As I mentioned in my last post, during January we are going to avoid meat during the week while continuing to enjoy it on Sundays. I had bought duck legs in the run-up to Christmas, thinking I would make duck confit. However, all the other Christmas preparation got in the way and I didn’t get round to it so I put them in my freezer.
Confit is usually the leg of a bird that is naturally fatty such as goose, duck, or even pork (pigs do fly in this house), that has been salted, seasoned, cooked and finally preserved in its own fat.
I read recently that you don’t have to make duck confit weeks in advance: it will taste delicious if made the day before you plan to eat it. With this in mind I defrosted six duck legs on Friday, salted them overnight, prepared them on Saturday and we ate four of them for Sunday lunch yesterday. The remaining two will reside in my fridge for a few weeks.
This wasn’t the first time I’d made confit but it had been a while so I read two or three recipes before starting. This is what I did:
- 6 duck legs (mine were Gressingham)
- 90g Maldon sea salt
- About 1kg (I used 3 x 320g jars) of duck fat; you could also use goose fat
- 6 garlic cloves, bruised but not peeled
- 12 peppercorns, crushed
- 6 juniper berries, crushed
- A few sprigs of thyme
- 3 bay leaves, each cut in half
- red wine
- plum jam
- granulated sugar
- red wine vinegar
- Once the duck lugs had thawed on Friday I laid them in a dish in one layer and rubbed the salt into them. I covered the dish with clingfilm and placed it in the fridge overnight
- On Saturday I spooned the duck fat into my large Aga roasting tin and placed it on the floor of the roasting oven for 5 minutes to heat the fat
- Meanwhile I washed the duck legs thoroughly (this is important: you don’t want them to taste too salty) under cold running water
- I then placed them in the duck fat with the garlic, juniper, peppercorns, thyme and bay leaves, covered the tin with foil and placed it on the floor of the simmering oven for 3 ½ hours (I’m sure I could have left them for longer); you’re aiming for tender meat so that when a skewer is inserted into the flesh it finds little resistance
- I removed the tin from the oven and let it cool down for half an hour before lifting out four of the legs and placing them in a dish while placing the remaining two in a plastic container which had a lid
- I strained the cooled duck fat over the legs in both containers. When everything was cold I fitted the lid to the plastic container and covered the dish and placed both in the fridge
- On Sunday morning, about an hour before I wanted to cook the duck legs, I took the dish with the four legs out of the fridge and then an hour later I scraped the fat off each leg and placed them on the large Aga baking tray, lined with bake-o-glide of course
- I roasted the legs near the top of the roasting oven for 25 minutes. While they were cooking I made a sauce which involved simply bringing to the boil on the simmering plate some red wine, plum jam, granulated sugar and red wine vinegar and letting it simmer in the simmering oven for 20 minutes or so
I served our duck confit with the plum sauce, boulangère potatoes, red cabbage and broccoli. It was complemented by a superb glass from a bottle of the Italian wine Settebraccia. It comes from the Salento region of Italy and had been given as a gift to my husband. In future I will be more organised and prepare my confit a few weeks before Christmas so that I know I have at least one meal sorted for this busy season.
Before she became a TV celebrity Mary Berry was known as an Aga cook who ran courses on how to get the most out of your Aga as well as for writing The Aga Book which I believe is still given to every new Aga owner when their new oven is installed. My mother-in-law, who has owned a few Agas in her time, learned how to make this stew on one of Mary Berry’s courses and wrote it out for me many years ago because she thought it was so simple yet so delicious. I never got round to making it then but when I found a jar of sun-dried tomatoes which needed using up in my fridge recently, the recipe sprang to mind and I dug it out.
You can make this the day before, refrigerate it overnight and reheat it gently in the simmering oven the next day. I have never worked out why but casseroles are often better when made a day ahead.
The quantities of wine and stock given here are approximate because, as we Aga cooks know, you tend to need less liquid in an Aga. I start with the wine and stop pouring when the meat is almost but not completely covered. You can always add stock later on if you think it needs it.
