Everyone's gone to pot

For maximum flavour and minimum washing up, discover the joy of pot roasting, says Mark Hix
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Indy Lifestyle Online

The way cooking terms are bandied about on menus is the cause of so much confusion. You've probably puzzled over the definition of pan roasted. Does it mean roasted in a pan? Or does it mean the chef has decided to jazz up the name to make it sound more appealing. Why not just call it roast?

The way cooking terms are bandied about on menus is the cause of so much confusion. You've probably puzzled over the definition of pan roasted. Does it mean roasted in a pan? Or does it mean the chef has decided to jazz up the name to make it sound more appealing. Why not just call it roast?

Roast, grilled, occasionally griddled - that'll do me. Pan-fried is OK if you don't want people to think the food is deep fried. And let's not forget the pot roast. Now that's something you don't often see on a menu, and when you do it's often referred to in French as poêllé. See what I mean about chefs not always talking straight.

Pot roasting - that's roasting in a pot not a pan - doesn't really suit the way restaurant kitchens work. But it's one way people have cooked at home for centuries. And it couldn't be simpler. The meat spends most of its time in the oven under a lid with vegetables and herbs, so you end up with delicious natural juices from the meat and vegetables. Though it suits tougher, drier and often cheaper cuts of meat and older poultry and game birds that need to be kept moist during cooking, you can cook almost any joint or bird or fish this way.

Come to that vegetables on their own work equally well - so vegetarians can make a delicious pot roast with a mixture of favourite vegetables and herbs. Try sweet potatoes with ginger; leeks with capers, parsley and Parmesan (added at the end) or Jerusalem artichokes with rosemary.

For meat eaters a pot roast is perfect at this time of year. I wouldn't recommend treating your Sunday rib of beef so casually because it should be perfectly roasted - nice and rare. But a rolled breast of veal or shoulder of pork, with some root vegetables or maybe quartered fennel bulbs and herbs can be left in the oven to do its own thing while you're down the pub or out shopping. Pot roast a silverside of beef, a rolled brisket, or a shoulder of lamb with Moroccan spices. Slow cooking brings out the flavour of these overlooked cuts, timings don't have to be too precise and there's only one pot to wash up afterwards.

Most parts of the world have pots for this purpose. Anyone familiar with South Africa will have come across a potjie, originally introduced by Dutch settlers and taken up in southern Africa. The three-legged cast iron pot sits next to the fire and cooks the contents very, very slowly. I had a crocodile tail potjie on one of my visits - it was a bit like osso bucco, and quite delicious.

Back home - and with not much call for cooking crocs - there's more use to be had from a chicken crock, a sort of clay pot formed in the shape of a chicken so the bird fits snugly inside. In the Cucina Direct catagoue there's one called a romertopf. Clay-pot cooking over an open fire is traditional in Vietnamese kitchens, and I had some the other day in a new Vietnamese café near where I live. I've just bought one of the Colombian pots called terra negra, made by women in Andean villages with black clay and a glaze that means you can put them on the top of the cooker. Selfridges and John Lewis stores sell them. Vietnamese, Colombian, South African ... it sounds exotic, but pot roasting is really as down to earth and delicious as it comes.

Pot roast shoulder of pork with root vegetables

Serves 4-6

Shoulder can be much tastier than a prime cut such as the loin. It's the part of the animal that does more work, so therefore is less tender, but the taste certainly makes up for it and it's about half the price. Get your butcher to remove the rind as it won't go crispy in the pot (keep it though and freeze ready to turn into extra crackling next time you have roast pork).

Ask the butcher to bone and tie the shoulder into an even shape so it all cooks evenly. There are still some lovely seasonal root vegetables around, which cook down to a perfect sweetness in the meat juices. Make the most of them while you can.

1 boned and tied shoulder of pork weighing about a kilo
1 large parsnip, peeled, halved, cored and cut into even sized pieces
250g small carrots, or the same quantity of large peeled and cut into 1cm thick slices
2 medium red onions, peeled and quartered
Half a swede, peeled and cut into rough 2cm chunks
A few sprigs of thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 5. Season the pork with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat a little vegetable oil in a frying pan until smoking hot. Seal the pork on all sides until nicely coloured. Put vegetables and thyme in an oven-proof pot and lightly season. Add the pork to the pot, arranging the vegetables around it and cover with a lid, or tightly fitting foil. Don't add water.

