but not from there. Apparently hops don’t like being grown organically and the best malted brewing barley is not organically grown, at least in reasonable quantity. You wouldn’t guess this with the Hibernator. Delicious.
Serves 4 well.
You will need a roasting tray and a oven-proof casserole. I use a deep roasting tin and cover with foil.
1 kg short-ribs
Some seasoned flour
1 large onion, 2 large carrots and 5 good-sized cloves of garlic, all roughly chopped
A little vegetable oil, 3 tablespoons or so
2 teaspoons tomato purée
A litre of good, dark beer
A litre of beef stock. I use 2 Knorr rich beef stock pots.
Half a bottle of Mushroom Ketchup
Preheat the oven to 220°C. Lightly coat the ribs in the seasoned flour and roast in the oven until they take on a good colour. If you don’t dilly-dally this should give you enough time to do the next bit.
In your casserole, fry the onions, carrots and garlic in the oil until they are nicely browned and then add a tablespoon of the flour and the tomato purée. Cook for a few minutes and stir. Add the liquids, not all at once but slowly, continuing to stir. Take the ribs out the oven and add to the casserole, along with any juices. Lower the oven to 150°C and put in the covered pot.
You now have a couple of hours to get on with the housework or whatever else needs doing. Take the dog out for a walk? Too cold today.. Brrr.
Take out the casserole and remove the ribs. They should be tender by now. If not, return to the oven for another 15 minutes of so and check again.
If you wish, try and skim off some of the fat. You may need to let the casserole cool a bit first. Alternatively, throw in a handful of ice cubes. Fat should congeal around them (I use this technique when making a navarin of lamb) and then you can remove it easily. As you are now going to reduce the sauce by half the extra water won’t matter.
As indicated, reduce the sauce by half, strain out the vegetables and adjust the seasoning. You should have a good coating consistency; if not reduce a bit more. Put the ribs back in, coat well and return to the oven for a quarter of an hour.
Mashed potato is called for and by wife will insist on braised chicons too. No matter, I love them, but secretly. I’ll resist sprouts but if I had some spring greens these would be great. Or sprouting broccoli but it’s too early. Serve with horseradish sauce too, and although I think English mustard is a bit too aggressive for this, Dijon would be good.
© Bob Cavanagh, 2013, http://www.deliciouslydifferent.be