Beef and Sun-Dried Tomato Stew
(Serves 4 generously)
- 800g braising beef, cubed
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tbsp flour
- Approx. 250ml red wine
- (Approx. 250ml beef stock: see above)
- 10-12 sun-dried tomatoes, halved
- 10g dried mushrooms (I used porcini)
- 1 red or yellow pepper, deseeded and sliced
- 1 onion, sliced
- 1 tbsp apricot jam
- 1 tbsp tomato purée
- First you need to brown the meat. To avoid splashing oil everywhere you can do this in the roasting oven, as I did when I made boeuf bourgignon
- Spread the beef out on your large baking tray, lined with bake-o-glide if you like, drizzle it with olive oil and season
- Slide the tray onto the first runner and leave it there for 5 minutes before moving it to the floor of the oven for a further 5 minutes, by which time your beef should be browned
- (You can of course brown your meat the conventional way, in batches in olive oil on the boiling plate)
- Meanwhile in a large casserole gently fry your onion and pepper slices in a tablespoon or two of olive oil (if your sun-dried tomatoes come from a jar you can use some of the oil from that), starting it off on the simmering plate before covering it and putting it in the simmering oven
- Pour 100ml of hot water onto the mushrooms and put them to one side for 15 minutes
- When the onions and peppers are soft place the casserole on the boiling plate, add the beef and stir the flour into it
- Add the red wine and, if required, the stock and bring to the boil
- Stir in the tomato purée, mushrooms with their soaking water and apricot jam
- Cover and place in the simmering oven for a minimum of three hours until the beef is tender. Add seasoning to taste
This is delicious with mashed potato but I think I prefer it with rice. Serve with a green vegetable too.
I could be wrong but I get the impression fewer people are doing a roast on Sundays these days. Some of my emptynester friends say they only bother when their offspring return home or if they have guests. Even after my youngest went off to university last year I continued to cook a Sunday roast, partly because it’s the one occasion each week when we haul my frail and elderly mother-in-law upstairs from her flat below to join us and partly because, well, it’s delicious. My children tell me they’ve always enjoyed the weekly ritual and this pleases me because it means it’s worth the (not necessarily huge) effort. When I was pottering about in my kitchen, one recent Sunday morning, it struck me that one doesn’t have to spend very long preparing the roast and that simple does not have to mean dull. And of course if you are too busy during the day pursuing the leisure activity of your choice, you and your family can have this meal in the evening rather than try to fit it in at lunchtime.
So this post is about proving that it needn’t be hugely time-consuming or arduous and outlining how I made roast chicken and apple crumble in two hours flat. It is also to show you that not all Aga cooking is long and slow, which is not to say that slow roasting isn’t an excellent way of making the most of an Aga: you can put your joint of meat in the simmering oven before bed on Saturday night or bright and early on Sunday morning and have meltingly tender meat for lunch or supper on Sunday. I did this recently with a pork belly and it was one of the best roasts we’ve ever had.
On this particular Sunday I took the bird out of the fridge about an hour before I wanted to cook it, to let it come up to room temperature, and then, having popped out to buy the Sunday papers, I started on the lunch preparation. I roasted the potatoes around the chicken. They absorbed the buttery garlicky juices and the flavour and texture were superb. I love them done this way (and it saves time and washing-up) but they were not crisp. If you want crisp, you’ll have to par-boil them for 5 minutes and then roast them in very hot duck or goose fat in a tin on the floor of the roasting oven for about thirty minutes.
