I recently read a post on the BBC Food blog chiding the rise of the ‘quick and easy’ meal and found myself getting rather annoyed with it. “What’s wrong with trying to make your tea in 30 minutes?” I found myself asking no one in particular (as you may have gathered by now, I’m quite fond of shouting at the people inside my computer, thinking that somehow they can hear me). “Seriously, by the time I’ve worked an eight hour day, gone for a run and battled with the delightful Merseyrail, I just don’t have the time left to whip up a delightful Beef Daubé.”
Like many other food writers, I do feel that there’s an over reliance on convenience foods in this country – ready chopped vegetables, horrible plastic pre-grated cheese, expensive over-salted jars of sauce with a celebrity chef’s grinning face on the label. But at the same time, I refuse to feel guilty because sometimes all I want at the end of a long day is a big bowl of something nourishing that I can throw together during the Channel 4 news. And while I’d love to pretend that everyone reading this blog lives in a fantasy world where they can spend their afternoons wandering around artisan markets gazing at perfectly ripe peaches, before coming home to cook Coq au Vin, I’m well aware that the person reading this probably doesn’t because, well, I don’t. And hell, if the average food blogger (a person who – after all – has a vested interest in food) can’t be arsed sometimes, this means that the average person definitely doesn’t.
So, allow me to introduce you to my secret weapon. THE SLOW COOKER. In the great tradition I have of naming all of my household objects, he is called ‘Mr. Steamy’ and I love him with all of the affection that most people devote towards their household pets. I use this bad boy to cook pretty much everything – stews, tagines, sauces, stocks, even the occasional dal. So, on Sunday, when my mind was taken up with higher pursuits (such as screaming at my television when my beloved Manchester City won the premier league), it seemed only natural that I’d drag it out of the cupboard beneath the stairs to make dinner.
This Beef shin braised with Orange Juice, Cinnamon and Star Anise is a Vietnamese-ish dish inspired by what I just found in my cupboards. Beef shin is a relatively cheap cut of beef, which becomes deliciously tender when braised slowly for five hours, whilst its fat turns the sauce wonderfully silky and glossy. The orange juice, soy sauce and beef stock provides it all with a delicious tang, helped in no small part by warmth of the star anise and cinnamon. I served this with toothsome rice noodles and candy pink pickled radishes (which might just be my new favourite garnish).
OK, while it’s a push to say that a slow cooked stew is ‘quick’, it is the kind of thing that you can throw into a crock pot before you go to work, and shovel up in a huge bowl twenty minutes after you walk through your front door. Which, I have to say, is my favourite interpretation of ‘quick and easy’.
BEEF SHIN BRAISED WITH ORANGE JUICE, CINNAMON & STAR ANISE (Serves Two)
You will need:
- 500g beef shin
- 300ml orange juice
- 200ml beef stock (I used Bovril)
- 2 tbsp ginger cordial/a thumb sized knob of fresh ginger, minced
- 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
- The zest of an orange
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 2 star anise
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 fat garlic cloves, crushed
- 5 black peppercorns
- 120g rice noodles
- A handful of mint leaves, julienned
- 2 shallots, sliced and cooked until crispy
- 1 tbsp of pickled radishes (I like David Lebovitz’s recipe)/pickled carrots
- Season your beef shin with salt and pepper, slice it into cubes, and brown.
- Put this into your slow cooker with 150ml of orange juice, the beef stock, soy sauce, ginger cordial (or minced ginger if you’re using it), orange zest, garlic and spices. Cook on a medium-high heat, checking on it occasionally.
- After three hours, add the rest of the orange juice to the pot and give the mixture a good stir. Cook for another two hours.
- Once the meat is fork tender (feel free to take a piece out of the pot and ‘test it’ by eating it), strain the mixture, discarding the spices. Add the beef back to the braising sauce and heat until it turns thick and glossy.
- Prepare your rice noodles by submerging them in boiling water. Drain, and toss with a teaspoon of chilli oil so they don’t stick together as they cool.
- Toss the beef with the rice noodles, and garnish with the mint leaves, crispy shallots and pickled vegetables. This also goes well with an ice cold lager (e.g. Singha or Chang).