You might have noticed that I’m a little bit obsessed with Ragu. No, not the jar of Dolmio-esque sauce of the same name which I believed was a very sophisticated dinner option when I was a student with one saucepan in the 1990s (but which I swiftly abandoned after the introduction of the much more glamourous and exotic Supermarket Pesto which I ate almost daily at university with pasta and, weirdly, either smoked mackerel or cottage cheese…). No no no. Ragu (or Ragout in France) is just the name given to a meat-based sauce – usually comprising of onions, carrots, celery, tomatoes & some kind of meat.
And proper Ragu ticks all my love-to-cook boxes:
1. It takes hours and hours and only improves with time.
2. It’s the sort of rustic food you want to eat around a big table with rough red wine and country bread.
3. It’s as cheap as you like.
I’ve made a Ragu out of all sorts. Leftover roast pork was pretty good – and frugal. Rabbit meat makes a delicious Ragu but it isn’t a breeze to get hold of on your way home from work of an evening. I’ve made it with a mixture of pork and beef minced – nice but prefer chunks to mince. And tonight I made a Beef Shin Ragu which was unctuous and melting, flavoursome AND remarkably cheap.
So my mission this morning was finding shin of beef. I rushed out early and hot-footed it down to Smithfield Market to one of the butchers around the market which sells to the public. Smithfield is a beautiful covered market housing a wholesale meat market – it’s an interesting place to wander around, you see everything from crates of Halal chickens to half a cow being lugged about by men in gory-looking lab-coats. It is also home to a pub called the Cock Tavern which I always mean to take my Dad to, as it’s a sort of blokey shrine to all things Meat. It’s open all hours to cater for the market trading public and it serves an apparently amazing breakfast for less than a tenner of steak, sausages, liver, kidney and black pudding. That’s all together on one plate you understand….a carnivore’s carnival!
Anyway, I went to the butchers on the south side of the market and bought nearly 1.5 kilos of beef shin for about £6. I’ve put half of it in the freezer, so it works out as £3 for enough meat for a super-generous meal for two plus enough for a Leftovers Lunch for two tomorrow which I though was ridiculously good value.
I softened a red and white onion, 3 cloves of garlic 2 carrots and 2 sticks of celery in a little oil and butter. In another pan I browned the beef, adding half a bottle of red wine to deglaze the pan and then throwing the lot into the pan with the vegetables. I added a tin of tomatoes, a couple of bay leaves and then just left it to get on with it.
In fact I left it cooking from the end of Loose Women to the start Channel 4 news. For anyone who doesn’t have a day off during the week that’s 6 and a half hours! So I cleaned the house, answered emails, did the washing, fake tanned and deep conditioned, sorted out what my boyfriend calls the “clothes bomb” (the pile of clothes left abandoned after a frantic “arghh-what-should-I-wear” panic last night) and just popped back to stir the Ragu about once an hour while I got on with my day. So although it seems like a pain to be cooking something for 6 hours, actually it couldn’t be easier as you can just crack on with whatever you’ve got to do and let the sauce cook down for as long as you’ve got. There’s also always a moment with any stew where I think “argh, the meat’s not going to go all melty and stringy” but it always does if you leave it long enough, and this was no exception – after 6 hours it was a dark, delicious, slightly dry sauce which I served on Pappardelle with a sprinkling of zingy gremolata (finely shredded parsley, garlic and lemon zest) and a little pecorino. The gremolata was an idea from another food blog – I thought it was a lovely addition but the Boyfriend wasn’t so keen – I think give it a try.
My best sort of food – really wintery comfort food.