- 1 whole free-range chicken weighing about 1.5kg
- Unsalted butter
- Several (quantity up to you but a minimum of 8) garlic cloves, unpeeled
- About 8 bay leaves
- A sprinkling, ie to taste, of Lakeland Herb Sea Salt
- Potatoes: one or two per person, peeled and chopped into large chunks. I used these red potatoes on this occasion but any variety will do. In the summer I use new potatoes: just halve the larger ones and there’s no need to peel them
- Place your chicken in a roasting tin with enough room around it for the potatoes
- Spread butter generously all over the bird and sprinkle with the herb sea salt or if you don’t have any, just salt and pepper
- Place one garlic clove and one bay leaf in the cavity
- Slide the tin onto the second rung of the roasting oven and leave it there for 20 minutes before removing it, basting it with the buttery juices and placing the potatoes and remaining garlic cloves and bay leaves around it, turning them to coat them in the butter too
- Return the tin to the roasting oven, this time on the fourth rung, for about an hour. Half way through, turn the potatoes and give the chicken another baste
- The chicken is done when a thigh is pierced with a sharp knife and the juices run clear
- Remove the bird to a large plate or board, keeping it near the Aga and maybe covering it with a clean tea-towel. Discard the garlic and bay leaves and place the potatoes in a serving dish in the simmering oven to keep warm while you make some gravy
- All I do for this is deglaze the roasting tin with some white wine on the simmering plate and then pour all of this through a sieve into a small pan to bubble away for a few minutes, adding more wine or some stock and whatever else you fancy: for example, you could whisk in a little crème fraîche. Decant this into a small jug and keep it warm on the back of the Aga while you get everyone to the table and find someone to carve your bird
- I will leave the choice of accompanying vegetables to you but the other day I served ours with steamed Savoy cabbage tossed with a little butter and lots of black pepper added
You can be making this while the chicken is roasting. This is the basic recipe; feel free to add cinnamon and/or some raisins to the apples; or reduce the amount of apple by 25 per cent and replace with blackberries when in season.
- 4-5 cooking apples
- 110g/4oz unsalted butter
- 110g/4oz plain flour
- 110g/4oz ground almonds
- 110g/4oz golden caster sugar plus an extra heaped tablespoon
- A heaped dessert spoon of demerara
- First make the crumble by placing the butter, flour, almonds and sugar in a large bowl and using your fingertips to rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. You can of course do this in a food processor
- Peel and slice the apples, putting the slices straight into the dish you want to bake the crumble in. Add some lemon juice to stop the apples from turning brown
- Sprinkle the crumble mixture on top, smooth it over and then press it down with the back of a spoon
- To finish, run a fork lightly over the surface and sprinkle over the demerara
- Bake in the baking oven, with the rack on the fourth rung, for about half an hour until golden brown on top and the apples feel soft when a knife is inserted into them
When we had our Aga installed in our new kitchen twelve years ago, we considered making space for a conventional hob and oven so that we could turn the Aga off during the summer months as many Aga owners do. We decided against it though, partly because the kitchen lay-out didn’t really allow for it and partly because I felt that if I was going to be an Aga cook it should be the whole year round. I have not regretted this decision. Until this summer that is. I have found myself occasionally cursing the Aga while melting into a puddle on the kitchen floor. It has just been so hot that the last thing I want to do is stand near the Aga, let alone open its doors and place things in it! If it weren’t for the ability to open wide the large sash windows of our Victorian house, I might have left home by now!
That was a rather long-winded way of explaining that the reason I haven’t posted any Aga recipes lately is because I haven’t been cooking many. Mind you, I don’t think it’s only Aga owners like me who’ve not felt much like cooking during this heatwave. I get the impression we’ve all been making salads and barbecuing. But at some point last week it cooled down a little and even rained. Last Sunday dawned wet and windy: normal summer had returned and I was perfectly happy pottering about in the kitchen “around the Aga” making lunch. I opted to make an old favourite from Delia Smith’s Summer Collection book which was hugely popular when it came out in 1993. All my friends seemed to be cooking from it, whether it was Piedmont Roasted Peppers, Thai Salmon Filo Parcels or Pesto Rice Salad. Some of the ingredients in the recipes (fresh coriander, lemongrass, pesto, chillies, couscous) were new to us or at least not part of our daily repertoire and not always easy to get hold of. The Chicken with Sherry Vinegar and Tarragon recipe is Delia’s Spanish take on the classic French Poulet au Vinaigre, and I’ve adapted it slightly for the Aga.
