One-Pot

Idaho Stew (Beef Coffee Stew)

It was only when I finally moved to Cape Town to be with my partner that I realised I had, in fact, moved in with my own private flavourphobe.

From the very first meal I made us, it was abundantly clear that any thoughts I may have been harbouring about bringing about instant flavour-reform to his palette were a complete waste of time. His tastes preferences were set and I would simply have come to terms with the fact that there wasn’t going to be a belacan-epiphany or a glorious moment of garlic-redemption on the immediate horizon. Regardless how I felt about it, I had made my proverbial table so, for now at least, I was just going to have to eat at it.

Beef Coffee StewFor the first few months I dutifully made the plain dishes he enjoyed, but like all good spouses I was really doing what we do best – biding time. An errant garlic clove here, an extra splash of Worcestershire sauce there, little by little I tested the waters and after a while I began to introduce new dishes for his consideration. Some of these offerings were more successful than others, some were downright disasters, although with hindsight the roasted lamb with anchovies was particularly ill considered!

And then I discovered the recipe for this incredible stew.

On paper Idaho Stew fit the bill perfectly; it was a simple, old school beef braise with one small twist – it had coffee in it! It may seem minor now, but please remember that, culinarily speaking, South Africa was a very different place back in 2000. Back then the mere notion of sushi was downright provocative and the thought of cooking a savoury dish with coffee was considered, at best, daring to most South Africans (let alone my dearest flavourphobe)! So yes, back then this humble stew was a risk, but I had to try it, lest I be condemned to making sausage, peas and mash for the rest of my life.

So one night I bit the bullet and dished up my ‘daring’ new stew for dinner. With baited breath I watched as he eyed my latest offering with understandable suspicion. “What is it?”, he asked. “Oh, nothing weird, just a stew” I said, in what I hoped was my most casual voice. “Hmm, okay”, came the reply. Clearly he wasn’t convinced, perhaps the lingering trauma of that damn anchovy lamb was playing on his mind. In spite of his obvious suspicions he took a bite, albeit tentitively and after a moment of furrowed consideration he took another, then another – the stew was hit! It was only once his plate was cleared that I dared divulge the contentious ingredient.

“Coffee? Really? You can’t taste it”.

Wow, he was taking this surprisingly well.

“You can definitely make this again”.

Oh, sweet success!

“But next time may I have it with rice and not mash?”.

Sigh. Okay, so you’re still a freak, but I’ll take the win.

To this day Idaho Stew remains a firm favourite in his limited pantheon of acceptable meals and I still make it often, although he normally refers to it as “his coffee stew” suggesting a secret revelry in the kudos of his expanded palette. These days I usually have a couple of handy portions of this stew in the back of the freezer which I whip out for my partner when we have guests and the menu isn’t to his taste. Unfortunately, this seems to have given his much loved “coffee stew” a bad rep as one of “Brian’s meals”, which is, frankly, simply a byword for dull.

Nothing could be further from the truth! This rich stew is chock full of flavour and should appeal to the whole family…whether or not you dare to tell them that the secret ingredient is coffee is, of course, entirely up to you!

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Slow Braised Brisket

Ah, slow-braised brisket – could there be a more quintessential culinary expression of Jewish motherly love?

For me, sadly, Jewish food has always been the forbidden fruit of world cuisine, but considering I grew up in a country which doesn’t recognize the state of Israel, it is hardly that surprising that my knowledge of Jewish food isn’t as intimate as I would like it to be!

Slow Braised BrisketUnfortunately, like so much in life, what little I do know about Jewish cuisine has been gleaned from that most dubious window into the world: 80s television. As a youngster, I loved nothing more than watching my weekly staple of disapproving 5th Avenue matriarchs and their well-heeled families. Aside from their wonderfully mordant sense of humour, I was always most drawn to the food they ate, marvelling at the mysterious treats they dished up at their vast family gatherings. Matzah balls, brisket, lox and latkes – to my ear they all sounded wonderfully exotic and the characters’ enthusiasm for the food was infectious. Of course, given my complete lack of exposure to all things Jewish at the time, I had no idea that these delightfully brisk people were anything other that well-to-do Americans. The fact that they (and their food) were Jewish was utterly lost on me. I simply assumed that all New Yorkers invariably had amazing apartments, a psychologist in the family and almost always wanted to marry their daughters off to “good boys” and doctors. As a child I did, however, know one thing for sure: more than anything else, I desperately wanted to know what brisket tasted like.

