Braised beef with macaroni au gratin

Braised beef with macaroni au gratin

French cuisine hasn’t had a great press in the last few years. I’m not sure how fair that is or how qualified I am to judge given that our last family holiday in France was 8 years ago. We were in the South West near Bordeaux, and while we were surprised to have a couple of disappointing meals we also enjoyed some sublime cuisine. Rick Stein’s recent television series “Secret France” showed that delicious French food is alive and well throughout the country and here in Bristol the fairly new restaurant Little French has been highly praised in the national press and shows that the “unpretentious French food” it offers is beloved by many of us. Following a superb lunch there the other day, during which between us my husband and I enjoyed mackerel tartare, mouclade and frites, queen scallops and hake with clams, I was inspired to make Clothilde’s Beef, a recipe in Diana Henry’s book Food from Plenty. She tells how she first ate it on a French exchange as a teenager when it was cooked by her opposite number, Clothilde. She notes that instead of potatoes, her French family served it with a gratin of macaroni. This immediately took me back to the food I used to eat on my many visits to France as a teenager and later on as a student when I was doing a degree in modern languages. It’s exactly the type of dish the mother of my friend Françoise would make. How powerfully evocative food can be!

Ingredients

  • 1kg silverside of beef
  • Salt and butter
  • 1 tbsp groundnut oil
  • 2 onions, halved and each half either sliced into crescent moons or cut into three or four wedges
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 150ml dry white or red wine
  • 4 carrots, halved lengthways
  • 2 plum tomatoes, quartered
  • 3 thyme sprigs
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 150ml chicken or beef stock

Method

  • Season the beef
  • Heat the oil in a frying pan on the boiling plate and add the beef
  • Immediately transfer the pan to the floor of the roasting oven to brown, turning it over after about five minutes
  • Once brown, transfer the beef to a casserole while you add the onions to the pan, tossing them around in the fat before returning the pan to the floor of the roasting oven to cook the onions until golden. Keep an eye on them; you don’t want them to burn
  • With the frying pan on the simmering plate add the crushed garlic and cook for a minute or two
  • Add the wine to the onion and garlic mixture and bring it to boil
  • Add this mixture to the casserole along with the tomatoes, carrots, thyme and bay
  • Bring the stock to the boil in the pan on the simmering plate and pour it into the casserole
  • Season well, put the lid on and place the casserole in the simmering oven for a minimum of four hours. Mine was in there for about six; the vegetables were soft and the meat wonderfully tender and the juice deliciously aromatic

For the macaroni au gratin

  • 150g macaroni
  • a little olive oil
  • salt
  • 150-200g Gruyère cheese (depends how cheesy you like it), grated
  • 230ml double cream
  • Cook the macaroni in boiling, salted water on the boiling plate for 5-6 minutes, until barely al dente
  • Drain in a colander and shake it dry
  • Spread it out on a baking tray, drizzle with a little olive oil and toss until coated to keep the macaroni from sticking to one another; leave to cool
  • In a saucepan on the simmering plate bring the cream and ½ tsp salt to a boil, letting it simmer for a minute; the cream will start to thicken
  • Add the macaroni and cook for a further minute before gradually adding about ¾ of the cheese, stirring and letting it melt into the sauce
  • Transfer to a baking dish and sprinkle over the remaining cheese
  • With the rack on the first set of runners place the dish in the roasting oven and cook for 10-15 minutes, turning the dish round halfway through, until it’s sizzling hot with a golden brown crust

 

 

 

Coq au Vin

Coq au Vin

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

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

  • 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