Thursday, 4 March 2010

Cooking for pleasure

Today's cooking day was called off at the last minute because of client illness - which left me with a free day and a cooking urge to satisfy.

One trip to the market later and I was stood in my kitchen with some calves kidneys (rognons de genisse) and a lamb shank (jarret d'agneau) resting on the worktop in front of me. Both came from M Campaci in the meat market, in my view the purveyor of the best beef, veal and lamb in Carcassonne.

The kidneys had been beautifully prepared by the butcher and needed just the minimum of final trimming and cutting to size. I decided on a very simple pan fried treatment. I melted some butter over a medium high heat and gently fried the kidneys on both sides so they were still pink in the middle. Just before they were cooked, I added a dash of marsala, some grainy French mustard, some cream and seasoning which deglazed the pan whilst amalgamating into an unctuous dressing for the kidneys. Tip them onto a plate, sprinkle liberally with finelly chopped parsley and some more seasoning and eat with fresh buttered baguette. That is a top lunch.

Lamb shank, of course, demands a slow not a fast approach and rather than the traditional mashed potato that might be served with it in the UK I wanted something more French and more local and nothing could be more French and more local than the haricots blancs or lingots of Castelnaudary, the staple ingredient of the world famous dish of this region - cassoulet.

Brown or caramelise the lamb shank in melted butter and oil on all sides. Add chopped onion and garlic and cook without colouring until soft. Add a glass of white wine and reduce by half followed by some lamb or veal stock, a bay leaf, a couple of sprigs of rosemary or thyme (or both or whatever you have to hand) and the beans. Put the lid on and cook in the oven at a lowish temperature of 160 degrees for 2 hours. Then add some halved cherry tomatoes and some seasoning and put back in the oven for another hour with the lid off - you want the liquid to be absorbed by the beans but you don't want it to dry out so keep an eye on it.

The lamb should fall off the bone and the wine, stock and meat and tomato juices will have made a delicious sauce for the beans. Serve with a crisp dressed green salad, some baguette for mopping up those juices and a good Minervois or Corbieres red wine. Fabulous.

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