Cook for 1 12 hours, basting the vegetables and meat every so often. Don't worry too much about this if you leave the pot unattended as the steam produced under the lid will do this for you.

Slice the meat as thick as you like. Serve with the juices just as they are, or add a little cider, or wine, and meat stock and thicken with a couple of teaspoons of corn flour.

Pot roast cauliflower with herbs and Parmesan

Serves 4

Those bright white heads of Cornish cauliflower, encased in vibrant green leaves, so often end up boiled and smothered with a bland cheese sauce. I'm planning to give the poor cauli a helping hand and devote a whole week to it. When roasted, or pot-roasted in this case, this versatile vegetable takes on a completely different character.

1 large, or 2 small heads of cauliflower
2tbsp Parmesan
1tbsp chopped parsley
1tbsp chopped chives
2tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 220ºC/430ºF/gas mark 7. Remove and discard the outer leaves from the cauliflower and cut it into 6-9 wedges. Put them in an oven-proof dish, season with salt and pepper and spoon over the olive oil. Cover the pot with a lid, or close fitting foil. Cook in the oven for 35 minutes, basting occasionally, then remove the lid and continue cooking for a further 15 minutes. Scatter the parsley, chives and Parmesan over, replace the lid and cook for another 10 minutes.

Monkfish tail with Castillian potatoes

Serves 4

Monkfish is one of those straightforward, sensible fish with just the one bone that runs down the middle of the tail, so it's extremely convenient for anyone who hates dealing with fiddly bones.

1 x 1-1.5kg monkfish tail, skinned
5-6 slices of paper-thin cured streaky bacon or pancetta (optional)
2-3 tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
for the potatoes
60ml olive oil
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
12 tsp smoked paprika
A pinch of saffron strands or powder
1tsp tomato paste
800g large waxy new potatoes, eg charlotte, peeled and quartered if very large or otherwise halved
1 bay leaf
1 litre vegetable stock

Pre heat the oven to 220º/430ºF/gas mark 7. Gently cook the onion and garlic in the olive oil until soft but not coloured in a saucepan, frying pan, or, ideally, if you have one, a flame-proof casserole. Add the paprika and cook for another minute to release the flavour. Add the saffron, tomato paste, potatoes, bay leaf and stock, season with salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes until most of the liquid has disappeared and the potatoes are almost cooked.

Meanwhile with a sharp knife make about 5 or 6 incisions about 12cm deep along the monkfish. Wrap the bacon around the fish in a spiral fashion leaving a 3-4cm space between the slices. Heat a heavy frying pan with some of the olive oil until it's almost smoking, season with pepper only and brown the monkfish on both sides.

If you're not already cooking them in one, put the potatoes into an oven dish large enough to fit the monkfish. Place the monkfish on top, then put on the lid and cook for 30 minutes.

Serve at the table cutting the fish through the bone, or fillet the pieces of fish - they'll come away easily from the bone - and serve on top of the potatoes.

Rhubarb cobbler

Serves 4

At this time of year rhubarb is forced to grow in a cloche or in a darkened barn to encourage an early harvest. It's a traditional method that produces delicate paler pink stalks. Although it's not interefering with the seasons, in effect it gives the fruit two seasons - the natural, later one, and this sort of preview season.

800g rhubarb, cut into 2-3cm chunks
180g caster sugar
2tsp corn flour
for the cobbler
85g unsalted butter, softened
110g caster sugar
220g plain
12 tsp baking powder
A good pinch of salt
100ml milk

Pre-heat the oven to 220ºC/430ºF/gas mark 7. Put the rhubarb in an oven-proof dish and add the sugar. Cover with a lid or foil and bake for 30 minutes giving the occasional stir. Remove a couple of tablespoons of the liquid, mix with the cornflour and stir back into the rhubarb. Transfer the rhubarb into 4 individual pots or 1 large oven-proof serving dish.

Meanwhile make the cobbler dough. In a food mixer or by hand, cream the butter and sugar for a couple of minutes until it begins to turn almost white. Carefully fold in the flour, baking powder and salt until well mixed.

Gradually add the milk until the mix resembles sticky dough. Turn the oven down to 190ºC/375ºF/gas mark 5. With a large spoon and your fingers roughly mould the dough into four flat scone shapes or one large one. Place onto a non-stick baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, until lightly coloured. Transfer the cobbler topping on to the rhubarb mix, spooning over a little of the juice. Return to the oven for 20 minutes until the dough is a golden colour.

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