Ham Hock and Stock

Ham stock

This is proper frugal food. A whole ham hock costs me £1.75 – and that’s a posh organic one from my local farmer’s market – and it’s easily made to stretch to three meals. It baffles me why this isn’t a more widely used joint of meat. Granted, the initial cooking takes some time but you’re not standing at the stove slaving away over it, it just bubbles away on its own for a few hours. If I wasn’t so paranoid about accidentally burning down my flat, I’d put this on in the morning, go out and do other things, and then come back and it would be ready. As it is, it’s a pleasant Sunday night ritual to cook a ham hock ready for the week.

You also end up with a great big ham bone. As tempting as it is to give this to a dog, a vet friend of mine told me off for doing this because the bone will have softened in the cooking and splinters easily. So. Don’t do that.

Ingredients for Stock

A ham hock
2 carrots
1 onion, red or white
6 or so peppercorns
6 or so juniper berries if you have them
A couple of bay leaves
A bouquet garni if you have it
Celery, leeks, whatever veg you have in except for brassicas like cabbage, broccoli or spouts. They can rather overpower the stock.

No salt – the ham is salty enough itself.

The Cooking

You don’t need to peal anything, just wash the veg, cut the bulkier items in half and then bung all the ingredients in a large pan. Pour in cold water slowly. The reason you do it slowly is that you don’t want to disturb the fat on the ham too much – if the fat gets jostled and dislodged, bits of it will float around in the water and this is what makes stock cloudy and greasy. The water should just cover the ingredients.

Put it on a low to medium heat on the hob (stovetop). The aim is for the fat and scum to rise to the surface as intact as possible so you can skim it off easily and the stock stays clear.

Once it’s come to a gentle simmer, skim off any fat and scum that has risen to the surface with a spoon. Turn down the heat even more. You want the barest of simmering going on – the occasional “bloop” from a bubble every few seconds. This is so that the collagen in the meat softens and dissolves, which flavours the stock and means the meat doesn’t dry out.

For the first half an hour or so, check back and skim off any further rubbish that’s risen to the surface. After this time it will probably have all risen. You can do now go off and do your own thing for a few hours. I give it a stir every hour or so to make sure there’s no ingredients poking out of the top of the water and drying up.

The liquid will reduce a bit, which is a good thing. The flavours are getting concentrated. After 4 hours it should be nearly ready. Have a taste. If it’s full of flavour, it’s ready.

Strain the stock through a fine mesh colander into a suitable container and leave it to cool. You now have stock:

And ham:

Once the ham has cooled, tear it off the bone and either eat straight away or put it in the fridge for later. Chuck the veg and fat away, it’s no use to anyone but the pigs now.*

You can use the stock straight away but it might be a bit greasy. Instead, let it cool and then leave it in the fridge overnight. In the morning there will be a layer of fat on the top which you can skim off. The stock will probably be jellified, which is a great sign because it means you got the temperature right and the gelatin from the bones has leached out and the stock will be really full of flavour. It’ll become liquid again when you heat it up.

The stock is now ready for use. Tomorrow’s post will be a selection of recipes for the ham and stock.

*Don’t feed pigs with it. That would be wrong.

Minced Beef and Onion Hotpot

Minced beef and onion hotpot

This is an uncomplicated but delicious autumn and winter dinner. The nights are drawing in with astonishing rapidity and it’s the perfect time of year for your one-dish meat and potato combo.

I add ketchup and mustard to the filling, which is not very fancy but gives a pleasing tangyness to what might otherwise be a slightly bland dish.

Serves 3 or 4

450g minced beef
2 large potatoes
1 large onion
2 carrots
1 tbsp tomato puree and 1 tbsp ketchup, or 2 tbsp ketchup
1 tsp mustard. I use dijon mustard.
Worcestershire sauce
A little butter
Salt and pepper

The Cooking

Pre-heat the oven to 180c/350F.

Peel and slice the potatoes, but not too thinly otherwise they’ll turn into crisps. I don’t like giving exact measurements, but they want to be about half a centimetre thick. Put them in some water, bring to the boil and simmer for about 5 minutes. While they’re simmering peel and chop the onion and the carrots fairly small and set aside. When the potatoes are done, drain them and set them aside too.

Now, I admit I do faff about a little bit here. I thoroughly brown the mince, set it aside, then cook the onion and carrots in the same pan, then add the whole thing back together. But there is a good reason for this. You want to cook the meat on a high heat because if it’s not hot enough the meat will release all its water without it evaporating and rather than frying the mince, it stews in its own juices, which makes it rubbery and chewy. It also means that the onions and carrots will fry in the fat from the meat, so you don’t have to use any more oil and they’ll take on the flavour of the beef.