Some 30 years later, I am pleased to say that I have finally tasted the allusive dish and damn it, brisket is as delicious as I had imagined it would be! I was so excited the first time I made brisket, I could scarcely contain myself – 3 hours in the oven is an eternity to wait to taste a childhood dream. Meltingly tender, wholesome and served with a richly flavoured sauce, this is essentially the ultimate pot-roast, but made with a very special cut of meat.

Simple, classic and worthy of its iconic status: whether you know its Rosh Hashanah or not, a good brisket is always worth the wait! 

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Chilli con Carne

Chilli con Carne NachosBelieve it or not, but there was a time when I was completely at sea when it came to cooking and Chilli con Carne was my only lifeline!

Admittedly back in my university days, my Chilli’s “secret ingredient” was a packet of Knorr Chilli con Carne flavouring, but given the dish was also made with cheap soya mince, the dubious origins of its flavour-base was the least of its problems! That said, my Chilli was still the stuff of legend in my digs and its fame wasn’t without merit. In spite of its shortcomings it still tasted pretty damn good, but given my only real competition was marmite on toast, my culinary supremacy was pretty much a given!

Mercifully, my cooking has improved somewhat since those dark days and my Chilli con Carne has since had a much needed makeover. Rather unsurprisingly, the soya mince and glorified packets of MSG have fallen to the wayside and have been replaced with more natural ingredients, but don’t be fooled – this is still good eating, just on a slightly improved budget!

Aside from the exclusion of various e-numbers and MSG, key to the elevation of my Chilli from student fare to tex-mex bliss is the inclusion of some dark chocolate. By simply adding a bit of chocolate, this dish develops a depth of flavour that is hard to beat…give the Chilli sufficient time to mellow and you’ll have an overnight sensation!

There are many ways to eat Chilli. You can simply serve it with some plain white rice, topped with a spoonful of sour cream and snipped chives or you can use it as a filling for burritos by wrapping it up in a tortilla with salad and guacamole. These days, however, my favourite way to eat Chilli is by making nachos! Simply add the chilli to a pile of tortilla chips, sprinkle with all your favourite toppings and voilà: nachos’fantastico!

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Cider Braised Beef Short-ribs

Being half Asian I naturally adore food packed with flavour and usually in my kitchen that means spicy and exotic, but sometimes I crave the simple home-cooked comforts of my mother’s land. It may be the inner-Brit in me, but there are days when you can just keep your kimchi and beef rendang – all I want is toad-in-the-hole or a proper Sunday roast!

Without a chilli nor spice in sight, this dish is the epitome of what I would call real British comfort-food. Made with just a few seemingly unassuming ingredients, this humble stew seems to come out with more flavour than was put in! Uncomplicated and yet rich with depth, this dish is the perfect example of good food, made simply.

Adapted from Leiths Meat Bible, this amazing braise goes well with just about anything. Feeling sophisticated? Serve it with classic mash potato and some sautéed kale with grapes. Feeling rustic? Just grab some fresh crusty bread and mop-up the delicious sauce!

Kimchi and beef rendang? Lord knows I still love them, but when old-school British comfort-food tastes this good, you could be forgiven for never wanting anything else!

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Pork, Chickpea & Black Pudding Stew

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I have a real soft spot for a good old slice of black pudding!

A grim stalwart of a true Full English, black pudding has for many years been perceived as being one of the more unpalatable progeny of British cuisine. Along with the likes of jellied eels and winkles, black pudding harks back to an era when Britain was not unfairly considered the culinary backwater of Europe. Mercifully though, the tide has long since turned and thanks to an army of parading TV chefs, there is a renewed appreciation of local produce and food traditions in the UK. As a result, British cuisine has witnessed an unprecedented renaissance and thankfully, winkles not withstanding, the likes of black pudding have come along for the ride. Unfortunately, the reality is that few ingredients can transcend disgusting to de rigueur, but black pudding is slowly making its way back into the mainstream of British cuisine.

In nearby Spain, however, black pudding has had a far easier time of it. Known as morcilla or blood sausage, the Spanish seem to have none of the hang-ups about eating it that typically plauge its British cousin. Whether it be simply fried and served with bread or used to add depth and flavour to stews and soups, morcilla remains popular throughout Spain, if not the entire Spanish-speaking world.

