Sunday, December 20, 2009

Fricando (Rich Braised Beef)

At the moment I'm still playing around with Anglo-Italian hybrids - seems only fair to the Italian to bring more of her type of food into the Sunday roasting. Was after beef this week, and as ever I hadn't decided on anything until I knew what meat I had to play with. For me the core of any Sunday roast has to be the meat itself, so there's no point planning anything until you know what quality of that you've got. The butchers had a nice selection of brisket this week, and being a big brisket fan I decided to plump for that.

Brisket - bit large for what I was doing, so cut a bit off for another time

Back at home it was time to dig in to my cookbooks for inspiration. I have a bit of an obsession with cookbooks, and although I rarely follow a recipe I love to be able to browse through ideas and techniques to inspire me. I recently did buy one by Anna del Conte though, The Classic Food of Northern Italy, and was bowled over somewhat by her style and clarity of writing, so decided to follow something of hers completely - 'Fricando'.

Anna does recommend following things quite closely, in order to reveal the true Italian style of the dish, so that's what I did. At least that's what I thought I did, until after the meal - but more of that later! Fricando is basically a braised beef dish, of either French (fricandeau) or Italian (fricando) origin, depending who's side your on :-) From what I understand it should really be veal, but the core of it seems to be a larded piece of beef that's then braised. Cloves also seem important, as well as a very long slow cook at low temperature.

Pancetta & Clove Studded Onion

The trick is to make incisions into the meat and push in quite a lot of minced/chopped proscuitto into it. You then brown the meat very well with olive oil and butter, and then leave to braise with one clove studded onion cut in half, half (or less) of a chopped up carrot, a good handful or two of celery (leaves only if you can), a (very) little stock and plenty of fresh parsley. After a few hours (I did mine for about four in the end, but it was ready earlier really - christmas beers down the pub delayed me somewhat) it should be done. All you need do next is take the meat out to rest, and then blitz the sauce smooth, either in a blender, sieve, mouli or whatever you prefer.

Minced pancetta, ready for pushing into the meat

The joint ready to go into the oven for it's long slow cook

The flavour has to be tasted to be believed. Absolutely wonderful. Always odd how such simple combinations can create such a sublime combination, but a real pleasure to eat. One of the best braised beef dishes I've ever made I think, if not the best. Served it very simply with some fresh greens and mashed potatoes (with a lovely celeriac risotto as primo, courtesy of the Italian).

Celeriac risotto

The leaves from the celeriac in the garden - used these in place of the celery it should be, and very tasty they were too!

The finished sauce

And the finished dish

P.S. I hinted earlier I cocked up a bit with this one - well the truth is I used pancetta rather than proscuitto. Looked at too many recipes, and since I had some pancetta to finish up in the fridge I guess I couldn't get it out of my head! Either way though it was delicious, but now of course I need to try it with the prosciutto just to check!

Wild Mushrooms & Milk - bitter flavour?

Not my usual post I know, but an unusual cooking disaster has prompted me to write a quick post hoping for some illumination. I have a question - can poaching certain mushrooms in milk create an unpalatable bitterness than will ruin a dish?

I have a dish that's long been a favourite - Cod & Crab Gratin - that also includes a fair quantity of mushrooms which are poached in milk before mixing with the fish and other ingredients. Since I'd had a successful mushroom foraging trip and collected a good amount of wood & field blewitts I used these, but the milk turned horribly acrid ruining the sauce. Never had anything like it - so if someone else out there can illuminate I'd appreciate it!


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