So. On a HIGH heat, fry the mince in a non-stick pan until it’s well browned – perhaps even crispy in places if you like it that way (I do). Then tip out the meat and set it aside. Turn down the heat and add the chopped onion and carrot. Fry them for about 5 minutes until the onion is soft but not burnt. Now re-add the meat and the mustard, tomatoe puree and/or ketchup, a few splashes of worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Fry it for a couple more minutes, stirring well so that the flavour is evenly distributed.

Put the meat mixture into the oven dish and top with the sliced potato, overlapping so that it’s evenly covered. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and dot it evenly with butter. You don’t need loads, just enough to moisten the potato.

Now it goes in the oven and you go and have a sit down for half an hour. After 30 minutes or so, the potato will be nicely browned. Serve it hot – it’s so good. I had mine with mangetout.


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Lamb fillets stuffed with rosemary, garlic and anchovy

stuffed lamb fillets

I use lamb neck fillets quite a lot because they’re a cheap but tasty and versatile cut of meat. I usually use them in curries and casseroles but this is something different and slightly posher. This would also work with pork fillets or chicken breasts.

Serves 2

2 lamb neck fillets
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tbsp rosemary, chopped
1 tbsp anchovy essence or one anchovy, mashed
About 100g breadcrumbs, but use your common sense as to whether you need more or less than that.
1 egg yolk
Salt and pepper to your taste
1 tbsp oil

You’ll also need some string.

The Cooking

Pre-heat the oven to about 180C/350F and cut 6 or so lengths of string, long enough to tie round a fillet.

No faffing about here – just mix together all the ingredients except the lamb. The egg yolk will bind it all together and it should be squidgy but not particularly wet or dry. With a knife, slit the fillet open but don’t cut all the way through. Lie the fillet onto the string and put the stuffing down the middle of it as in the picture above.

Tie the fillets up with the string. Heat some oil in a frying pan until it’s very hot and fry the fillets quickly on all sides. You’re not trying to cook it through, just give it a nice brown colour on the outside. Once upon a time chefs would have told you this was “sealing” the meat but we all know now this is rubbish. You are in fact subjecting it to the Maillard browing reaction.

Once they’ve got a bit of colour, put the fillets into the oven for about 20 minutes. As it’s lamb, it doesn’t need to be cooked through and is nice when it’s a bit pink on the inside. If you’re using pork or chicken, you might need to leave it a bit longer to make sure it’s fully cooked through.

Cut off the string and serve it up. Ta dah. We had ours with couscous.

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Lamb, Bacon and Aubergine Casserole

Lamb and bacon casserole

This was a bit of an accidental creation and the photo doesn’t do it justice at all. It was in fact very tasty indeed. I made it up as I went along in that I’ve-had-a-couple-of-beers style of cooking which can so often result in disaster but on this occasion turned out a triumph. I thought that rosemary and cumin go so well with lamb that it had to work… and it did. Give it a go.


2 lamb neck fillets (or any other cheap cut), cut into chunks
Bacon, pancetta or lardons chopped. I’m not sure how much I used. 2 rashers will do.
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 aubergine (eggplant)
1 clove garlic, chopped
1tbsp plain (all-purpose) flour.
1 tin tomatoes
About a tablespoon of rosemary and cumin seeds, ground or chopped
1tsp anchovy sauce (optional)
3 tbsp olive oil

The Cooking
Serves 3 or 2 plus someone’s lunch the next day

Pre-heat the oven to 160C/ 320F. The oven is on quite a low heat because if it’s too hot the lamb will dry up and be tough.

Do your prep – chop the lamb, bacon, onion, garlic and aubergine. Put 2 tablespoons of the oil in a casserole dish and get it good and hot. Fry the onion and bacon in batches (I did it in two batches because if you chuck it all in at once this will lower the heat and the meat will stew rather than fry) until they get a bit brown – they don’t have to be cooked through, just browned. It’s good to get some of the burnt bits caught on the bottom of the pan.

Set the onion and bacon aside and deglaze the pan by pouring in half a cupful of water and scraping up the burnt bits from the bottom of the pan. The liquid should boil rapidly and reduce quite a lot. Pour out the burnt-bits liquid and set aside for later. Effectively, you’ve made some gravy.