Which brings me to this delightfully hearty stew!

On the face of it, this is just another typical Spanish stew, but what sets this recipe apart is, of course, the addition of black pudding. One of the last ingredients to be added, the black pudding has a transformative effect on the dish and is an absolute flavour-masterstroke – especially if the stew is afforded an evening to mature in the fridge. First fried and then added at the final stage of cooking, the black pudding melds with the sauce as it simmers, adding a depth and richness that elevates this humble stew to new, delicious, heights! 

For more great one-pot wonders from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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Cape Malay Green Bean Bredie

As I have said in previous posts, bredies are an inescapable part of traditional South African cuisine and are, to many, the quintessential definition of South African huiskos (home cooking). And whilst tomato bredie may rule supreme in most kitchens, there are a number of different types of bredies that remain popluar, green bean bredie being chief among these.

Although less stew-like than it’s tomatoey cousin, the green bean version retains the key element that separates a bredie from a regular stew, that being that no liquid is added during the main cooking process. Instead of simmering in a liquid like a conventional stew, a bredie is self-saucing. Other than an initial splash of water when cooking the onions, absolutely no water is added to a bredie and its flavour is purely formed from the rendered juices from the lamb and the steam from the cooking vegetables, resulting in a dish that transcends its humble basic ingredients.

That said, I personally believe that green bean bredies can be a tad dry and can actually benefit from a bit of water after (and only after) the cooking process is complete. Controversial I know, but adding a dash of water when reheating the bredie will not only aid in warming the dish through, it will also ensure that the bredie’s wonderful flavours are given a chance to truly come to the fore.

Green Bean BredieAs with my version of tomato bredie, I have drawn inspiration from Cass Abrahams‘s recipe, albeit with some unorthodox cooking methods of my own. Cass Abrahams is widely regarded as the reigning queen of Cape Malay cooking and her recipes are often the launching point for many of my own.

When I initially attempted to make bredies my efforts were a tad watery and the meat would often come out a little tough. My first few efforts were so bad, they were given an unequivocal thumbs-down by my bredie-loving partner! Devastated, my early failures were enough to put me off making bredies for many years! When I eventually built up enough courage to attempt a bredie again, I decided that I needed to reinvent the cooking process to deal with my bredie-deficiencies.

I started by addressing my “watery” sauce. This was solved by first dredging the meat in seasoned flour before browning it thoroughly, resulting in a “fuller” finish to the sauce. To deal with my tough meat disasters, I decided to cook the bredie in the oven and not on the stove as it is typically done. Whilst I cook my tomato bredie in the oven for the entire cooking time, I only do so for the first half of the recipe when making green bean bredie, as I find the vegetables render superior flavour from being cooked on the stove-top. Either way, bredie traditionalists would be mortified by my preferred cooking method, but I find that cooking it in the oven helps creates an intensity in the gravy that you wouldn’t otherwise get when cooking it in the conventional way. I have been making all my bredies in this way for many years now and they have always been a success, the meat is invariably melt-in-your-mouth tender and the sauce is thick and bursting with flavour.

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Ossobuco

OssobucoArguably the figlio preferito of Lombardy’s regional cuisine, ossobuco is, perhaps, the ultimate Italian braise. This is not a dish for the fainthearted, this is real stick-to-your-ribs fare! I would categorise ossobuco as lick-your-plate food, something that, even in the politest of company, I cannot help but do!

Sadly though, like many other Italian classics, ossobuco has suffered more than its fair share of well intended culinary-meddling and is, more often than not, worse off for it. Of course, there is never a definitive version of any Italian recipe. Familial traditions and regional variations are the norm throughout Italy and, as a result, there are countless interpretations of how to cook ossobuco. But as with all culinary classics, there are always rules and whilst none are ever truly set in stone, these are the three “ossobuco rules” that I recommend adhering to:

  1. Meat: Ossobuco should only ever be made with veal shanks. Unfortunately this isn’t really negotiable, as it simply would not be ossobuco if it was made with beef shanks, or perish the thought, lamb. Whilst the braise still works well with either beef or lamb shanks, you could not in good conscious call the dish ossobuco if you used either of these.
  2. Bone-marrow: Ossobuco literally translates as bone-hole, so it should come as no surprise that bone-marrow is an inescapable part of the dish. In fact, sucking out the tender veal-marrow is integral to the joy of eating ossobuco. If you are still haunted by Mad Cow disease, then this most definitely isn’t the dish for you!
  3. Accompaniments: In truth, ossobuco can be served with just about anything; whether it be with a crisp potato rosti or with buttery mash, it will be delicious. But just because it tastes good, doesn’t make it right! Traditionally ossobuco is always served with risotto alla Milanese and is typically garnished with a sprinkling of gremolata. Sometimes tradition knows best and this is such a time, the combination of all three elements is simply stellar! Even if you don’t serve it with the risotto, I would urge you not to skip the gremolata – it is very easy to make and elevates the ossobuco to an entirely different level.

