Comfort Eating

It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that I’m a comfort eater.  If I’ve had a bad day, my first thoughts turn to what I can eat to make myself feel better…and yes, the craving is almost always for salt and pepper squid or something else that is deep fried and ultimately terrible for me.

This is the bane of my life, it’s what keeps me fat because more days than I would like turn out badly for a variety of reasons.  Somehow I have to break this sadness/stress/anxiety-comfort eating cycle and that’s something that I’m just starting to work on.  Hopefully I’ll be able to tackle it but it’s incredibly ingrained so it’s going to be tough to stop.

In the meantime, Winter is pretty much here and I’m going to try to replace my kind of comfort eating (friiiiiiiiiiiied crap) with good comfort eating – casseroles and slow cooked sauces like ragu.

Last weekend I was invited to have lunch with a bunch of people @ShedLikesFood’s flat.  For the record, Shed is a BRILLIANT cook and I constantly steal her recipes.  This one is oxtail ragu.  I bought my oxtail (along with a couple of fresh-as-a-daisy mackerel) from @markymarket who goes to Billingsgate and Smithfields markets in the early hours of the morning so you don’t have to and then brings whatever you have ordered to your office/home later that morning.  BRILLIANT.  I strongly recommend him if you’re London based.  His website is here: linky.

Oxtail ragu (mine made 9 portions)

Here are the ingredients:

In a large casserole pan that you can put straight into the oven, brown off the oxtail (I had 1.6kg.)  While that’s happening, chop up your vegetables – for 1.6kg of oxtail I used 3 onions, 3 carrots, 3 sticks of celery and 6 cloves of garlic.  They don’t need to be cut up too teeny tiny so it shouldn’t take too long/be too laborious.  Once the oxtail looks like this:

remove it from the pan, add the vegetables and soften until they look like this:

Add the oxtail back to the pan with 1 and a half tins of tomatoes (chopped or whole plum – doesn’t really matter), a tomato tin of water, 3/4 of a bottle of red wine,  salt and pepper and the aromatics:

I used 6 bay leaves, a couple of large sprigs of thyme and 1 and a half star anise (the star anise MAKES this – don’t even think about leaving it out.  It gives a lovely, warm, gentle spiciness to the sauce.)  Bring it all to the boil and then put it into the oven, preheated to about 120c.  And then go off and do other things.  I watched 127 Hours and took photos of Ralphie and my neighbouring gardens:

 How pretty???

Obviously you can do something else.  Have a bath.  Read a book.  Do the Davina workout DVD.  If you’re Shed, you would be putting this together at about 1am and then sodding off to bed and letting it do its own thing (incidentally, Shed cooked hers on the hob on the very lowest possible flame – you can do this if you don’t want to put the oven on.)

After 4 hours (you can totally leave it for longer) it will look like this:

Looks grim, right?  Right.  So, now the fun bit!  Whip out all of the oxtail and set aside.  Put the pan on the hob, turn the heat up to max and bubble the crap out of the sauce.  You want to reduce it right down so that it is thick and silky.  This may take around half an hour or you may not need to do it at all (Shed didn’t) so you’ll have to use your brain a bit here.  While the sauce is reducing, take the meat off the oxtail bones and shred.  You should take a bit of care with this, especially if you are watching your weight, as there are some bits that are a little bit fatty – I was quite fussy with mine and removed all those bits.  There are also some bits that just look like they’re going to be really chewy – ditch them too.

Try not to eat too much of this while you’re doing it…not easy.  Once the stock has reduced right down, check for seasoning (it needs quite a lot of salt and pepper) and then add the oxtail back into the sauce.  And you’re done!  Here is the finished product on gnocchi (shop bought – I’m going to try making my own soon to see if they’re vastly better):

It’s completely delicious – so comforting and silky and soft and YUM.  It’s already one of my favourite things and is incredibly easy, trust me.  If I can do it, anyone can, but make sure you do the following:
(1) Cook it long and on a very low temperature.  If you cook it on too high a temperature, the meat just won’t fall apart and go melty in the way that you want it to and it just won’t really work.
(2) Reduce, reduce, reduce.  I reduced mine by at least half.  You want the sauce to end up the consistency of single cream at least, maybe even double if you can manage it.  The sauce mustn’t be too wet because it won’t coat your pasta/gnocchi properly and if you don’t reduce it enough, you just won’t get the depth of flavour that you’re after.  There is quite a lot of cooking liquid which you need in order for it to cover the oxtail, but you need to get it concentrated.
(3) Season it.  Don’t be scared of salt and pepper, they’re essential and make things taste nice.  Keep tasting and adding but, for the love of god, don’t burn your tongue like I did.  It still hurts, 30 hours later.

So that’s ragu!  Easy peasy lemon squeezy and tasty.  And the best bit is that I got 9 portions out of it so have 7 in the freezer!  AMAZING.  Next up: chicken casserole.  I want a “white” recipe (i.e. no tomatoes/red wine) so if anyone has any suggestions, please pass them on.

F x