Where to start?
This has been a thoroughly researched question this week as I pored through the pages of my much loved cookery book.
I figured if I was starting off on my adventure then I really had to begin with tackling a starter, but which one??
What I really wanted to do was to relive my childhood obsession with Alice in Wonderland. My Scottish grandparents sent me a video tape (that’s an 80’s way of watching movies for you young ’uns) of an Alice in wonderland movie, taped from their television, and I remember watching it over and over again. So when I saw “Mock Turtle Soup” I was more than keen to give it a go! Although my excitement didn’t last long as the very first ingredient was a Calf’s head! And the instructions began with a very graphic “Scald the head with the skin on, remove the brain..”!! 😲Somehow I didn’t think I could a) find a calf’s head or b) remove any part of it to cook it), as my butchery skills were pretty much at a bare minimum. Although if I could have roped in my hubby with his family’s butchers background, I may have been tempted to give it a go. 😉
So on I searched through the soups to find one with a little less butchery, and my eyes were drawn to a couple of dishes. The first was ox cheek soup and the next oxtail soup.
Being a bit nervous after the blank stares I received at my local supermarket when asking if these were available I decided to try our local Village butcher. After double checking with a friend that these meats were actually a thing in good old NZ I strode up to the counter and bravely asked. I honestly needn’t of worried, he had a vast amount of knowledge and was eager to assure me that I could carry out my cooking experiment and the result would be delicious!
If anyone is as nervous as I was, I urge you to go ahead and ask at your local butchers, they really are the best people for the job. I got both of the meats so will be cooking the Ox Tail soup very soon.
But today the star of the show was Mrs Beeton’s Ox Cheek soup.
I was assured by a very reliable source that people would also love to watch a youtube clip of each of my adventures (although I’m still not so sure I will put it up), so I painstakingly laid out all of my ingredients and utensils on my kitchen bench and pilfered my daughters phone stand from her room all ready to go. Now I thought this was going to be rather tricky with my pre-schooler having quiet time in the lounge, but when I told him Mummy needed quiet he was quick to assure me that he would be an angel 😇.
After a bit of “Who are you talking to mummy?” I dove in…
The recipe started with butter in the saucepan (largest one I could find) and then instructed me to lay the bacon and beef cheek on top of this. In went a LOT of tiny chopped vegetables; parsnip, carrots, onions, and holey moley what a lot of celery! (with even more celery to go in after cooking with the meat).
The recipe asked for a ’faggot of savoury herbs’ which just means a small bunch, so I was pretty excited to be able to whip out to my herb stand on my deck and pick these fresh. 😀 I tied them to a longer string which I tied around my pot handle for easy removal later.
The recipe didn’t specifically say when to put the herbs in so I made an executive decision and included them with the veges. All the usuals such as salt and pepper, some whole cloves and a bay leaf ,from my lovely little tree, went into the pot too. And one rather unusual ingredient that I had never used before, Mace, which was right there, with all of the other packaged herbs, at my local supermarket. I had to do a bit of googling when it came to the amount of ‘two blades of mace’, as I had only managed to get ground mace. The lovely internet did not disappoint and assured me that this was equal to exactly 1 teaspooon.
The cooking started with setting the pot over a ‘slow fire‘ for 1/4 of an hour, so I reckoned it was a safer bet for me to put it on my stovetop at mark 3. Just to save any impromptu visits from any local firefighters. 😉
This was followed with adding water (no exact amount was detailed in the recipe so I went with my gut and added as much as my pot could handle without boiling over. The pot then had to simmer until reduced by 4quarts (16 cups according to my measuring jug). Now my pot would not handle any where near that amount so I decided to reduce the liquid by as much as I could in an hour and a half of slow boiling (as with soups I have made in the past).
The next step was to take out the meat and strain the soup into a ’stewpan’. I did give straining it a go but didn’t really have the muscles to push the veges through the sieve (they must have had much stronger cooks back in the day). My cheat move was to turn them to mush in my little kenwood blender, voila! Back into the soup liquid they went and I thickened it (as per the recipe) with flour.
The extra chopped head of celery went in to simmer until soft and cutting the meat into little diced pieces, removing gristle as I went, this went back in too.
Plated up just as ordered with a “crusty roll“ and a “glass of sherry to much improve the soup” (subbed for rosé as that’s all I had).
I can see why the endnote says it takes 3-4 hours with all of the prep work, stovetop boiling and end prep. It’s definitely a labour of love! ❤️
The average cost at the time of publication was 7d (pennies) apparently and this soup serves 12 persons. A great dinner party starter indeed.
I have really enjoyed my first cook and hope you have enjoyed reading about it.
If you are keen to view the YouTube video for this cook it is available at: https://youtu.be/9dNXMQYx9ug
Until next time, new adventures await!