Chicken with Sherry Vinegar and Tarragon
- 8 chicken thighs or a whole chicken jointed into 8 pieces
- 150ml sherry vinegar
- 425ml medium-dry Amontillado sherry*
- 12 shallots, peeled and left whole
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
- 2 tbsps olive oil
- 2 tbsp fresh tarragon leaves
- 1 heaped tbsp crème fraîche
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- A few more sprigs of tarragon to garnish
- Season the chicken pieces and brush with a little of the oil
- Heat a large frying pan or sauté pan on the simmering plate and add the chicken, skin side down, to brown it. You can do this by leaving the pan on the simmering plate, but to stop your Aga losing heat (remember the 80/20 rule which says you should do 80% of your cooking in the ovens and no more than 20% on the hot plates), you can place the pan on the floor of the roasting oven to do this. Once golden brown, turn the chicken pieces over to do the same on the other side
- Remove the chicken to a plate, return the pan to the simmering plate and add the remaining oil followed by the shallots to brown them a little
- Add the garlic cloves to colour them slightly
- Return the chicken pieces to the pan, scatter the tarragon leaves over, then pour in the vinegar and sherry
- Bring it up to simmering point and transfer it to the simmering oven to braise slowly. You know the drill: it will not come to any harm in there. Probably needs about an hour so here so if you want it to cook more quickly I suggest you put it in a hotter oven (baking oven if you have one) for 30 minutes or so. Halfway through the cooking time turn the chicken pieces over
- When you’re nearly ready to eat remove the chicken pieces, shallots and garlic from the pan while you whisk in the crème fraîche. The sauce should be thick by now but you might want to bring it to the boil on the simmering plate to reduce it a little further
- Check the seasoning and then either return the chicken and shallots to the pan (if it’s nice enough to serve it in) or pour the sauce over the chicken in a suitable serving dish
- Garnish with the tarragon sprigs
* As you know, with Aga cooking there is less evaporation meaning that less liquid is required. I have given Delia’s quantities here but in all honestly there was a lot of sauce and I think I could have used about 100ml less sherry.
This is a recipe passed to me years ago by my 93 year old mother-in-law. She used to knock up these biscuits for my boys when they came home from school, or make a batch to go with fruit and ice-cream for our Sunday dessert.
I made them today to accompany strawberries and whipped cream. I know it’s only April and the temperature outside makes it feel more like March, but the strawberries in Waitrose looked so beautifully red and plump, I couldn’t resist buying them. They did not disappoint.
These biscuits are buttery, short and light and couldn’t be easier to make.
For about 16 biscuits
- 225g self-raising flour
- 50g caster sugar
- 175g butter, softened
- Place all the ingredients in a food processor or mixer and mix until combined in a soft dough
- Turn out onto a floured surface and roll out to a thickness of approx 5mm
- Cut out into rounds, using a 7cm cutter
- Slide a metal spatula or a large palette knife under each (rather delicate) round and place on the full size Aga baking tray lined with Bake-O-Glide. You will need to do bake these in two batches
- Place the tray on the third rung from the top of the baking oven for about 10 minutes until the biscuits are golden brown
- Leave them on the tray for a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack
The Country Wives were kind enough to publish this recipe on their website recently.
When cooler temperatures and rain put paid to our barbecue plans on Sunday, I decided to make Navarin of Lamb, a delicious braise which uses a variety of spring vegetables. I didn’t have in my kitchen any of the baby turnips or carrots which are traditional but knew I could make the dish with what I did have, and the recipe below is the result. Use any good veg you can find, with this recipe as a guide.
