If Simon Hopkinson is Jesus, then Fergus Henderson is God. Marco must be Judas, with his thirty stock cubes of silver and I am some distant, random, untalented disciple. One of the rubbish ones who don’t get to be pub quiz answers. I don’t know, Ian? Derek? One of them. I have often thought that Jesus should have gone into catering. I have worked for certain ‘caterers’ who would kill for the kind of bottom line that JC could knock out- ‘How many covers tonight boss?’ ‘Ummm big night tonight Chef Jesus- five thousand! Have you got enough fish? What about loaves…?’
So Fergus Henderson. The Chef’s Chef. The Boss. The main man. He is who most chefs worth their Maldon sea salt would like to cook their last meal. All those manky pancreatic pustuley bits that normal people spurn. Heart and lungs, all intestine-y and slimy. Pulsing organs and hairy gristly bits. Yum. Brains and bums and all that’s inbetween. That’s the Henderson way. And thank Fergus for that.
Because it just makes sense. It drives me to distraction (I feel a rage coming on) that we have such an antiseptic relationship with the protein that we eat. Ox heart has the texture of fillet steak and tastes nicer. Calves liver, when pink within and all sticky and crusty without, is divine. Kidneys, fried in a fierce heat, with lots of English mustard, lemon juice and cream is so much more delicious and interesting than a lamb chop.
There is a picture on my Facebook profile of me gutting a deer. It got hit by a car near the pub and we lugged it back and cooked its brain in a bit of flour and knocked up a quick sauce gribiche and it was really great. Then we skinned it, hung it and ‘processed’ it into loins, haunches and all sorts. It probably fed thirty people in various forms. But I still got berated from all corners by morons who would happily chomp through a battery farm, vac-packed, surgically enhanced chicken breast. The brain was good but the best bits were the still warm liver and heart.
And Fergus will teach you how to cook’em. He has done more for English food than anyone, living or dead. I have hundreds of cookbooks. All nice and useful in the kitchen. Nose to Tail Eating by Fergus Henderson is in my bedroom. The only one. Next to a picture of my Godson. It’s really special- you should buy it. It is a really beautiful, natural read. Simple and just perfectly formed. No glossy colour photographs, no pukka nonsense or porn-y cupcake eating. Just gorgeous prose and lists of ingredients that when melded together make magic. Look up beans and bacon, or his mayonnaise. Treacle tart and Eccles cakes. Wonderful.
I love Autumn. My kitchen has been fully feathered and furred this week, Bambi and Thumper bit the dust yesterday and tomorrow its a beautiful salad of caramel hazlenuts, crunchy lardons and pink pigeon breasts. And oxtail with swede. Oxtail is my favourite thing to slow braise. And I slow braise a LOT. Swedes have just come into season and are amazingly sweet but with a wonderful earthiness. This is my little homage to Fergus. Less is more. No wine or any of that French nonsense.
You will need 3 kilos of oxtail, cut into 2 inch cross sections and dipped in seasoned flour , a swede, an onion, 2 sticks of celery, 6 cloves of garlic 2 bay leaves a couple of pints of good beef or veal stock, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and a splash of water if required to cover the tail.
Brown the oxtail very well. Throw in chopped onions, garlic, bay and celery. Fry all together for 15 minutes. Pour in the stock and sugar and simmer on the lowest heat possible for 3 hours. Skim the froth and fat off regularly. Add the now diced swede and simmer for another hour. I, at this point will strain all the liquor from the meat and veg and reduce it furiously on a high heat until halved in volume and deliciously intense. I will then caramelise slightly the braised tail and swede in a pan and then add back to the reduced sauce. Season to taste. And eat with a crunchy and heavily buttered baked potato and some Savoy cabbage.