Put 1 tbsp oil into the now-empty pan and turn the heat down to medium. Gently fry the onion and aubergine for 10 minutes until they’re soft but not brown. Add the flour, garlic, rosemary and cumin and fry for another minute or so and then add the lamb, bacon and burnt-bits gravy you set aside. Give it a good stir and add the tin of tomatoes and anchovy sauce if you have it.

Bring it up to a simmer and then put it in the oven without a lid. If it seems a bit dry, add some water.

Stir it every 15 minutes or so for an hour. Have a taste – the bacon should have made it salty enough but if you feel it needs seasoning then add it.

After an hour it should be ready and the lanb will be nice and tender. I served mine with couscous but you could also have it with rice, potatoes or pasta.

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Creamy pork and cider casserole

Pork and cider casserole

This is a very simple casserole, good for the approaching autumn. Pork, apples, cream and sage all have a natural affinity and with fluffy mashed potatoes this is a really comforting dinner.

Feeds 2 hungry people

About 300g diced pork.
About 250ml cider – alcoholic or non alcoholic, your choice. But don’t use sweetened apple juice.
1 small onion, roughly chopped
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
About 3 tbsp cream – I used single cream. If you’re feeling low-fat you can use low-fat creme fraiche.
Sage – either about 1/2 tsp dried or 3 or 4 fresh leaves.
1tbsp oil
Salt and pepper to taste

The Cooking

Pre-heat the oven to about 160C/320F. You don’t want it too hot or the pork will dry up.

First, do your prep. Peel and chop the onion and carrots. Do it quite chunky, this is a chunky kind of dish. Heat the oil up in a casserole dish on the hob (stovetop) on a medium heat and when it’s hot chuck in the onion and carrots. Fry them, stirring occasionally for 5 or so minutes until the onion is soft but not brown.

Throw in the diced pork and turn up the heat a bit and fry it for a couple of minutes. You don’t need it to brown and cook through, you’re just searing it. Add the salt, pepper and sage and pour over the cider and bring it up to a simmer. The liquid should be just up to the top of the ingredients – if it’s not then add some water or pour some out. Put the casserole dish in the oven (without a lid).

Now go and have a cup of tea and watch Corrie (for my Americanadian friends read: have a cup of coffee and watch… Day of Our Lives?). Stir the casserole after about 15 minutes so – the liquid should be simmering gently and have reduced a bit. Leave it alone for another 15 minutes and then stir it again, to stop the pork drying out. If you’re having it with mash, put the potatoes on now.

When the potatoes are almost done (or after another 20-ish minutes), add the cream to the casserole. Stir and return to the oven for 5 or 10 minutes (while you finish off the potatoes).

And that’s it, it’s ready to eat.

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Toad in the Hole

toad in the hole

Toad in the hole, for those that don’t know, is basically sausages in Yorkshire pudding batter. No toads involved. No one seems very sure where the name comes from – there is a theory that it originated from a pub game of the same name and while I don’t quite see the link, I hope it’s true. I’d like all my food to be named after pub games.

8 pork/beef or vegetarian sausages (get nice ones, you’ll thank yourself)
2 fresh eggs
125g plain (all-purpose) flour
150ml/5fl oz milk mixed with and 50ml water
1 tbsp mustard (I use dijon)
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons lard (LARD!), dripping or oil.

The Cooking

To make the batter; whisk together eggs, flour, milk, water and mustard. Whisk it well so that it’s nice and smooth with no lumpy bits and it’s about the thickness of runny custard/cream of mushroom soup/double cream (pick a comparison you like). Season with salt and pepper. Set it aside to rest for at least half an hour. This is so that the flour absorbs the liquid properly and relaxes and the whole thing comes to room temperature.

Now get the oven nice and hot – 220C/450F/Gas mark 7. Put the sausages in the baking tray and stick them in the oven for 5 or 10 minutes without turning them over until the tops are brown. This means that you’ll have one brown side and one pale side.

Take the sausages out of the baking dish and set them aside. Put the lard into the baking tray and put it back in the oven. Wait 5 minutes or so until the fat is really, really hot and sizzling and then quickly remove from the oven and pour in the batter. It’ll sizzle pleasantly. Quickly pop the sausages in the batter, pale side up, and put it straight back into the hot oven.

Leave it for 25-30 minutes. Resist the temptation to open the oven door, the cold influx of air may make the batter collapse. After 25 minutes, it should be all puffed up and golden brown. Serve it immediately with some gravy and maybe some greens like peas or cabbage.

Rawr. Good, tasty food.

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