Butchers can be canny beasts sometimes. Insofar that whilst they are more than happy to advise, suggest and select certain popular cuts over the counter; they also have a long history of sneaking and keeping some of the more unknown joints to themselves. Cuts that often have curious names. Treats like the Pope's Eye, Jacob's Ladder or Shatner's Bassoon. But sooner or later, secrets become relinquished and everyone finds out.
I found out about the secret of feather blade after chatting to John and Sophie in the shop and casually asking about their preferred meat for slow braising. Something that went slightly beyond the usual chuck, shin or oxtail.
'Feather blade is always a good shout,' said John, brightly.
A reply which immediately gave rise to Sophie shooting daggers back across the wooden block, before comprehensively answering with a sigh - 'Yes, feather blade is pretty good for braising. It comes from the shoulder and you can do lots with it but the best way forward is to make a ragu. Just simply chop up some vegetables, onions and garlic, add a few mushrooms and herbs, cut the feather blade into large cubes, brown them off and add some leftover red wine. Then cook it all down slowly, until the meat falls apart. The strip of collagen that runs through the joint breaks down and really adds to the flavour, doesn't it JOHN.'
'I am just amazed that you have leftover wine to cook with, Sophie,' he replied, with a smile and the early signs of a nervous gulp.
And it was on that note that I bailed out. Still, having listened and since trying Sophie's treatment, I am glad that the game is up on this one. The gelatinous quality of the meat certainly delivers an extra depth of flavour, which gets better and better if you leave the ragu in the fridge for another day before eating. But to push the umami factor up a notch or two, I did add a special secret ingredient of my own - some roughly chopped Parmesan rind.
Saving the toughened ends of this infamous Italian cheese has become a bit of habit for me. Once a wedge is done, I simply wrap up the rind and pop it in the freezer; ready to go into a soup, stew or even a ragu at a later date. It does melt down quite quickly and is all safe to eat. Plus, it helps you to do your little bit to eliminate food waste.
So there you go. That's another classified tip out in the open. Remember folks, sharing is caring.
Or should I say 'Remember Soph...'?
This recipe makes at least 12 servings
- First, heat your oven to 150°C
- Then in a large casserole or stock pot, brown the cubed feather blade in some beef dripping over a medium to high heat. You may have to do this in batches. Once done, put to one side and keep warm.
- Reduce the heat a touch and in the same pot, add the butter and then add the onions, celery and garlic and sweat them down until soft.
- Next, add the mushrooms, herbs and tomato puree and cook for a further five minutes or so and then add the meat and roughly chopped Parmesan to the pot and stir through.
- Finally, add the red wine and bring to a boil.
- Cover and place the casserole into the oven and slow cook for 3 hours, or until the meat starts to fall apart. The resulting ragu should be quite thick and unctuous, rather than overly 'saucy'.
- Lightly shred and ideally, cool the ragu down and leave in the fridge overnight.
- When ready to eat the next day, boil up some of your chosen pasta (tagliatelle is good for the ragu to 'cling' to) and reheat the ragu, checking for seasoning.
- Serve in deep bowls, so that you can mix the ragu and pasta up and don't forget to grate some extra Parmesan on top.