One pig’s trotter, two pigeon carcasses and a soupçon of smoked sea salt

I read a recipe for coq au vin jaune in the weekend paper. It didn’t have the above ingredients, I should make clear, though they did make appearances elsewhere.

In fact, the coq au vin jaune recipe seemed unusually (for our weekend newspapers) make-able –except for that ‘vin jaune’.

The writer, helpful soul, explained that the wine is:
‘made from late-harvest savagnin* grape and matured in oak barrels beneath a layer of yeast’

*[not a typo, I copied it directly]

Ten pages later came a page of ‘Great French wines’. And, lo! A bottle of vin jaune, an ‘idiosyncratic’ wine from ‘the foothills of the Jura mountains’.

Apparently it’s a ‘must-have’ at the best restaurants.

It retails at – wait for this – £49.95! I’m not even going to bother converting the currency. It’s plainly expensive.

And this is in the Sunday edition of one of our lefty national newspapers. Yes, lefty.

Lefty, it’s plain, no longer means embattled working class, earning a hard crust (scraped with dripping). Nor public sector worker, poorly paid but following a vocation. Nor over-mighty trade unionist bringing the country to its knees. Or whatever you think lefty means.

But let’s not get into that today. I want to write about food.

Because I’m tired of the metro-centric media and their attitude to cooking.

Tired of recipes with ingredient lists as long as a child’s Christmas wish list. No, scrub that, they’re longer. And probably more expensive. And even less likely to be played with after the novelty has worn off.

Cookery writers, it seems, delight in searching out the most obscure ingredients. Not, I suspect, because they’re necessarily terrific additions to the taste of a dish, but because they want to perpetuate the elite status of the food writer.

It’s just a way of showing off. An ever-escalating treasure hunt for the newest, most obscure, most expensive ingredients.

‘Oh, dear,’ says supercilious food writer, glancing down at a serf.

‘You can’t find ptarmigan liver puree in Chesterfield? Poor you. I get it from my local Anatolian shepherd’s market in Notting Hill.’

And the foodie goes off to order an amuse bouche of tender bamboo shoots, plucked by baby pandas, cleansed in Icelandic volcanic springs, fried in peacock fat with larks’ tongues and finished in fairy dust.’*

*(I made that up. No one uses peacock fat.)

Seriously, if we want people to cook, eat well – and not become obese on high doses of nasty transfats, high fructose corn syrup and the like – we need to be sensible about food. Make good food easy to cook. And not suggest everyone should be cooking with the latest Mongolian delicacy dug up by some precious ‘expert’. Or (pet hate warning) the latest variety of chilli.

People, fish pie does not need chilli.

So, stop reading now if you’re just here for the fun and frivolity. Here comes my first recipe post. There will be some more, now and again, on the same theme:

‘simple food for simple folk (like me)’.


Simple food

This time it’s a meaty dish. Veggie next. Fish occasionally – maybe on a Friday.

Health warning: I’m not a one woman Good Housekeeping Institute – this is how I do it, all measures are approximate, based on my experience, my oven (electric), my hob (gas) and my taste (not too much salt and no chilli please).

Don’t blame me if you get it wrong!

This will feed two, three or four people depending on what, if anything, you add, eg, potatoes. If you can set a timer on your oven to start while you’re out this is perfect for an after-work meal on a wintry day.


Oops! That’s a chicken stockpot – recommend beef or veggie actually! Nice mushrooms though …


1 large slice of braising steak* around 1 lb/450 g (more if you like) or 2 smaller pieces
*(thick flank, from the hindquarters)

1 or 2 onions

3 large flat mushrooms, or 5 or 6 medium closed cup ones or none if you don’t like them

1 pint/500 ml or so of liquid – enough to cover the meat and onions.
Options include stock, red wine or cider, or wine mixed with water and/or stock, or cider mixed with water and/or stock.

Seasoning of your choice – eg, pepper, Worcester sauce (despite the label, Worcester not Worcestershire sauce), a bay leaf or two, herbs such as thyme and marjoram.


Slice or chop the onions and place them in a casserole (fry if you want, but not essential).

Place the meat on top (again, fry if you want but not essential).

Add the liquid.

Add the chopped, cleaned or peeled mushrooms.

Add some seasoning. You can always add more towards the end.

Put on a close fitting lid and leave in a slow-ish oven – say 160 (fan)/170 (conventional)/325 old-fashioned degrees, gas mark 3 – for at least two and a half, preferably three hours


Optional variations and extras

If you want the sauce thick, you can either start at the beginning by flouring and frying the beef before you add the liquid, or, as I do, at the end use cornflour (check pack for instructions) to thicken it. Transfer the liquid to a pan if the casserole is not hob-proof, if it is, just take out the meat and keep warm on a plate in the cooling oven while you heat and thicken the gravy.
You can add a dessertspoon of tomato puree or even a tin of chopped tomatoes before cooking to make it richer.

Extra/different veg:
You can add more or less whatever winter veg you like to this dish – or even a tin of chopped tomatoes.
Chopped leeks work well with mushrooms. Or use a couple of big carrots chopped in thick rounds and one or two sticks of sliced celery instead of the mushrooms.
Small potatoes or chunks, with skins on to maximise the food value and help keep them from disintegrating, make it a meal in a dish.

