Celery seems to be a unanimously unglamorous vegetable. It’s as cheap as the common spud and sold year round. Its not ignored, indeed there’s barely a kitchen that it doesn’t pass through on its way to forming the base of stews and braises, but is its deliciousness often fully engaged with? Stripped of its tough outer stalks its heart has no less to say than an artichoke – sweet, creamy, nutty and a textural joy. It’s this time of year when the good stuff seems happiest coming out of the soil and it’s well worth tracking down that good stuff and giving it a stage to swagger.
Celery and cream
Using all the stalks but not the heart, trim them of their leaves and peel the outside of the bigger stalks with tough stringy skins (well worth holding on to for a if there’s a stock on the horizon). Blanch them in a big pot of salted, boiling water just for half a minute to a minute, to help tenderise them, and shock them in iced water. Then over a fire or a griddle pan grill them until well charred. Slice into thirds lengthwise. Shmear a spoonful of thick yellow cream onto a plate and pile some celery alongside it. Serve as is or with some fried chicken livers.
Oxtail, celery and fried bread
Have your butcher chop your oxtail into 1 inch pieces. There tends to be too much fat in proportion to meat on an oxtail, so you can trim some off, render it and use it to fry the bread. Season your oxtail generously with salt and pepper and a little flour. Fry to mahogany brown on all sides in a violently hot pan.
In a pot sweat down lots of finely diced onion, carrot and celery with olive oil until its completely tender – almost a mush – this will then take charge of the stews textural body. Add some bay and a bundle of herbs (heavy on the thyme). Then pour in lots of white wine, let it simmer for five minutes or so to banish the bitter alcoholic aromas. Then pop in the oxtail and a little light broth or water. Check for seasoning. Bring it gently to a tremble, lid on and into an oven of 120 degrees.
It’ll be ready when the meat falls from the bone with a mere nudge – 5-7 hours. Pop you nose in every now and then, check for tenderness, see if you need to adjust the oven temperature and give it a stir to let the fat circulate through the meat rather than all rendering, rising and staying at the top.
When it’s an hour of or so. Sizzle some crushed coriander seeds in some rapeseed or olive oil. Then add some celery sliced at an angle, fairly thin but still with some bite. Season and fry for a minute or two then add to the stew for the home stretch.
As with any long-cooked stew, a day or two in the fridge once cooked will play an important part in it’s becoming. Just before that, while its still warm is the best time to take the meat of its bone.
When ready to serve, slice some sourdough bread, taking the crust off, and fry in your oxtail dripping (or goose/duck/pork fat) until golden. Heat the stew up gently and ladle on top of a couple of slices of the fried bread each. Garnish with, celery heart and parsley sliced thin, grated horseradish and lemon peel.
Poached Halibut, celery heart and chervil
Halibut are some of the biggest of Neptune’s bounty – from around these shores – that find their way to the fishmongers stalls, its gets up to six feet in length. Fishmongers tend to take off and throw out their wings, head and tail and sell them in more manageable steaks, which have a tendency to dryness. Ask sweetly and they’ll likely be yours for next to nothing. They’ll make a very special stock – and the meat that you prize from them is gelatinous and tender.
In a pot sweat some onions, celery and fennel with some coriander seeds and a bundle of herbs (thyme, parsley stalks and bay). Fill your pot with half white wine half water and let simmer for twenty minutes. Check the seasoning and bring it to a consistent temperature that’s just below a simmer. Poach the halibut until its tender through to the bone. Take it out and when cool enough to touch work away at taking all the meat you can off the bone. The wings are especially picky, sticky work. If you’re happy enough with your yield I’d recommend a spot of cheek scoffing – scooping one out with a spoon and adding a very little bit of flakey sea salt. It arguably beats the thrill even of a roasted chicken’s oyster.
Pop the bones back into your pot and let simmer away gently for half an hour more. In that you’ll have a rich seasoned broth that’s the perfect base for a chowder.
With the halibut in a mixing bowl, add celery heart (sliced to something like matchsticks) and leaves (only the yellow ones), some capers, boiled egg(s) cut into quarters, chervil (kept in fairly big pieces), dress lightly with some fruity (rather than course and prickly) olive oil, some flaky sea salt and just a whisper of acid – in the form of lemon juice