For aficionados there are, of course, a myriad of other do’s and don’ts: should tomato be added, red wine or white? To be honest, our pantries and situations do not always allow us the luxury of perfection so, rules or no rules, we have to make do with what we have available.

As much as I absolutely love ossobuco, I usually have mixed emotions whenever I see it on a menu and I never order it lightly. Despite my mind being awash with those pesky “rules”, provided the basic tenets are adhered to, my leap of faith is invariable justified and I still enjoy my dining choice irrespective of my skepticism. Testament, perhaps, to ossobuco’s infinite variability and appeal. I guess you just can’t keep a good dish down!

For more Italian Classics from The Muddled Pantry, please click here

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Pork, Fennel and Butter Bean Stew

Pork, Fennel & Butter Bean StewI have always been a fan of one-pot wonders and this has to be one of my all-time favourites!

Not to be confused with the classic, tomato-based, Spanish stew of Pork, Chorizo & Butter Beans, this wonderful piquant braise is, however, equally delicious! Whilst not strictly Spanish, this humble stew has all the hallmarks of Iberian cuisine; uncomplicated, but packed full of flavour. I must however confess that I don’t usually enjoy dishes that are overtly lemony, but this stew is an exception. The chunks of smoky chorizo adds depth to the zesty broth which, in turn, balances the richness of the pork shoulder. All great meals are about balance, and this stew walks that tightrope brilliantly!

Traditional accompaniments aside, this dish goes very well with just about anything and whilst some fresh tagliatelle or simple mash would be awesome, I personally love it with just some crusty bread. What better way to mop up the delicious sauce? Add a simple rocket/arugula salad, pour yourself a glass of chilled white wine and you have true Mediterranean bliss on a plate. Phenomenal.

For more delicious one-pot wonders, please click here

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Merluza à la Gallega (Spanish Hake and Chorizo)

imageOn the face of it, South African and Spanish cuisines have virtually nothing in common, except for one thing – both countries consume a staggering amount of hake!

Know as merluza in Spain and often referred to as stockfish in South Africa, hake is a staple in both countries. Sadly, hake in South Africa is usually relegated to being given the “fish ‘n chips treatment”, which is a shame as its light and delicate flavour deserves so much more. Generally considered an every-man’s fish, when it comes to more complex dishes, South Africans tend to pass over hake in favour of classier fish like kob or kingklip. In Spain, however, hake is viewed with slightly more reverence than it is afforded in South Africa and, as a result, it benefits from a greater appreciation of its true potential.

My favourite way of sprucing up a piece of hake, Merluza à la Gallega is a revelation to all hake loving South Africans! Quick, tasty and relatively cheap to make, this dish is a true one-pot wonder. I love to serve this dish with some day-old ciabatta, drizzled with some olive oil and lightly grilled – it is the perfect way to mop up the smoky broth!

Trust me, you will never see the humble hake in quite the same way ever again. Impossibly good.

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Lamb Tagine with Dates

Lamb Tagine with DatesA firm family favourite, this tagine is sweet and intensely spiced.

So much so, I rarely make this dish for anybody else other than my partner. Not because it isn’t utterly delicious, but because it is almost bludgeoning in its intensity and is not for the fainthearted; this is real stick-to-your-ribs type cooking!

On the few occasions I have served it to others it has always gone down a treat, I just make sure that the friends I make it for like this style of cooking. The trick to getting away with serving a dish packed with this much flavour is to pair it with a simple side dish like plain couscous or a zingy lemon-soaked tabbouleh…or, if you are my partner, some plain white rice! And whilst I despair at the latter, it is a miracle that my partner likes this dish at all so I don’t push the matter, but I normally discourage such pandering and recommend couscous as the appropriate accompaniment.

For more delicious Moroccan recipes please click here or if you would like to read more about tagines please click here

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