There’s few things I dislike about Autumn. Spiders are one of them (I HATE the things, some of the monsters in the Lake District were certainly scream-inducing!), and my craving for comfort food is another. It’s not that I don’t love Autumnal food. I do. It’s just that so often it takes a good few hours to cook, and that’s just not possible after work. So I stick to quicker things, dinners far less comforting, and get grumpy as a result.
Thanks to Debenhams, I’m now the proud owner of a pressure cooker*. And it makes stews in around half an hour. Add in the chopping, a bit of frying, thickening the sauce and making the mash/dumplings and you’ve got a heart bowl of comforting food in well under an hour. Boom.
I have to admit, the pressure cooker scared me at first. This is by far and away the most technical bit of cooking equipment I have ever used. The strict safety warnings made me worry I was going to create something explosive. It just looks intimidating. It makes horrendous noises when letting the pressure out at the end of cooking. It took us no less than four attempts to do the ‘initial steam’ before first use. But it was worth it.
Boy, was it worth it. By cooking Ox Cheek in a pressure cooker we were able to break down the tough meat quickly, with the result so meltingly tender we divided it up with a spoon.Cheeks are a budget cut of meat (ours worked out at around £1.50 for a massive portion) that are made for slow cooking, and using a pressure cooker cuts this time down massively – I reckon this would take at least five hours normally. We cooked a whole cheek weighing half a kilo and that needed just over an hour to break down, cut into pieces you could do it in 30. Then there’s the sauce. So, so good. The braising gravy is infused with so much tasty flavour and then pureed (my new favourite trick!) to transform into a thick, glossy sauce that coats the meat, soaks into mash and begs to be mopped up with bread or just slurped with a spoon. I have no shame when it comes to gravy like this.
- 3 tbsp oil, separated
- 1 large ox cheek (around 500g)
- 1 onion
- 3 celery sticks
- 3 carrot
- 1 garlic clove
- 1½ tsp dried thyme leaves
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 1½ tsp mustard
- 400ml beef stock
- 125ml red wine (we went for the cheapest Sainsbury’s had)
- plenty of black pepper and salt, to season
Prepare the beef cheek: cut off any large, fatty membrane. Pat dry then cover with plain flour (seasoned with salt and pepper). Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large frying pan over high heat. Sear the beef cheek on each side until nicely browned.
Turn down the heat to medium and heat the remaining oil. Add the onion and carrots. Sauté for 3 minutes until the onion isstarting to soften, then add the celery and garlic and continue to sauté for another 3 minutes. Pop the veg mixture into the cooker and place the beef cheek on top. Pour the wine into the frying pan and return to heat. Turn the heat up to high, bring to boil and let bubble for 1 minute whilst scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Pour the wine into the cooker, then all the remaining ingredients and season well.
Close up the pressure cooker, following all instructions, then cook on ‘high’ for around 1 hour – we used the ‘Stew’ setting on our cooker. When done, release the pressure and leave until ready to open before testing the meat. If the meat doesn’t fall apart when pressed with a spoon, give it a little longer.
Open the cooker and ladle out around half the veg. Discard any thyme stems and bay leaves. Use a blender to puree the veg, then add back to the cooker and stir well – it should thicken the sauce well. If it’s still a little thin, puree a bit more veg, if it’s too thin add a little stock or some water. Taste taste and season if necessary, then serve with mash and plenty of green vegetables.
In just over an hour we had a gorgeous comforting meal on the table, and having played around with the pressure cooker a little more we figured out cutting the meat up would give us the chance of cooking a stew in under 30 minutes. Can’t get better than that!
What’s your favourite comfort food? Have you tried using a pressure cooker?