Tuesday, 2 February 2016

A very excellent ragoût

Saturday was my birthday and I overindulged somewhat on the food and booze front. Sunday was a recovery day and I made a simple and very tasty ragoût. I invent these recipes as I go along- all cooking follows certain principles and like any artist, I add my interpretation of the rules to the pot. I have one golden rule which I never veer from: do not over-season food and stick to salt, pepper, bouquet garni and wine/vinegar, if at all possible. The ingredients should sing their own melody and we should know what we're eating. For this reason I dislike spicy food.

This ragoût (and I use the term only to describe the cooking method and type of ingredients) is a combination of lamb chops, pork sausages, haricot beans and red lentils. The flavour is out of this world and it is nourishing- the most important criterion of all. The red lentils create a thick, unctuous sauce which along with the haricot beans, add a robust, heartiness to the stew. This is warming food ideal for getting the blood flowing.

I've written the recipe below without any measurements- see if you can take the idea and try it out on your own terms- then you'll be a real cook!

In a large pan, heat a splash of olive oil over medium high heat. Brown the sausages lightly- around five minutes. Remove from the pan. Add a knob of butter to the pan and as it begins to foam, add the lamb chops - season lightly with salt and pepper. Do not move the chops for at least two minutes then turn them over and sear the other side. Season again with salt and pepper. (A note on salt: please ditch iodised salt and switch to sea salt only. The flavour is far superior.)

Once the lamb chops are nicely seared- just a light caramel colour and the fat tinged at the edges (please leave the fat on as it adds flavour. In order not to gain weight: eat just enough, throw out the TV and exercise. Not rocket science.). Remove the chops from the pan and keep covered. Add a handful of lardons to the pan. Once some of the fat is rendered, add two medium finely chopped onions to the pan. Toss around until the onions have browned - again, a light caramel colour not charcoal :). Now add as much finely chopped garlic as you like- I tend to use four or five cloves as garlic is very good for the heart and digestion not to mention it staves off infection. (PS A good digestive system means you won't reek of garlic).

Return the sausages and lamb to the pan. Deglaze the pan with a splash of wine- more than a third of a cup is plain unnecessary. Allow the wine to evaporate. Add the lentils and beans (canned, organic haricot beans and dry red lentils). If you're feeling virtuous, soak dried haricot beans overnight and cook in a pressure cooker- without salt as it hardens the beans. If however you'd like to eat within one hour of starting to cook, use the canned beans.

Place a bouquet garni  in the mix along with a good grinding of pepper. Add enough water to just cover the contents of the pan. Bring to the boil and simmer (covered) for 30 minutes by which time the red lentils will be cooked and will have turned into a thick sauce. Stir the stew and check for catching (sticking) at the bottom of the pan. You may need to add more liquid to the pan as the lentils will have absorbed a great deal. Now add the salt to taste- go easy and stick to one teaspoon only. You can always add more salt at the table. Cover and leave for twenty more minutes. Just before serving, add a knob of butter and stir into the stew- this gives it a sheen (and is rather delicious).

Sprinkle the dish with chopped parsley and serve at once. I accompany the ragoût with steamed green beans tossed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. After a bowl of the ragoût, a light cheese and two squares of chocolate is all I need!

PS I make a ton of this and freeze it- that way when I come home shattered from work I do not have to cook.

PPS Beef, chicken, pork, anything really, all work well with this dish. The secret is to brown the meat and onions and to deglaze with red wine.

PPPS Forget about using stock when cooking- if a dish is well executed, it won't need it. I only ever use fish stock when making sauces for fish simply because the depth of flavour can be lacking with white fish in particular.

Photo copyright SvD.

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