Last of the winter veg in a pot roast

THE “MAILLARD effect” is hardly a phrase that is likely to get the gastric juices flowing. It”s surprising, as well, that there isn”t a more common term for it, since such reactions are a fundamental part of cooking.

Named after the French biochemist Louis Camille Maillard, the effect refers to part of a sugar molecule (yes, there are sugars in meats) combining with the nitrogen part of a protein molecule to form many brown and highly-flavoured substances yes this is browning which is desirable in cooked meat.

The deep caramelised flavours that develop from the careful browning of meat and vegetables become the base for the entire dish, and no amount of seasoning later will make up for their absence.

Good browning takes time, patience, vigilance and turning. The meat needs to be dry and the pan hot enough to sizzle, but not so hot that it scorches what is put into it and not overcrowded and so causing the temperature to drop.

The dark caramelised juices stuck to the bottom of the pan after browning provide a rich meaty flavour when they are deglazed with liquid, usually wine or stock.

All this is a prelude to this month”s beef pot roast which is halfway between a roast and a stew and was a cut of topside courtesy of our piano teacher”s husband Peter.

Not only is this dish perfect for a cold February day, but is also a good opportunity to clear out the last of the winter root vegetables from the garden.

It was the French settlers who took their iron cooking pots or “chaudiere” to the Maritime Provinces of Canada where they encountered the clam-loving Micmac Indians who then used the pots for cooking their clams, and chaudiere became chowder.

This is a thick and chunky hearty soup usually but not invariably of seafood although I have used one of my favourite tinned foods sweetcorn.

Continuing the theme of Native American Indians (as you do in a cookery column), it was the Algonguin tribe who first ground and boiled the nuts of the hickory tree into a rich cream to thicken their broths and flavour corncakes and gave them the name pecan.

Although related to the walnut, the pecan is oilier and milder in flavour and having discovered some in an early spring clean along with some maple syrup that Derek the chicken plucker brought back from his holidays, I took the opportunity to try a chocolate version of this American pudding which can be made in advance.

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