I love entertaining in Winter which is quite the opposite for many, I know. Summer seems to be the time most people love to open up their doors and homes. I love the full flavours of winter food, the fantastic seasonal produce and slowing down both of the dishes I cook and around the table with family and friends.
Slow-cooking is so rewarding and a pretty reliable technique. Find the right ingredients, prepare them correctly and then allow them to mingle at a low heat for hours, and the results are guaranteed to be very special.
The more developed a muscle is in the animal, the tougher the cut of meat will be. Slow cooking allows these muscle fibres to break down slowly. The results are tender, with meat that falls away from the bone and melts in your mouth.
The other benefit of slow cooking is the opportunity to develop rich combinations of flavours that permeate every piece of meat, vegetable and sauce. Slow food manages to bring flavours together like no other method of cooking can.
Here are a few useful slow cooking tips to keep in mind:
– Browning your meat before starting the slow cooking process will give a more flavoursome result.
– An oven is preferable to a stovetop as the heat distribution is even and always surrounding your pot of loveliness.
– Always cook a little more than you need. The leftovers will be a gift that keeps on giving. They can be used in a pasta sauce, soup and for freezer stores (it is a pretty incredible thing to pull out a tagine, or some slow cooked pulled pork….you get the picture) for dinner mid-week. I do talk a lot about this in my cookbook Relish Mama ‘Family’ and I really do hope the tips in there has helped you in spades.
Some common concerns & questions :
- If using a slow cooker, there can be more liquid that you want or need. Why is this?
As the meal cooks away, the steam will hit the top of the lid for as long as your cooking, and this can often be all day long. The condensation drips back down on top of the food and adds to the additional (and often unwanted) liquid build up. A solution can be to place a clean tea towel or some paper towel at the top of the slow cooker (before putting the lid on top). Doing this will catch and absorb a lot of that steam.
- If a recipe is not written for a slow cooker, as a general rule, use half the amount of liquid that a recipe asks.
Some other tips & tricks for slow cooker success:
- If I am home, I remove the lid entirely for the last ½ hour or so of cooking. This allows the liquid to reduce down much further & intensify the flavours.If you still need to reduce the liquid a little further, add in 1tablespoons of corn flour or tapioca flour at the end of the cooking time. Make a paste with it by adding a little water. Add to the slow cooker and cook for 10-20 minutes with the cooker up on high to reduce and thicken the sauce.
- You absolutely must season your food & season it well. There is no reduction/evaporation in a slow cooker, and so the flavours don’t develop as well as they would cooking say the same dish, in your oven, in a cast iron pot.
This recipe is from my latest cookbook, Relish Mama family.
Braised lamb shanks with ras el hanout
Ras el hanout is a wonderful spice blend that all good cooks treasure. It is a secret weapon added to dishes like this one as well as for soups and stews. Adding a little spice cuts through the richness of the shanks.
This dish gets better with being stored for a day or two and so is perfect to cook up on the weekend and enjoy early in the week. It will keep for 3–4 days in the fridge and up to 3 months in the freezer.
Leftovers are also pretty amazing tossed through pappardelle pasta.
6 lamb shanks
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for frying
4 heaped teaspoons sea salt
2 tablespoons ras el hanout
1 brown onion, finely sliced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
2 carrots, peeled and finely diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
250 ml red wine
100 ml port
2 x 400 g tins of crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (or substitute with balsamic vinegar)
6–8 sprigs of fresh thyme, plus additional
Freshly cracked black pepper
Preheat oven to 160°C.
Combine the olive oil, salt and ras el hanout in a shallow dish or use a large ziplock bag. Rub this mixture into the lamb, massaging well to cover entirely.
Heat a large heavy-based pot over a medium-high heat with a splash of oil. Cook the shanks until browned on all sides. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
Turn the heat down to medium. Add the onion, celery and carrot and cook for 8 minutes, stirring often.
Add the garlic and stir for a further minute. Increase the heat a little and deglaze the pan by adding the red wine, stirring as it bubbles.
Add the lamb shanks back into the dish as well as the port, vinegar and thyme. Season with salt and pepper and add enough water to only just cover the shanks. Bake, covered with a lid or foil, for 3 hours or until the lamb is tender and almost falling off the bone. Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning, if needed.
Top with additional thyme leaves when serving.
Tips and Variations
- This dish is lovely served with creamy mashed potato, polenta or couscous as well as crusty bread and a big bowl of green leaves or steamed green beans.