Red Rags

Cold, wet weather needs some warm, robust cooking. While my love for the one-pot stew knows no bounds, there are times when a shank, steak, chop or pile of sausages are the only thing that will do. Sure, there's nothing wrong with some steamed veg on the side. But I think we can do a little better than that.


p>I've been cooking red rags for a while now, and it's a dish that came out of experiment and necessity–that is, the need to use up tired veg that are lurking in the fridge and giving me guilt-trips. And while we're at it, one of those ingredients that seemed like a good idea over Christmas, but is now seriously outstaying its welcome.

It couldn't be simpler, really. The base is half a red cabbage and a whole red onion, which you cook down gently in a heavy, lidded pan with a knob of butter. They're shredded to the same sort of size, probably a bit chunkier than if you grated them. A mandolin does the job in seconds, but watch your fingers. If you have a couple of carrots, throw them in as well. If you have raw beetroot, even better.

Give your veg 15 minutes or so under a low heat, until it's softened but still has texture and bite. Now for the magic. It's two months after Christmas, and I bet you still have a half bottle of ready-mulled red wine knocking around. You know, that spiced, sugery stuff that never quite tastes as good as you think it's going to. It's not the greatest drink in the world, but when added to slow-cooked braises the sugar and spices mellow and transform into something with a lot more character. A glass or so of that over the veg, please, enough to cover. If you were sensible enough to steer clear of the ready-made, use normal red and chuck in a cinnamon stick. I haven't tried the muslin parcels of mulling spice, but I'd imagine you could use those at a pinch.

With the lid off now, bring the pot up to a fast simmer and let the liquid cook down to a sweet coating for the veg. Check the flavouring. If it's all a bit too sugary for your taste, throw in a little lemon juice or vinegar to balance things out.

The end result is a shining tangle of rich red deliciousness that's perfect sitting next to sausage and mash, a lamb shank, a pork chop, maybe even a hunk of monkfish. It's fantastic with game, of course. It'll keep in the fridge for a week or so. Cold, it makes a brilliant relish with strong cheeses and a good slice of ham. I'm thinking about making a pickled version just for that purpose. And of course, if you assemble the raw vegetables and bind them with a mix of mayo and creme fraiche, you have a fresh, crunchy ruby slaw, the uses of which are nearly endless.

In winter months I always have a red cabbage in the fridge just to make red rags. It's possibly my favourite vegetable dish for this end of the year. Easy to make, and with flavour to spare, it's going to brighten up your winter plates no end.



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