When my daughter was much younger she pleaded for a pony, constantly. I have Christmas lists past which document her persistence. Even now, when she decides to have a rant, ever more frequent as adolescence advances, the subject of the-pony-I-never-got is often raised. But enough about what didn’t happen.
Eventually, thoughts of ponies turned to puppies and last July, thanks to the local animal shelter, I became the somewhat stunned owner of a Bichon Frise pup. Stunned, but delighted. I am so glad she made me do it. The whole dog thing has been life changing, in the best possible way.
As feeding is a major concern of mine, what to feed the dog is up there on the list of things to think about. He came to us from a foster carer so I continued the same food, partly because this is recommended but mostly because the brand is reputable and there was enough to deal with, i.e. sleep loss and housetraining. In fact, the feeding aspect was going so well I found myself wishing there was a big bag of food for every member of the household: bag of man food, bag of teen girl food, bag of almost adult boy food, etc. Just tip into a bowl twice a day and that’s that. And there’s my dark secret out: I often dread the daily what’s-for-dinner routine.
Then the dog needed the vet for a routine dog ailment and this raised the subject of feeding. The diagnosis was to maintain the dry food and replace the wet food with pure protein in the form of eggs, chicken, tuna, etc. Human food, basically, and cook it if I would eat it cooked or leave raw if I would eat it raw. This is what I have done and pooch doing well and loving it, he told me so. And now I am cooking for yet another creature. Gone are my dreams of kibble for everyone.
This new feeding routine has raised all sorts of issues. Firstly the cost. I am trying to cut down on meat because I have read the books and articles on the subject and largely buy organic when I do buy, but it is expensive. So now it’s organic meat/MSC fish for the dog too though creativity, and cheating, helps to keep the cost down.
The other issue is health. The result of this feeding switch is the dog seems to be eating better than us. Here is what he has been getting: chicken liver, egg, oxtail (not a success, too fatty I think), tinned sardines and mackerel, duck leftover from recipe testing, chicken wing or thigh meat, bits of our stewing beef that I keep aside. I sometimes think I should keep some of his food aside for us but it would be difficult to get the troops to rally round tinned mackerel.
But really, this is less about cooking for the dog and all about the food chain. My cooking fatigue happens because we do not eat out often and I will not buy processed food. So why would I buy ready meals for my dog. Most commercial dog food does not tell me enough about what is in it. The brands that do are costly and, for now, it seems cooking it myself works out cheaper. The next project is to explore the budget options on offer from the organic butcher.
I accept that pet food contains things humans may not want to eat, this is good use of livestock, but the nutritious weird bits not ligaments. And I need to know what the bits are; “derivatives” is not adequate information. I certainly need to know that what is in the tin is not tainted. Pet food issues include basic food safety, not just nutrition. On this subject, Marion Nestle, the food politics expert who has also written on the pet food industry says : “…we only have one food supply – and it feeds humans, pets and farm animals. If we have a problem with pet food, then there will likely be a problem with all food. …We need a food-safety system covering the whole thing…” Indeed.
So it is clear, my cooking for the dog is not about recipes. I just heat the meat, or boil the egg or squish a sardine, and mix this with the kibble.
This recipe is inspired by the oxtail the dog couldn’t eat. It’s an old favourite: Oxtail Terrine based on the version in my well-worn Patricia Wells’ Bistro book.
Serve the terrine, to people, with proper French cornichons (the tiny ones). This needs to be made at least 2 days before serving as the meat needs to marinate overnight, then the terrine marinates overnight. Worth the wait, I promise. And since I’m posting 2 days before the Superbowl, you just have time to make it and start a new tradition.
Terrine de Queue de Boeuf
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
1.5 kg oxtail pieces
3 large carrots, 2 celery stalks with green bits, 1 onion, 1 leek, all coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
250 ml dry white wine (or red ok too)
1 tbsp Maldon sea salt, plus more for later
A small bunch of parsley, a few sprigs of thyme and 2 bay leafs, tied in a bundle with twine
A few black peppercorns
2 tablespoons drained capers
French cornichons and grated horseradish, to serve
Day 1: Heat the oil in a stockpot (one that you can fit into your fridge later on). When hot but not smoking add the oxtail and cook, turning occasionally, until well browned. Remove and set aside on a plate.
Add the chopped vegetables, except the garlic, to the pot, stir well to coat with the fat and cook until coloured.
Return the oxtail and add the garlic and wine, then just enough water to cover everything. Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer very gently until the meat is falling off the bone, 3-4 hours. Let cool completely, then transfer the whole thing, meat and broth to the fridge and chill overnight. This is the first stage of the marinade and it also makes it easier to degrease the next day.
Day 2: The next day, remove from the fridge and spoon all the fat off the top. Take out the oxtail pieces and get the meat off the bone, using your fingers or a fork or something. Just don’t hurt yourself. As little fat as possible, this should be lean meat.
Return the meat to the pot, with the capers and put back on the stove to return to the boil. Taste and adjust seasoning; it will be served cold and so needs to be well seasoned.
At this point, you can either make one big terrine, using a loaf pan lined with cling film or baking paper, or use individual ramekins. I prefer the individual route, each one makes a portion and it is much neater for serving. Turning out the single terrine doesn’t always work for me. You need 8-12ish ramekins.
Transfer the meat and vegetables to the chosen container(s). Press down really well to squash it all in, then pour some of the cooking broth over to fill just to the top. Cover and refrigerate until chilled; if using a single loaf tin, add a few heavy tins or something on top at this point to help weight it and press down. I don’t do this for the ramekins since I don’t turn them out. Then return to the fridge and leave about 24 hours. Serve chilled.