Mashed potato/sweet potato, a 50/50 mix, is good with this dish. Add a bit of butter, a bit of milk (you need less with sweet potato than ordinary potato) and if you like, a spoonful of mustard or horseradish sauce, or a sprinkling of ground mace.
You can steam a green veg like kale or broccoli over the potatoes while they’re boiling.
Bon appetit.

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10 Responses to One pig’s trotter, two pigeon carcasses and a soupçon of smoked sea salt

  1. Judy Barnes says:

    Well sorry but I thought everyone used peacock fat,but hey ho,I’ll give it a go without for a change.Thanks for the recipe – I particularly appreciated(as an artist) the colour coded vegetables but am slightly worried that along with goose instead of peacock fat ,my sweet potatoes aren’t quite that shade of venetian umber.


    • Ha ha! Nice one Judy! Sorry, but I just find peacock fat too unreliable. 😉 I wonder if anyone will tell me how tasty ptarmigan liver puree is?
      I’m sure you don’t need my basic recipes – I think the world has far too many anyway. I suppose I just wanted to make the point that 4 basic ingredients could produce one of the tastiest of wintry meals. (And trust me to colour code wrongly and be caught out by an artist! Venetian umber – now there’s a term that is redolent of something good.)
      Thanks for reading and commenting – very much appreciated, mx


  2. Ricardo says:

    And you can’t go wrong with a liberal dose of MSG. Yum.


  3. EllaDee says:

    If you set the amuse bouche and the beef casserole in front of me, and anyone else except for a food writer (unless no-one was watching) the former would remain congealing on the plate. The latter plate would be cleaned, mopped up with bread. This is how real people eat.
    The media, although unable to co-opt traditional porn has settled for food porn to fill the gap in our real-food-like-nanna-made hungry world created by Big Food, riding on the coattails.
    I’m pleased to be what many consider old -over 40- I retain perspective and armour against the self-absorbed superficial society media and marketing has created for those who don’t remember or have never experienced the real world.


    • I just bought a muffin tin so I think I need to try your golden batter recipe! Maybe tomorrow … Interesting there was a comment piece in today’s newspaper (the righty one we get for balance) by a woman whose kids won’t eat jam tarts – or jam!
      Yes, give me good food over amuse bouches any time!


  4. mud4fun says:

    LOL, have you been watching Jamie Oliver? 😉 He drives me mad when even his ‘cheap family’ meals feature so many ingredients including super rare items that if you went and bought them it would cost you £100 for one meal. His argument is that these ingredients, such as some unheard of bottled sauce that you can only get in high end supermarkets in central London, will last for many meals. Yeah right! I rarely watch his cookery shows but managed to suffer 30 minutes of a show the other night to watch him cook some pork spare ribs – these should in theory be a super cheap food but my wife and I reckoned the total cost of his ingredients was in excess of £50. We on the other hand can merrily produce a very good set of sticky spare ribs for about £5 which is closer to what most folk can afford. You do wonder what planet they live on these TV chefs.


    • Jamie Oliver – aaaargh. He’s the fish pie with chilli man. My husband uses his recipe and always follows instructions exactly but I’ve at last managed to get him to stop putting in chilli and reduce the number of ‘glugs’ of olive oil and – guess what – it makes no difference at all to an otherwise delicious fish pie! Yotam Ottolenghi is the worst ingredient offender – I just had a peek at his recipe page and without even looking at the ingredient lists found freekeh, barberries, wakame, seaweed, kohlrabi – just your ordinary everyday ingredients eh?. I’m beginning to think these people are actually comedians in disguise 😉


      • mud4fun says:

        We live in a little rural village in a primarily agricultural community. Pigeon is considered vermin and is shot regularly. We used to be able to get a brace of pigeon for 50 pence. While each bird has little meat on it, we could actually buy four birds and make a good and inexpensive family meal by slow cooking them in stock and vegetables for the total of £3 for a complete healthy meal for a family of four. If we were feeling a little bit adventurous we’d add half a bottle of cheap white plonk in the stock. Sadly over the last few years numerous celebrity chefs have started promoting pigeon on their shows including Jamie Oliver and James Martin and the price of pigeon has shot up. It is now approaching £2.50 per bird, tens times what is was just a few years ago. So one of our favourite cheap meals is no loner affordable to us. 😦

        The same goes with Pheasant which used to be a regular family meal in our house in winter months as in this area it was considered peasant food. It used to be £1.50 for a good sized female pheasant, that has now rocketed to over £5 due to cookery shows on TV extolling its virtues. My daughters first solid food meals were pheasant as it was so common for us to be eating it due to its low price. Now it is considered a luxury food for the well to do 😦

        What annoys me is that many of the meals we have been cooking for decades that cost very little (or rather used to cost little until they appeared on TV), like your recipe above, are done on TV in the exact same way as we cook them, with most of the same ingredients and you wonder what makes these TV chefs versions so special?


        • Totally with you on this – I too used to do pheasant as it was delicious and cheap – the other person doesn’t like pigeon so that’s never been a staple but yes, you think about all the cheap stuff they hijack and make it expensive – even things like decent sausages – though I guess at least with sausage it does mean we can now buy really meaty ones. I can’t say even chef style cooking has converted me to ox cheeks though… If you ever do veggie meals then my cheap and cheerful lentil chilli (sans chilli!) may be coming up soon. 🙂


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