You are probably thinking…what is an Aga? Or perhaps you are thinking I don’t care what kind of stove you cook on, just give me a recipe. Well, to both of you I say, hold your horses and I’ll explain.
An Aga stove (actually called an Aga cooker) is a very expensive (like $4,000-$10,000), very strange source of heat for cooking often found in the great cottages of the English countryside. The Aga cooker was developed by a blind Swedish physicist, Gustaf Dalen in the early twentieth century. Must have been very difficult to invent a stove without the gift of sight. There are many different ways to heat an Aga, but the basic principal is to constantly heat large iron plates that are configured into four small compartments or “ovens.” The top of the Aga has two round cast iron plates that resemble a typical stove. The kicker is that you never turn your Aga off. It constantly burns coal or gas or oil or whatever you’ve got it hooked up to. It’s recently received criticism for being hugely inefficient, but many Aga devotees claim it’s the heating source for the whole house.
You can’t just go to the store or order your Aga online. You have to customize it for your kitchen and an Aga technician will come and assemble it for you. If given the option, I would obviously go for pink, like this model from Avec Cookers.
A friend of mine and his family just purchased a country house in Western Massachusetts and it came fully-equipped with an Aga stove. So obviously i jumped at the opportunity to cook on it!
How do you cook on an Aga?
Well….very slowly. The idea is that the ovens range from the “warming” oven to the “heating oven” to the hottest “roasting oven.” Most Aga cookbooks will walk you through the rotation of moving dishes of food through the ovens to make a complete meal. It’s very very silly and time consuming. Only one of the hot plates on top gets hot enough to boil water so you are basically limited to one source of flame. And remember, you can never turn it off…so you’ll need lot’s of heat-proof counter space. The bottom line is that it’s beautiful. A real status symbol in England- it’s a bit of an anomaly to find one in North America. I can’t imagine baking in one of these things since there is actually no temperature. This is could be solved easily by purchasing these heat-proof temperature gauges (house-warming gift?). I think the best way to utilize the Aga is to slow-cook meats in the roasting oven – so I roasted 4 pounds of pork butt over three hours. I also successfully poached eggs and made pasta. I made the pork extra smoky by adding Lapsang Souchong Tea and it was really really really good.
Roasted Smoky Pork Tacos with Lapsang Souchong and Garlic Black Beans
Note: These Directions are for an Aga Stove, to make this recipe using a regular range follow the directions in the parentheses
You will need:
16 corn tortillas
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup vinegar (any kind will do)
1 teaspoon sugar + 1 teaspoon salt
Parsley or Cilantro to sprinkle on top
For the pork:
4 lb. pork butt or shoulder
1 16 oz. can chopped tomatoes
5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
2 Tablespoons loose Lapsang Souchong Tea
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 large dried ancho chillies
1 Tablespoon cumin
1 Tablespoon paprika
For the beans:
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon vinegar
1. Cook the pork: In a large dutch oven (you have to use something with a lid that can go in the oven), heat the olive oil on the hotter of the two round warming plates (Medium heat on your stove). Cook the yellow onion and chopped garlic for about 5 minutes. Add the chilies and the tea leaves and cook for 1 minute. Place the pork in the pan and cook for 5 minutes on each side to sear it. Add the canned tomatoes, paprika, cumin and some salt and pepper and stir. Add 2 cups of water to the pot and bring to a boil. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and roast in the roasting oven for at least 2 hours (or in a regular oven at 325). Check every 30 minutes to see that there is enough liquid- add water if the liquid level is below 2 inches. Test the meat using a fork to see if it’s ultra tender and falls apart- that’s when it’s done. Let it rest for 20 minutes out of the oven.
2. Make the pickled onions: In a small non-stick pan on the hotter of the two warming plates (or medium high heat) combine the sliced red onion, vinegar, salt and sugar. Bring to a boil (it will happen quickly) and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
3. Make the beans: Heat the olive oil on the hotter of the two round warming plates (Medium heat on your stove). Cook the garlic for 2 minutes before adding the beans, vinegar, paprika and 2 tablespoons of water. Cook 5-7 minutes or until the beans start to fall apart. If the beans crack too much, add more water or transfer to the warming plate to simmer (or turn down your burner).
4. Shred the pork: Remove the pork using tongs to a rimmed plate. Using two forks, shred the meat and set aside. Strain the sauce by passing it through a sieve or cheese cloth – or use a slotted spoon to fish out the solid bits. Combine the liquid with the shredded pork and assemble the tacos.
Eggs in Red Wine Sauce (oeufs en meurette)
You will need:
3 strips bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
10-15 Shitake Mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 small red onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
2 cups dry red wine
4 large eggs
1 cup beef stock
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Salt and pepper
4 large slices of crusty bread
1. Cook bacon in a nonstick pan on the hotter of the two warming tops (Medium high heat) for about 3 minutes until barely crispy. Drain on paper towel but leave the fat in the pan.
2. Add mushrooms, red onions, and thyme to the pan. Cook until mushrooms and onions are soft and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the bacon back in and set aside on the less hot warming top.
3. In a small skillet, bring the wine to a rapid simmer (there should be bubbles around the edge). There is really no secret to poaching eggs- you just have to be careful and attentive. It helps to break each egg into a shallow bowl first and then slide gently into the wine – cook for two minutes on the heat and then remove the pan to the counter cop and cover. The eggs will continue to cook, so remove them after 2-4 minutes using a slotted spoon and set aside.
4. Bring the wine poaching liquid to a boil and reduce by half (about 10 minutes) and set aside.
5. Back on the hotter warming top, bring the broth to boil and cook off some liquid for 5 minutes. Stir in the reduced wine, butter and season with salt and pepper.
6. Toast each slice of bread using your amazing Aga tennis racquet contraption, shown below (or just toast the bread like you would normally). Carefully layer each egg on top of each slice, spoon two tablespoons of the bacon mushroom mixture and coat in the sauce.