Navarin of Lamb
- 600g lamb neck fillet cut into large dice
- 1 tbsp olive oil and a knob of butter
- 1 small onion, peeled and sliced
- 1 celery stick
- 1 tbsp tomato purée
- I clove garlic, bruised
- Sprig or two of thyme
- Sprig of rosemary
- 1 bay leaf
- 100ml white wine
- 300ml chicken stock
- 225g baby new potatoes
- 100g carrots (baby carrots left whole or “old” carrots peeled and cut into thick batons)
- 150g frozen baby broad beans
- 150g frozen petits pois
- Heat the oil and butter in a shallow, heavy-bottomed casserole on the boiling plate and add the onions, celery and pieces of lamb
- Stir for a few minutes to brown the lamb before moving the casserole to the simmering plate and adding some seasoning, the tomato purée and white wine. Let this bubble for a couple of minutes and then add the garlic, bay leaf, herbs and stock
- Bring to the boil on the boiling plate, cover and place in the simmering oven for 1½ hours but longer would be fine: in an Aga nothing dries out
- About half an hour before you want to eat, place the potatoes and carrots in a saucepan with a little salt, a teaspoon of caster sugar, a knob of butter and 100ml of water. Bring to the boil on the boiling plate, cover and transfer to the simmering oven
- Cook the peas, drain and rinse in cold water so they retain their colour
- Cook the broad beans, drain and rinse in cold water and slip off the skins
- Remove the lamb from the casserole to a plate, discard the garlic, herbs and bay leaf and bring the broth to the boil on the simmering plate to reduce it a little
- Return the lamb to the casserole and, having checked they’re tender, add the potatoes and carrots and finally the peas and broad beans
- Taste for seasoning, sprinkle with some chopped parsley and serve
Following on from my boeuf bourgignon post, here’s another classic recipe. Coq au Vin is in fact just boeuf bourgignon but with chicken. Discuss. Seriously, sometimes I wonder why we keep looking for new ideas when the classic, tried and tested recipes are so good; I mean, there’s a reason they’ve been around for so long. It has not escaped my notice, by the way, that the two I mention here are French.
If you Google “Coq au Vin” you will find many different ways of making it but the ingredients don’t vary much. I based mine on Delia’s recipe. Good old Delia: she provides clear instructions and retains all the essential elements without sacrificing flavour. And because we are Aga cooks, we can be relaxed about the cooking time and leave our dish bubbling gently in the simmering oven for longer than the 40 minutes – 1 hour most recipes recommend. Chatting about this in my “I love my Aga” Facebook group, there was discussion about how to thicken the sauce. You could dust the chicken pieces with flour first, but I rather like the method I give here which is to whisk in a butter and flour paste at the end.
I don’t know if anyone uses the cock bird to make this dish anymore. In fact, I don’t know if it would be possible to get hold of one. A chicken, jointed into 8 pieces has become traditional here and I confess that when I made this recently, I just used good quality chicken thighs I bought from Waitrose.
Coq au Vin
- A 2kg chicken jointed into 8 pieces or 8 good quality, large chicken thighs, bone in and skin on
- Salt and pepper
- Butter and olive oil
- 225g unsmoked streaky bacon, chopped
- Button onions or shallots, 2-3 per person, peeled and left whole
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- A couple of sprigs of fresh thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- Approx. 500ml red wine
- 225g mushrooms, sliced thickly
- A butter and flour paste (beurre manié) made by mashing 1tbsp soft butter with 1tbsp plain flour
- A handful of chopped, fresh parsley
- Season the chicken pieces
- Melt the butter with the oil in a frying pan on the simmering plate and add the chicken pieces, skin side down. Transfer to the floor of the roasting oven for 5-10 minutes to brown
- Take it out, turn the chicken pieces over and return to the roasting oven floor for a further 5 minutes or so
- Remove the chicken and put it in a casserole that has a lid
- Add the onions and bacon to the frying pan making sure they’re coated in the fat and fry until coloured (on the roasting oven floor again)
- Tip the onions and bacon into the casserole and add the garlic, thyme, bay and red wine, which should not cover the chicken completely
- Bring this to simmering point on the boiling plate and then put the lid on the casserole and place it in the simmering oven for two to three hours, turning the chicken pieces over halfway through. If you want it to cook more quickly, I reckon you could put it in the baking oven or maybe even the roasting oven, but I did not try this so I can’t vouch for it
- About 30 minutes before you want to eat, add the mushrooms
- Remove the chicken, bacon, onions and mushrooms and keep them warm
- Place the casserole on the simmering plate and when the wine is bubbling, whisk in the beurre manié and let it simmer until the sauce is thick and glossy. Taste for seasoning
- Return everything to the sauce, sprinkle over the parsley and serve