I made this Cobbler a few weeks ago, now - when we'd really just come into the cooler days and I had gratefully turned my thoughts to warming stews and casseroles. Now normally, I'd have a few recipes "up my sleeve" that I'd found whilst browsing around the food sites on the internet. Surprisingly, that week, I hadn't any.
I immediately turned to my bookshelves - which is why one has recipe books, surely, for when the internet has failed - and sought out those that were likely to contain suitable comfort food. My eye immediately lit upon Clarissa Dickson-Wright's "Potty", which is a favourite browse for those cold, grey days.
There I found her recipe for "Beef Cobbler" - which upon first glance didn't inspire me with a lot of curiosity. After all, when you reach my age, you've made several Beef Cobblers in the past. However, as my eye ran down the ingredients list (mentally checking off those things that I had to hand already),it ground to a halt at "handful of walnuts". A handful of walnuts? Were they for decoration, or what? Nope, it turns out they are to be included in the meat stew part. Well. How very interesting!
|Pillowy cobbles, instead of crusty cobbles!|
Stopping to think about it, I could imagine how walnuts and beef would go together really quite well. After all, the beef has that iron-like flavour, while walnuts have a dry, sweet, earthy flavour. A bit like partnering beef with chestnuts, which is an accepted practice.
I was surprised to note that Clarissa reckons the Beef Cobbler to be "rather uncommon" here in the U.K. these days. Well, it's not a staple in my repertoire, but it will certainly appear once or twice in a winter. If there is a trend for it becoming "uncommon", then I vote that we make a move to bring it back into being very common - because it's the epitome of comfort food!
I suppose it could be a reflection of either the price of beef these days, or the move towards low calorie, lightweight eating that's done it. As regards being calorifically heavy, it is certainly heavier than a stir fry - but then you don't come away from eating a stir fry, feeling as though all's right with the world for another few hours.
In fact, because the Cobbler top (a scone-like substance) is made without using suet, but 55g of butter instead, I agree it isn't exactly non-fattening - but it could be a whole lot worse! The meat stew part of the concoction is about as low fat as you want it to be, in that it all depends on how much fat you put in your frying pan and how much fat you leave on your meat!
Now speaking of meat, I used 600g of beef silverside for the Cobbler. Our butcher has silverside on special offer and as it is one of the cuts that carries the least fat (just a line of fat along one side, virtually no marbling through the meat) it seemed to be perfect for the job. I simply trimmed off the line of fat and rendered some of it down in a very hot pan, before browning the beef. Once I had enough fat in the pan to brown the beef, I removed the un-rendered pieces and put them aside for the dogs to eat. That way, I made the most of the flavour that beef fat brings, without having to eat unnecessary quantities of it.
|Rendering the beef fat - with a teensy bit of Rapeseed oil to help it along|
It wasn't just the walnuts that fired up my curiosity with regard to this dish, but also the fact that the scone dough for the Cobbler top included sugar in its mixture. It seemed superfluous to me and somewhat American in origin, but as Clarissa says, if you bear in mind that the Cobbler is used extensively in America in both sweet and savoury incarnations, it begins to make sense. So I went along with it.
However, one departure from the original recipe was that I used my slow cooker for this dish. I was curious to see how the Cobbler top would fare without the heat of an oven to brown the top of the "cobbles" - and it fared pretty well! Using the slow cooker ensured that the meat was tender and butter-soft and, because I left adding the Cobbler top until a good three-quarters through the cooking time, the cobbles were soft, fluffy and deliciously light. We didn't notice the lack of a brown crusty top to the cobbles, in fact it was pleasant to have soft, pillowy cobbles instead!
The slight sweetness of the cobbles was a momentary surprise, however once you'd paired it up with some of the delicious savoury gravy from the meat stew, everything fell into place. The walnuts weren't one of the primary flavours, but very definitely lent an interestingly full, earthiness to the gravy.
I served our Beef & Walnut Cobbler with some steamed parsnips and celeriac, along with some steamed cabbage. A true autumn classic!
SLOW COOKER BEEF & WALNUT COBBLER (serves 3-4)
600g silverside of beef (or brisket, or shin - any good stewing beef would do fine)
1 onion, sliced
4-5 small shallots, peeled and left whole
3 carrots, sliced
2 sticks of celery, chopped finely
200ml beef stock (I used a Knorr Rich Beef Stock Pot)
250ml brown ale
3 tbsp plain flour
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
a handful of walnuts, chopped.
For the cobbles :
250g self raising flour
half a tsp salt
1 egg, plus 1 egg beaten
1. Trim the meat of all surplus fat and cut into chunks. Heat a heavy casserole dish and either fry the pieces of fat until sufficient fat has rendered to fry the meat, or add a little vegetable oil or (even better) rapeseed oil.
2. Allow the fat or oil to become really very hot indeed, before adding the meat (in batches if necessary) and searing the outside. The aim is for the outside surface to become a little bit caramelised, which will enhance the beefy flavour of the stew part of the dish. Decant into your slow cooker, once done, using a slotted spoon. Put the lid on and turn the slow cooker on to low.
3. Add the onion to the frying pan and fry on a medium heat - until softened and beginning to turn golden.
4. Add the carrot and celery and continue to fry until the celery is softened and turning transparent. Decant the lot into the slow cooker and replace the lid.
5. Add the stock and ale to the frying pan and heat through.
6. In a small bowl, add the flour and enough water to turn it into a light, fluid, paste.
7. Remove the frying pan from the heat and add the flour/water mixture to it, whisking quickly to ensure no lumps form. Once you are happy that the flour is mixed in, return the pan to the heat and continue to cook, whisking, until the gravy has thickened to your personal preference. You may wish to add a little more flour/water, or alternatively not so much - depending on how you like your gravy.
8. Add the chopped walnuts to the slow cooker and taste the gravy for seasoning. Add a little salt and a lot of black pepper until you are happy with the seasoning. Decant the gravy into the slow cooker, replace the lid and cook on low for a minimum of 4 hours.
9. When the four hours are up, make the cobbles by adding all the ingredients except the beaten egg, to a bowl. It is as well to add the liquid slowly, so that the dough doesn't become too wet. Stir until a firm dough mixture has formed.
10. Shape the dough into eight rounds (shaped rather like a beefburger, rather than a meatball) and drop each in on top of the stew mixture. Paint the top of each cobble with beaten egg. Replace the lid and cook for a further 2 hours.
Serve with steamed vegetables.