STEP AWAY FROM YOUR EGG TIMERS AND GET DOWN TO SOME PROPER SERIOUS SLOW COOKING!
Forget this vision! Obliterate it from your mind!
Love love love this article from Jay Rayner in last weekend’s Observer magazine. Well worth a read whatever quality time you’ve got to spend in the kitchen. Make yourself a brew and inwardly digest…. TICK TOCK…
Put the words “express” and “cooking” into Amazon and you get 42 pages of book listings including, most recently, Nigellissima: Instant Italian Inspiration, Ainsley Harriott’s Gourmet Express 2 (there was a first volume? Who knew?) and Liz Franklin’s Express Meals: 175 Delicious Dishes You Can Make in 30 Minutes or Less. (Less? LESS? It should be fe … oh, never mind. But honestly if you’re being so bloody quick about the food, couldn’t you have used the extra time to brush up your grammar?) The words “quick” and “cooking” produce more than 100 pages of listings, including quick and easy vegan slow cooking (Eh? What?), while “easy” and “cooking” produces an equal deluge, with recent contributions from Rachel Allen, Lorraine Pascale and Bill Granger. Meanwhile some bloke called Jamie is promising to get dinner on your table in less time than I spend hiding in the bog in the morning.
For God’s sake, people, stop. Or at the very least, slow down a little. Put down the spatula. Step away from the stove. Yes, of course, I know we all lead busy lives. Look at that picture of me at the top of the page. Do you think that hair looks after itself? It’s so high maintenance it has its own online diary. But even so there has to be time for cooking, or at the very least an understanding that it is not merely a means to an end, but an end in itself. I cook therefore I am.
This is never more true than in the season we have just reached. Spring and summer are, of course, great for food, but oh, aren’t they self-satisfied. It’s all asparagus this, and morels that. But the point we have just reached, when autumn shades into the sharp crack of winter, is where the proper down and dirty stuff happens. And as with all the really good things in life, if something’s worth doing it really is worth doing slowly. Or to put it another way, this is the season of the mighty braise. In the past I have described the glorious things that happen when you take a shoulder of lamb and sear it off and then cook it long and slow in a bucket of red wine flavoured with onions, celery, carrots, garlic, chorizo and a scoop of brown sugar as “alchemy”.
Alchemy makes it sound inexplicable and unfathomable. Granted, the best food experiences do have a bit of that going on. Proper cooking charms. But in reality it’s just chemistry. The shoulder is a bit of the animal that works hard and is thus striated with connective tissue; cook it long and slow enough and the collagen starts to break down. Meanwhile the cellular structure of the vegetables collapses in the heat, and a little osmotic pressure allows for an exchange of salts. But the really great thing about all this is that it isn’t “express!” or “quick!”. It takes patience. It takes stamina. It takes commitment. I would also say that, while it isn’t exactly brain surgery, nor is it completely “easy!”. You need to know a few things. You need to know how to build a braising liquor; how to rest the meat at the end and the best way to strain and reduce the liquor to turn it into a sauce without letting it pass from rich to bitter. What matters, though, is the impact of all this on your house. Perhaps you go out for a stroll. And when you return the hall smells of great works. It is a promise, kept. It is commitment shown. It is something you will never, ever get from the words express, quick or easy.
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