Saturday 6 June 2009

Dinner, step by step

Jacob's Ladder

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.

Layers of flavour

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.

Simple IngredientsRub the paste in wellReady for the oven

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

Pearl & chocolate 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.

Sautéed oyster mushrooms


  1. Um, can I come over for dinner?!! I was already drooling over the meat, but those oyster mushrooms are absolutely beautiful, too! Wow.

  2. There is nothing better than a roasted potato cooked the "right" way! That preheated pan is key. That dinner looks awesome. i wish I wasn't so intimidated by big pieces of meat!

  3. Girlichef- Anytime! Aren't those mushrooms gorgeous?
    Melody - Oh, don't be intimidated! A roast is one of the simplest, most crowd-pleasing things out there. A bit of seasoning, a bit of heat and a trusty meat thermometer and that's it. Give it a go! Thanks for visiting my blog.

  4. Okay - I am now officially coming on holiday with you to France next week - yep, climbing into the bag with the kitchen utensils, (ouch! - should have chosen a more accomodating bag!) and eating my way through your french larder = don't try to talk me out of it!

  5. Lady P - Oh, I wouldn't dream of talking you out of it! In fact, I'm taking quite an accomodating bag as I want to bring some vintage table linens back with me. So I might have to leave you there, ok? The locals are very friendly...

  6. Three hours does seem like an awfully long time but I guess the proof is in the puuding. The meat strikes me as being really flavoursome. Ooooh I am salivating. Only spag. bol. for my dinner tonight.
    I am always learning something new on your blog Debora as I haven't heard of adding cornmeal to potato. Im not fond of the grittiness of polenta or semolina so Im not too sure about that one.
    PS: I am really impressed with your Sean being "eco" oriented. I always take my own bags too. I won't comment on all the eco things I do as I would take up more room than your entire post!
    "Heraldic trumpets..." - just love it.

  7. Mariana - I know, three hours is a loooong time. I normally like my meat so rare a good vet could probably get it back on its feet, but slow cooking this cut results in sticky, meltingly tender meat you can practically carve with a spoon.

    You really can't taste the grittiness of the polenta on the potaoes. You only need about a heaped teaspoon for a whole pan and it simply absorbs some of the moisture from the surface of the potatoes and helps to crisp them up.

    Like you, we try to do our bit. About 80% of our food comes from within 100 miles of our house (I hope this offsets the odd indulgence like a few Alphonse mangoes)and I do 90% of my grocery shopping on foot.

  8. I've been looking for a perfect roast potato recipe! Thanks for posting this. Yum yum.

  9. hmm...someone must have misplaced my dinner invitation. Meat, potatos, mushrooms-all designed to warm a midwestern gal's heart.


  10. I didn't know these ribs were called Jacob's Ladder - they look so very good! What a wonderful meal!

  11. Gratinee - I hope you enjoy your potatoes, remember, sizzling hot fat is your friend.
    Marty - You know you have a standing invitation - get yourself over here!
    5 Star - Thank you, it did taste good, though I say it myself.

  12. words fail me - ribs and roasties - wow

  13. I would suggest that Jacob's Ladder name for these toothsome ribs comes from the fact that when you eat these, you feel as if you are ascending to Heaven, via aforementioned ladder! I shall expect these on the menu when I next pull up a chair at your table. Here's a kiss blown across the waves to you, dearling.
    Lanky Yankee Karen

  14. 90% of your grocery shopping on foot! That's amazing. You most certainly are doing your bit! Unfortunately in Australia with regional centres, long distances and not very good public transport this is not possible for many. Unless you are like my dear neighbour Filomena who probably does 90% in her own backyard.

  15. RRS - Well, dear heart, that has to be a first...
    Karen - That is indeed why it's called Jacob's Ladder and if you just got yourself over here, I'd cook it for you anytime you like. Promise.
    Mariana - Well, I do live in the middle of a big city and am in the fortunate position of being able to buy pretty much everything I need within a 10 minute walk from my stove. If I lived in the country, it would be different, but then I might be able to grow more, have a few chickens, like your wonderful Filomena (more stories about her please, I love them!).

  16. I love anything vintage - so I will fit right in with those linens of yours - hope you are getting ready for your trip - I think life in Europe would suit me just fine - I love holidays and I love France!

  17. i've spent years unsuccesfully trying to roast perfect potatoes. thanks so much for sharing this! time to give it another go.

  18. Baking Monster - Thank you!
    Lady P - Well, I'm going to update my blog while I'm there so do come and visit. I'm excited to see what's new in the market since I was there a month ago. I'm dreaming of cherries ...
    Kiss my spatula - The key is letting the potatoes dry out a bit by letting them steam after parboiling and very hot fat. I can't emphasise that enough. Very hot fat. LOVE the title of your blog - thanks for visiting mine!

  19. What an amazing meal! I wish someone would make this for me! That Jacob's Ladder looks just irresistible!

  20. Thanks, Catherine!I highly recommend it.

  21. Oh, Ms. Little Spoon off to France and when will she be back - I have been thinking of you and hoping that you are just have a maaaarvelous time.Thank you for peeking your head out of your vacation sun hat to say hello!


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