I have had The Lads round. We spent Friday night playing poker, talking about which cars are the fastest cars and objectifying women. As a result on Saturday morning I have two rinded oranges left over, because Matt of the excellent cocktail blog Cocktail Chap was making Old-Fashioneds. So now I need to find something to do with two oranges. Something that doesn’t involve autoerotic asphyxiation.
They don’t crop up a lot in cooking, oranges. Except in desserts, which I never bother with all that much. But if you want a bunch of guys who love to chuck fruit in a savoury dish, you’ve got to head down to the Mediterranean. Not literally; just nip over to Budgens and get some stuff for a tagine.
I’ve got a tagines recipe book I bought from one of those guys who comes and sets his stall out in your office reception to flog Peter Rabbit box-sets and unlicensed Avengers sticker albums. I don’t do them much: I’ve usually got most of the spices in but often they rely on ingredients I can’t be bothered to go to the big Tesco to pick up. But the index leads me to a tagine recipe that calls for two oranges, as well as beef, which means I can use up some steak I’ve got in the freezer and, brilliantly, pistachios, of which I’ve had the end of a bag knocking about for months. Very little pleases me more than using stuff up.
I get the steak out of the freezer in the early afternoon to defrost in the sink. It becomes apparent after a few hours that I can’t actually be bothered to cook this tonight, and I’ve noticed the amount of steak I’ve got is enormous, so instead I cut off enough to do with some chips and courgettes and leave the tagine till Sunday.
It’s Sunday. The steak isn’t really for stewing, but it’ll do. The recipe wants ghee but come on, let’s be real. Butter and olive oil it is. It’s after some ginger (another big tick in the box of stuff I happen to have left over), garlic and onions in it for a quick colouring, then a chilli, which I’ve forgotten to buy so I just use flakes, ground coriander and cinnamon. I have enough understanding to come up with my own spices when making curries, but the ones in Moroccan cooking are beyond me as far as instinctive flavour combinations go. I wouldn’t have a chance if I had to do it blind. It’d be pretty inconvenient doing most things blind, come to that.
Next in is some sliced beetroot, not something I ever buy and considered leaving out, but as per my uncertainty above, it’s best to stick to the recipe here. Once I’ve freed it from its vacuum-packed prison it leaks purple juice everywhere and makes the chopping board look like a crime scene. Then the beef: the steak is still massive enough that I have to hold it up and scissor bits off it into the pan because it won’t fit on the board, and I still have enough left over to do something with midweek. Everything sautees alongside its neighbours and I’m glad I resisted the urge to add more oil earlier when the spices made the onions, garlic and ginger into a paste. It’d be spitting all over the place by now if I had. Once the meat’s browned enough I cover it with water, season it all, boil it up then let it simmer for about an hour.
I spend this hour pleasantly, listening to a podcast about serial killers, drinking Neck Oil and smoking out of the bedroom window. I only stir the pan once, something I usually can’t resist. It’s reduced nicely, and I set about carving up the oranges and getting the chopping board even stickier. They go in with a tablespoon of honey. The recipe asks for “orange flower water”, which I didn’t even bother to look for in the Co-Op – what would it even come in: a can? A jar? A fancy little spritzer bottle? – so it can make do with a little bit of orange juice.
This needs another 15 minutes or so to stew itself into a mush. I get the pistachios in a pan with some butter to colour a bit, and organise the couscous. I’m supposed to scatter the pistachios on top of the plated dish but this feels a bit overly dainty. Deeez nuts aren’t for decoration; they’re supposed to be little flavour surprises you stumble across every other forkful. I tip them in and dish it up. Nothing goes to waste in my house. Except potential, obviously.