Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


Alchemy and the winter casserole: oyster blade with red wine, mushrooms and tarragon.

Oyster blade is overlooked. It is already cheap but is often marked down because nobody buys it. Don't people make stews any more? (And why does the spell check underline squiggle thing want me to join 'any' and 'more' as one word? They are not.)

Here's one recipe that can turn a cheap cut of meat into something special:

In a heavy pan – I use a heavy cast iron skillet that retains heat – cook a large chopped onion in olive oil. Remove when done and in the same pan, brown the meat, cut into large cubes, in more olive oil. Give it a few shakes of black pepper and one or two of salt. Then sprinkle the meat, while turning, with flour so that the meat is coated. Place meat and onions in a casserole.

Cut two medium carrots into rounds. Trim a dozen button mushrooms. Chop a stick of celery into half-inch diagonals. Put these vegetables into the heavy pan, cover it and let them sweat in the pan's retained heat for a few minutes over a very low flame so that they start to take in the flavours of the onion and beef. The mushrooms will start to give off fluid, so don't worry about the vegetables burning.

Then remove vegetables to casserole, place pan back onto flame, and tip in half a bottle of good red wine. Deglaze the pan and pour the red wine gravy into the casserole. Add a tablespoon of tomato paste, two scored garlic cloves, a shake of tarragon, a bay leaf, more pepper, and enough water to barely cover vegetables and meat. Stock not required.

Cover the casserole. Mine is an old square white 1990s Pyrex one with a purple floral emblem on two of its four sides. It used to have a clear glass lid, but that broke years ago when I accidentally let it slide into cold water after removing it, white-hot, from the oven. Broke? It shattered. Don't ever try that at home unless you’re studying the thermal properties of glass. (Speaking of glass breakages, Thomas was kicking one of those dimpled rubber balls around at Alexandra's tea party the other day when he curved it, soccer-style, off the shed wall, under the pergola and onto the mosaic-tiled table, where it hit a Duralex glass, which bounced off the tiled table, shattered, and settled in a thousand shards on the ground. The next five minutes saw a flurry of brooms and brush-and-pan sets wielded by anxious uncles.)

So, without a lid, I use foil to cover the old casserole, which works fine, and you can pierce it if you want some steam to escape depending on what you are cooking.

Cook the casserole on lower than usual heat, for a longer than usual time. Figures are relative, but all things being equal, I cooked it for four hours on 150 degrees. But my oven is hot. Longer, gentler cooking assists in breaking down the connective tissue in oyster blade, so that the meat alchemises into an unctuous, super-flavoursome pillow of flesh that melts in your mouth. Why would you pay $100 a kilo for Wagyu and make hamburgers out of it when you can achieve carnivore-nirvana for under $10 a kilogram? Ridiculous.

Since it is so unctuous, this stew is served to best advantage with creamy mashed potato. I whip my potato with milk and a little olive oil to the point where it develops a fine sheen, like the snow on Mt Feathertop in the early spring sunshine. Then I place the beef and vegetables over a pile of the mash, and let the gravy drizzle down the sides like an early thaw.

On the side, silver beet cooked with olive oil, garlic and a touch of cream. And the rest of the red wine.

The dish would work just as well with polenta, with the leftovers morphing - with no further work required beyond reheating - into a rich ragu over home-made gnocchi. Alchemy!


Melbourne Girl said...

KH I often buy oyster blade for a delicious stew. I agree, it is too often overlooked, but don't praise it's goodness too much because everyone will want it!
Remember what happened with lamb shanks....once people started thinking they were "trendy" they skyrocketed in price...same goes for back straps, which used to be cheap and are now out of my price range now.

kitchen hand said...

Melbourne Girl, the same goes for osso buco (and skate, when it comes to fish).

The other day I saw tripe at $9.99 a kilo on the sign outside the butcher's in Victoria Mall. Can't see it taking off like the aforementioned, however. (Unless they get some z-grade celebrity to be seen eating it!)