I’ve always loved the idea of slow-cooked meat, the sort that falls off the bone (if it has one) and disintegrates in your mouth. When it’s done well, the intensity of flavour is wonderful and minimal effort for the jaw an added bonus. And then there’s that glorious aroma that wafts from the kitchen as you sit back on the couch with a good book and a glass of iced-tea. It’s the oven that does the work.
Of course, slow-cooked means forethought. And frankly, occasions for that are rare. Most weekdays I walk into the kitchen with no more than an hour to make good with whatever’s been left out to thaw that day. Slow is not the word. Still, there are weekends and with just a little planning, a decent slow-cook is really quite easy.
Earlier this year, in the heat of the post-Christmas summer, I tripped over a recipe from the English chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. While I normally associate slow-cooked meat with the cold of winter, Hugh’s recipes for a Thai version reminded me that I’ve eaten some of the best slow-cooked meats in the heat of South East Asian cities. Inspired by the thought, I’ve taken Hugh’s recipe and adapted it to my own taste. Served with a bowl of lightly dressed salad leaves and herbs from the garden, this is seriously good, relatively cheap to make, and a great end to a summer’s afternoon.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED
• a 1.5 kg piece of beef shin, off the bone. Also known as the shank (or gravy beef), the shin is taken from the animal’s lower leg. It’s a well-worked muscle full of connective tissue that breaks down through slow-cooking. The result is a moist and tender meat with a really rich flavour. I like it.
• 1 good-sized red onion, peeled and chopped into large pieces.
• 2-3 stems of lemongrass. Give them a few good whacks with a meat tenderiser or the flat side of a cleaver to release the flavour.
• A couple of fresh chilies (whatever ones you have available), roughly chopped. I leave the seeds in, but you can deseed if you prefer.
• A handful of garlic cloves (4-6), peeled and sliced.
• A knob of fresh ginger (about 30 grams or so), peeled and thinly sliced.
• 4 fresh kaffer lime leaves, scrunched up.
• 3 tablespoons of fish sauce.
• 3 tablespoons of rice vinegar.
• 2 tablespoons of sugar.
• 1 cup of water.
• Some veggies, depending on what’s in the garden or the fridge. Hugh recommends a couple of fresh leeks chopped up, though my kids are less keen. Last time I used some small eggplants from my beloved’s garden along with her cherry tomatoes of various colours. Oh, and a red capsicum.
• the juice of 2 large limes.
• a generous handful of coriander leaves, roughly chopped.
• a less generous handful of Thai basil leaves.
HERE’S WHAT YOU DO
• Preheat the oven to 220c.
• Cut the meat into handful-sized chunks and toss into a large roasting pan. Season with some salt and pepper and roast for about 20 minutes. No oil necessary. The meat should be nicely browned and sitting in lots of its own juice. Take the pan out of the oven and reduce the heat to 150c.
• Add to the meat the red onion, lemongrass, chilies, garlic, ginger and limes leaves. Combine the fish sauce, vinegar, sugar and water and pour over the meat. Stir well. Cover the roasting dish with foil secured at the edges and return to the oven for 1.5 hours.
• Take the pan from the oven, carefully lift the foil without tearing it and stir in the veggies. Re cover and return to the oven again, this time for 1 hour.
• Remove the roasting pan from the oven and set the foil aside. Squeeze over the lime juice and scatter the coriander and basil leaves.
Serve the meat with steamed rice and some salad leaves or fresh steamed green veggies, whichever you prefer. Now back to the couch and enjoy! You’ll need a serviette or three, and a toothpick once it’s gone.