Sunday, December 10, 2006

A night at River Cottage

It seems I’m with Hugh Curly-Twitteringsville on this wet December Sunday evening, glowing with the energy of a “one pot wonder” just like the kind advocated in his Weekend column yesterday. Mine was a shank-end leg of lamb, marinated overnight in a mash of rosemary, garlic and olive oil, simmered with a pile of good cannellini beans and a bunch of aromatics for three hours at 150 degrees in some best beef stock. However, motivated by the need for meal we could eat before 1700 while being out all afternoon occupying a cabin-fever-suffering three year-old, I was not apparently thinking along the same lines as HFW on the dish.

As his bacon and borlotti brew bubbled away, probably on his Aga, no doubt filling his stone-walled kitchen with warm cuddliness, Hugh was thinking about a mission to get the nation cooking.
“People who think cooking is a tedious drudge are, quite simply, deluded,” he begins. “The problem is, they'll never find out how wrong they are until they start to cook. Then they will discover very rapidly that cooking is a life-enhancing pleasure of limitless satisfaction and reward.”
While the language is flowery, I obviously can’t disagree with him given that much of my life revolves obsessively yet effortlessly around my evening meals. But I would just like to say one simple thing to him: it’s easy when you know how.

There are three-star soups made from nothing but broccoli, water and salt. There are fine ingredients being offered barley preped in exchange for tens of pounds at thousands of restaurants worldwide every minute of the day. Some dishes are so simple it is mesmerizing. But to suggest that “given the right recipe, [the culinary impoverished nation] can - with just a few simple ingredients, 10 minutes of the most basic preparation and a single pot - put together a meal that will sustain, delight and impress in equal measure” might act as a lifeline to the ready-meal-munching masses is like trying to introduce a heathen to art by way of a large square canvas covered in nothing but uniform, blue paint. It takes experience, sometime genius, to strip bare a recipe. To most people there is a fine, if at all existent, line between a late night pan of student stodge and a rustic, slow-cooked fashion statement.

And just as I found myself blaming Hugh for trying, I came across his bizarre admission of communication shortcomings: “The problem is, you're reading this and [the disadvantaged fools] are not,” he concludes. “Please cut it out and send it to them. Then invite yourself round for dinner to sample their success [read: have a good old chuckle with your foodie friends about how honest yet far off the mark it was]”.

But he was right about one thing: something indeed wonderful happened to my lamb in the process of marinating and cooking. It was the most tender I have ever eaten, each faintly purple muscle fibre clinging only just to its neighbour via a think layer of collagen. It fell off the bone in domes and bulbs and slabs laced with crispy salty fat, and a small pile of this magical matter sat proud of a deep bowl of soft creamy beans and a deep, thick, silky-smooth broth charged with rich lamby fat. Some boiled Savoy with parsley and spinach to garnish. It has put me to sleep.

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