Monday, 27 January 2014

Slow cooking, stovetop cooking, thermomixing and Lamb ragu . . .

Slow-cooking to the non-Thermomix owner, probably looks like a convenient way to feed your family a nutritious meal. You just need to prepare your ingredients in the morning, throw them in the slow cooker and allow them to cook all day until you are ready to eat your meal at night . . but hold on, does this sound nutritious to you? To me it sounds more like a slow death to nutrients!

Although both a slow-cooker (and also a Thermomix), typically cook food at less than the boiling point of water, which is considered a healthier way of cooking . . . surely the prolonged heat exposure to vegetables in particular, as a result of hours and hours of slow-cooking, has to put the integrity of the more unstable water-soluble vitamins and phytonutrients at unnecessary risk? Of course, there are always exceptions, such as the antioxidant lycopene, a red pigment carotenoid, which actually becomes more bioavailable when tomatoes are cooked. But shouldn't we also be concerned about the other more fragile micronutrients in tomatoes? 

As a general rule, the longer a food is exposed to heat and the higher the cooking temperature, the higher the subsequent nutrient loss. Preserving nutrients as best you can using cooking methods is definitely a tricky science, especially on the stovetop where timing is crucial if you wish to preserve the nutrients in the foods you are cooking. 

Steaming has long been recommended as the most favourable method of stovetop cooking to reduce nutrient loss and thankfully we can look to our trusty Thermomix to help us out with this method of cooking in the Varoma. But rest assured, we can also look favourably at the TM bowl method of cooking in comparison to stovetop cooking methods such as simmering, boiling and frying which all expose foods to higher temperatures which are difficult to control. This is just another way that the Thermomix comes into it's own, not only are foods cooked quickly (less time) and at comparably low temperatures which are preset and controlled, they are cooked to perfection if you follow well-tested recipes, ensuring that nutrient loss is kept to a minimum.  In terms of nutrition, quick methods of cooking at low temperatures has to be more superior, and any Thermomix owner understands the concept of 'fast' in comparison to other methods of cooking. 
Traditionally a lamb ragu is slow cooked for hours to develop flavours and tenderize meats. Using a heavy based pan and my thermie, I believe that I have achieved that lovely richness of flavour and melt in the mouth texture to the lamb in much less time, preserving more of the nutrition in your lamb and vegetables :)

lamb ragu
700g diced lamb
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground fennel
1/2 tsp ground cumin seeds
1 tbsp organic butter or ghee
2 large cloves garlic
1 onion, halved
1 large carrot, cut into chunks
20-40g extra virgin olive oil
50g tomato paste or concentrate
1 tbsp TM vegetable stock paste
400g can BPA-free tomatoes (or your own TM cooked tomatoes)
100g tomato passata or sauce
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves only
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves and/or parsley
1 dry bay leaf
1/2 cup dry red wine


1. Make a spice rub for the lamb by combining the coriander, fennel and cumin in a small bowl with the diced lamb. Mix well to cover and place in the fridge for about 30 minutes. TIP: It does pay to freshly grind your spices from the whole variety so that your finished dish will be more fragrant and flavoursome. Also, your lamb should be evenly diced for successful shredding later. 

2. Melt the butter or ghee in a heavy based pan (cast iron and not non-stick preferably) over moderately-high heat. In two batches, sear the lamb on all sides until deeply browned, about 4-5 minutes per batch. Remove the meat to a plate and repeat with the remaining lamb. The lamb should still be rare inside. DO NOT clean the pan!

3. Now add the spiced lamb to the TM bowl and shred for 2-4 seconds on reverse speed 5 to break up slightly. The lamb will break up further as it simmers, so don't over-do this step and turn your lamb into mush. Remove to the plate. 

4. Add the garlic cloves, onion and carrot to TM bowl. Chop on speed 7 for 5 seconds. Add olive oil and sauté at Varoma temp for 3 minutes on speed 1Scrape down sides of bowl, add tomato paste and cook a further 2 mins at Varoma temp.

5. Add dry red wine to the frypan and deglaze, simmer on the stovetop until the liquid thickens. Then scrape contents of the frypan into the TM bowl.

6. Return the shredded lamb to the TM bowl and add the remaining ingredients (stock paste, canned tomatoes, passata, fresh herbs and bay leaf) to the TM bowl. 

7. Simmer the ragu at 90°C, speed soft, reverse for at least 15 minutes. . . or longer if you prefer in which case you may need to add some water. . . . just don't cook it all day :) 

Meanwhile cook your pasta or lightly steam or sauté your zucchini spirals. I like to serve with a side of green salad or steamed broccoli to ensure that we are getting our daily greens quota :)  

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