If there’s a person to whom Oscar Wilde’s quotation ‘I can resist anything except temptation’ applies more than it does to my husband Séan, I’m yet to meet him. It is possibly why he asked me to marry him after we’d known one another for only six weeks. It is also why, when I sent him to the farmer’s market to pick up a chicken, he came back with a chicken and a cut of beef called Jacob’s Ladder. He’d heard the butcher discussing a recipe for it with another customer and was intrigued. He is also a person who, when presented with two tempting options, he’ll take both. Just wrap ‘em up, thanks, I’ve got a bag (he’s an eco-hedonist after all).
Jacob’s ladder is a small rack of ribs from the forequarter flank extravagantly marbled with fat and richly flavoured. It’s also known as ‘short ribs’ or, more dramatically, ‘oven buster’ because it swells up when you cook it on the bone, giving you something which looks bigger once you take it out of the oven than when you put it in - not something you can say for grander, more rafinée cuts.
The Learmonth brothers from Stock’s Farm in Essex are always great with recipe advice, even when the queue is longer than the one outside Top Shop when Kate Moss introduced her first collection. I knew this was a great braising cut, though I have to admit I was a bit sceptical when Sean explained that to cook it à la Learmonth, we needed to sizzle it at 220C/450F/Gas mark 8 for 20 minutes then turn the heat down to 160C/325F/Gas mark 3 for THREE HOURS. Still, I do like a cut of meat that - with the introduction of a bit of seasoning and heat - does all of the work for you, so I was in. It’s also cheap (our bit cost less than £5), which appeals to my northern thriftiness.
I made a quick paste by grinding up some peppercorns, salt, chilli flakes and English mustard powder and mixing it with a slosh of olive oil then I massaged it into the meat. I put it bone-side down in a roasting tin, bunged it in the oven and gave it a little baste every now and again. When I lifted it onto its warmed platter to rest, the flesh was thick and tempting, raised high around the bones which had protruded from the flesh, flaring elegantly at the ends like heraldic trumpets. And it was delicious, meltingly tender, deeply savoury. Though I would say enjoying it at its fullest requires quite a bit of gnawing on bones, so it’s not for those who, as kids, didn’t jump up and down with delight when the Flintstones came on the telly.
How to make perfect roast potatoes
Mr Learmonth also promised Jacob’s Ladder yielded the best fat for roast potatoes. Obviously, in the interests of research, I had to put this to the test as there are few things in the world more wonderful. This is my technique for creating a perfectly crisp, golden exterior and a yielding, fluffy interior. It’s foolproof. It could actually be the reason why Séan wanted to marry me after six weeks.
Peel the potatoes and chop larger ones in half or even quarters if they’re huge. Bring a large pan of water to the boil, toss in some salt then the potatoes and parboil for 5 minutes. While they’re bubbling away, put a roasting tin into an oven preheated to 200C/400F/Gas mark 6, and put a ladle of the beef fat into the tin – you could use goose or duck fat instead if you like.
Drain the potatoes in a colander and allow to steam a bit so they lose some of their moisture. Next, put them back into the saucepan with a good sprinkling of semolina, fine polenta or cornmeal (thank you, Nigella, for this tip), hold the lid firmly on the pan and give them a good rattle to roughen up the edges a bit. Carefully remove the hot roasting tin from the oven and tip in the potatoes – they should sizzle as they go in the pan. Quickly give them a stir so they’re coated in the fat and space them out well in the tin. Return to the oven and bake for about 40-50 minutes, turning once or twice during cooking, until crunchy and golden. Sprinkle with a little flaky sea salt and there you are – potato heaven
Sautéed oyster mushrooms
Séan also found these great coral and chocolate oyster mushrooms at the Gourmet Mushroom stall. I simply sautéed a chopped onion in butter until translucent and soft, raised the heat and tossed in the mushrooms – adding a pinch of salt at this stage, encourages them to lose their moisture quicker. When they’d given up most of their liquid, I threw in a couple of finely chopped garlic cloves and stirred in a good dollop of mascarpone – this is what I had in the fridge, you could use double cream or crème fraîche. Then season with salt and pepper and throw in a few tablespoons of finely chopped herbs – parsley is good, dill is even better, but then I love dill.