Any young chef might be excused for thinking that slow-cooking was invented with the vac-pack and the water bath. Not so. With a pedigree centuries old and still going strong, daubes are much, much more than a meat stew - in terms of cooking skills, a daube is a 1947 Chateau Latour compared to a meat stew's New World Cabernet Sauvignon.
To eat a daube, customers don't need to book months in advance to go to world-famous restaurants. They go to a bistro, a brasserie or a country inn. There, the quality will depend on the palate and the skill of the person charged with cooking it. The secret, of course, is patience: making a mirepoix that isn't just shoved in a hot oven; leaving the meat in its cooked marinade for 36-48 hours; and overnight simmering.
Eric Chavot's daube Á la ProvenÁ§ale takes about four days, from the start of preparation to the time it reaches a customer's table. The batch size allows him to produce 150 portions for his restaurant, supported by modern â¨high-performance equipment, with no risk of wastage. The scale can be adjusted upwards (say, for ready meals) or downwards (for a small bistro business).
Historical background The word "daube" arrived in France from Italy about 400 years ago, and back then it referred to a marinade used for meat. Within half a century recipes started appearing, which described daube as meat cooked in a sauce. Because of the closeness of Provence to Italy, most of the famous recipes for this preparation have ties with the region. So, in Nice, part of the north Italian Kingdom of Savoy until the mid-19th century, there was both a daube niÁ§oise and a ravioles de daube niÁ§oise (made with left-overs). In the Camargue, famous for its â¨bullfights, a daube was made with bull meat (also called Gardianne de boeuf) and, inland, daube Á l'avignonnaise was made with mutton or lamb.
From its origin as a dish for the rich man's table, it has passed into popular regional â¨cuisine. Village bakeries would cook daubes for families in their communal ovens in â¨the same way they roasted joints of meat. Ashes from the oven were piled on the â¨tight-fitting pot lids to provide all-round, even heat, which allowed the meat to simmer very gently in the liquid.
But even with so much tradition and experience behind the dish, it has still evolved over time. The meat has improved, the wine too, and probably the cooks' know-how, but the objectives haven't changed. A good daube must have a sauce with a rich, intense, lingering flavour and the tenderest meat.
Batch size To prepare a full batch, Chavot uses 12 x 2kg trimmed feather blades of beef, which yield 150 portions. The following recipe is based on one joint of meat that will yield 12-14 portions.
Feather blade Its US name, "flat-iron", describes the joint well: a single strip of muscle lying over the shoulder blade. It's often cut as chuck steak, but the trimmed joint, which weighs about 2kg after removal of the silverskin and other trim, is ideal for daubes. It has a gelatinous thread of collagen running through it that helps to make the cooked meat succulent.
Some alternative beef cuts include oxtail, shin or ox cheek. In winter, wild boar or wild red deer also make great daubes.
Cost Brasserie Chavot pays about £6 per kilo for feather blade joints before trim to yield six to seven finished portions. The recipe includes about 1.5 bottles of red wine, white wine, top-quality bacon and other prime ingredients. These will roughly quadruple the price. The daube will sell on a brasserie menu for £19.50.
Cost price: approximately £4; selling price: £15.60 (before VAT); gross profit: approximately 74%.
Planning Day 1 Cook the mirepoix. Prep and sear the meat. Prep the wine marinade and start to marinade the meat.
Day 2 Continue to marinade the meat all day. Slow-cook overnight in Rational or similar.
Day 3 Remove, chill and portion the meat. Add the stock to the marinade and reduce.
From day 4 Prepare the garnishes. During â¨service, sear the meat portions and reheat in the sauce.
100ml virgin olive oil or pomace
100g duck fat
500g roughly chopped Spanish onions
500g smoked streaky bacon cut into 3cm cubes
250g chopped carrot
1 sprig rosemary
1 bay leaf
2-3 sprigs thyme
6 cloves garlic
1 scant tsp black peppercorns
Zest of Â½ lemon
Zest of Â½ orange
1.2 litres Grenache red wine
2.1kg feather blade joint (room temperature)
250g flour for coating the meat
500ml dry white wine
800g tomato passata
1 litre brown veal stock
Salt and pepper
Extra duck fat with olive oil (optional)
For the garnish Black NiÁ§oise olives
Grilled baby artichokes
METHOD Stage 1
•Divide the oil, duck fat and butter betweenâ¨two large saucepans.
•Put the onions in one and the bacon and carrot in another. (1)
• Over a low flame, cook the contents of both saucepans very slowly, stirring and turning them from time to time. Allow about 30 minutes â¨for this. The onions will be glazed, the bacon softened and the carrots lightly caramelised.
• Combine the bacon and carrot with the onions.
• Add the herbs, garlic, peppercorns, cloves and citrus zests to the onions. (2)
•Cook out the mirepoix until the flavours have blended.
•Strain the mirepoix, reserving some of the fat separately to sear the meat. (3)
• Deglaze both pans with some red wine, scraping the bottom with a spatula. The sediment should be caramelised, not burnt. (4)
•Empty the contents of one pan into the other. Remove from the heat source.
•Divide the meat into two blocks and coat thoroughly on all sides with the flour. (5)
•Heat some of the reserved fat from the mirepoix in a large pan and sear one piece of meat until it is properly browned on all sides. Repeat with the second piece. (6)
•Deglaze the pan with more wine. Add this wine to the pan with the previous deglazing liquid.
•Add the rest of the wines and tomato passata to this pan and bring to the boil. Take off the heat.
•Add the two joints of meat and the mirepoix so they bathe completely in the wine. (7)
•Leave refrigerated for at least 36 hours.
Daubes should be cooked in pans with the lids on. Eric Chavot cooks his overnight in a Rational SCC combination oven set on overnight boiling 95Â°C, "well done", "gentle cooking".
Any alternative method of cooking that lets the meat simmer without boiling until tender enough to eat with a spoon is fine, but expect to cook the meat for six to eight hours.
Stage 3 Take the meat out of the cooking liquid and chill.Strain the liquid into a fresh pan. Bring it to the boil and reduce by half. There should still be â¨over 1.25 litres of concentrated sauce.
Add the veal stock. Boil again and reduce â¨to about 1.5 litres. Adjust the seasoning carefully. The sauce has massive flavour and shouldn't be salty. Reserve for service. (8)
When the two joints have set, cut them â¨into cube-shaped individual portions, weighing between 90g and 100g each.
For each order, heat a little oil and duck fat in a frying pan, le Creuset-type dish or similar (if you have some oil left over from stage one, use this). Sear one piece of meat on all sides to obtain â¨a thin crust. (9)
Transfer to a serving dish. Add about â¨120ml sauce. Cover with a cartouche and heat through in a low oven for about 20 minutes.
Serve with a preheated garnish: black NiÁ§oise olives, oven-dried tomatoes, grilled artichokes, Chantenay carrots, button onions and basil.
The baby artichokes are trimmed, halved or quartered, blanched and then chargrilled; the tomatoes are peeled, cored, salted and then oven-dried; baby Chantenay carrots should â¨look like mini spinning-tops, and the pearl onions should be lightly glazed.
Photos by Lisa Barber and Adrian Franklin/Hospitality Media