Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Autumn Stews from France – Ragout

Over the centuries, the word ragout (which in 17th-century France meant anything that stimulated appetite) has come to signify a highly seasoned stew. A Ragout can be a stew of any simmered food, be it meat, vegetable, fish or fowl - although in France, the main ingredients are diced into quite small pieces. The Italian equivalent of a ragout is a dense meat sauce known as a ragu, which most of us have sampled on Bolognese-style pastas.

Le Ragoût de Queue de Boeuf (Ragoût of Oxtail with Chestnuts)

1 oxtail, cut up
2 oz goose or pork fat
4 oz carrots, finely chopped
6 oz onion, finely chopped
1 ½ oz flour
1 ¾ pt dry white wine
bouquet garni
salt and pepper
½ lb salted belly pork, cubed
½ lb Toulouse sausage cut into thick slices
1 1lb peeled chestnuts
1 stick celery
croûtons of pain de seigle (rye bread)
2 oz goose or pork fat

Brown the pieces of oxtail in a heavy casserole dish in the goose fat. Add the carrots and onions and when fairly browned sprinkle with the flour, stir well and cook together for a few minutes allowing the mixture to take on some colour. Add the wine little by little stirring to amalgamate the gravy, add the bouquet garni and seasonings and allow the mixture to simmer, covered, over a low heat for 3 hours or so.
Meanwhile fry the pieces of salt pork and sausage very gent;y in their own fat for 20 mins. Cook the chestnuts in lightly salted water with the celery for 20 mins and strain. When the oxtail pieces are cooked put them in a serving dish with the chestnuts, salt pork and sausage. Remove what fat you can from the liquor in which the oxtail has cooked and pour the remaining juice over all. Serve with hot croutons of rye bread fried in goose fat.

Château la Fleur Morange (£30 -£67) would pair very well with this dish. It's a boutique wine in Saint-Pey-D'Armens made by Véronique and Jean-François Julien that is receiving high acclaim from wine critics across the globe. The wines are full bodied and fruit driven, impressively structured and sophisticated. They are a deep dark crimson purple with notes of raspberries, liquorice, blackcurrants, smoke and earth.

Château Sociando Mallet (£17 - £22) is another good choice – it's in the unusual situation of not being a classed growth when it should be. It was never entered into the Classification despite turning out wines of such quality that it out performs many that are produced by its neighbours. The inky purple wines have an unusual capacity for longevity and are one of the longest lived wines made in the Médoc. They are powerful, full bodied, tannic and rich. They are fragrant and have notes of blackberries, raspberries, blossom blueberries and wood.

Château Chasse Spleen (£14) is also a great buy – it's one of the leading Moulis estates and is held in high esteem – being ranked as high as many Third Growths by some critics. The château's name means to “chase the blues away” and hails from a literary background – Lord Byron visited the château in 1822 and was so entranced by the vineyards that he remarked “Quel remède pour chasser le spleen”. It is also thought to have been inspired Baudelaire's poem “Spleen” after he had visited the property. The wines of Chasse Spleen are charming, full bodied, fruit driven and rich. They have good depth and concentration with notes of blackberries, cherries, plums, charcoal, liquorice and violets.

Chateau Les Tonnelles (£7.82) from Fronsac would pair well with the rich flavours of your Ragout - largely ignored until the mid 80's the producers from this area are benefiting from much interest in their rich, full and darkly coloured wines. 100% Merlot this lovely full bodied wine is rich in colour. It has been aged in oak for around 15 months and is smooth in the mouth and full of black fruits.

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