Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Cold comfort

My parents bought me an electric slow cooker a few years back and a great boon it has been, even before the weather turned nasty. It has two great advantages:

  • You prep the food, chuck it in the pot, plug in and go away.
  • There are a lot of cuts of meat that are cheap and very tasty but too tough to just whap on the grill for five seconds and pretend it's cooked.

When we were kids (and every so often now if I'm lucky when I pop round for lunch) we would have shin beef. This would have been simmering on a low heat on the hob for a few hours beforehand and delicious it was, too. This is a good one to do in a slow cooker. In these times of financial crisis, it's worth pointing out that it's dead cheap, too*.


  • Shin of beef, cut into lumps about one- or two-inch cubed
  • A few carrots
  • A big onion
  • Some spuds
  • Water

Unless the cow was very, very, very young, shin of beef is meat that has done a lot of work. On the down side it isn't naturally tender. On the plus side it's jam-packed with flavour. Slow cooking breaks down the connective tissue that makes it so chewy. You'll want to trim off any excess fat (I know fat means flavour but there'll be plenty enough left within the meat itself). Don't brown the meat before placing it in the pan. I know you're supposed always to do it, just this once don't. Shin of beef tends to go "eek!" at the touch of direct heat.

Choice of variety of spud? If it'll make good chips it'll do fine here. There are times when a potato's tendency to fall enriches a dish, tater hash being a case in point, but in this case we want the potatoes to take on the taste of the stew but keep their identity.

Chop the carrots and onions up. Not too finely, you don't want them disintegrating, about the thickness of a pound coin will do.

Chuck everything into the pot; roughly, veg then meat then veg, and just cover with water. You don't want to get to the top of the pan: both the meat and the vegetables will release more water. A bit of salt and a very little pepper. Slowly bring the pot to the boil. Give it a minute or two then turn the heat right down to barely a simmer. Now leave it alone for at least three hours. The meat should be tender by now. If not, leave it a bit longer. (Actually, this is a good one to do one day and reheat the next.) The flavour of the meat and vegetables will have infused both the clear, golden broth and the potatoes.

Dead simple, cheap, unpretentious and tasty, honest.

You can complicate this if you want. Turnips work well with the carrots. Peppers, garlic, mushrooms, the gourds of your choice, can each or all add their little something. If, like me, you like pearl barley, chuck a handful in. You may want to add beans. Parsley stalks are good additions (tie them together, you'll be wanting to remove them at the end); you can add the shredded leaves at the end of the cooking (I'm not sophisticated enough to know words like chiffonade). A bay leaf or two; or myrtle if you have it. Thyme's good, as is marjoram. Rosemary and tinned tomatoes gives it that 1980s "Provencal" vibe. You might want to add a slug of Worcestershire Sauce. Or anchovy essence. Or wine. Or ale. You get the idea.

An uncompromisingly savoury version can be made by replacing the water with Guinness and adding a few chopped-up pickled walnuts. You might find the results a bit bitter for your taste, if so you can ease it back up a bit by adding a tablespoonful of redcurrant jelly and giving it another quarter of an hour.

* Of course, if you're really on your uppers you'd probably just be having beans on toast anyway.


fairyhedgehog said...

It sounds great, even though I'm not a great fan of beef. I like recipes like this that give you plenty of room for variation.

librarylizzie said...

Excellent! We bought a slow cooker in the january sales and I bought a cookbook with some of my xmas book vouchers. Tonight we have Goulash! I'll report back!

worm said...

shin of beef is an awesome piece of meat when slow cooked! we recently had the following recipe from the new River Cottage cookbook and it is my favourite shin of beef recipe ever!

Scarlet Blue said...

...beans on toast it s then...

Kevin Musgrove said...

fairyhedgehog: I expect you can give it a go with other types of meat. Like as not I'll post a veggie on later this week, given the state of things here.

lizzie: excellent. You can borrow books from libraries you know (-:

worm: thanks for the link, that looks very interesting!

Scarlet: we're going to have to have food parcels airlifted in for you my girl

Joanna Cake said...

What? No dumplings? You cant make a great stew without dumplings or cobblers :)

Kevin Musgrove said...

That's a point. Joanna, I've never tried dumplings in the slow cooker. One to try.

savannah said...

i have a slow cooker sitting in my cabinet. it's been sitting there for a year. prior to that it sat in another cabinet in another house for 2 years. i think i might give it a try, sugar! thanks for the inspiration. xooxoxox

Gadjo Dilo said...

Sounds great. It's always pork here and frankly I'm tired of it. Pearl barley though, that takes me back....

Kevin Musgrove said...

Savannah: give it a go, really! I've just got my Xmas presents off my sister and her partner, including a huge (528-page) book of slow cooker recipes, so you don't only have to stick with this one recipe. (-:

Gadjo: makes you wonder what they do with all those retired buffalo...

Gaw said...

Funnily enough had this for the first time last week at a friend's in Cornwall. You're right - it really is very good (this one was with beer). In fact, I resolved to add it to my roster. We haven't got a slow cooker but use a tagine for slow-cooking which seems to work well enough.

Kevin Musgrove said...

Gareth: tagines do a nice slow cook, sounds good to me.