I had the privilege of meeting Sir Trevor MacDonald on New Year’s Day, as he was a guest in the same box as my wife and I at the Emirates Stadium for the Arsenal v Tottenham match.
And what a charming and interesting man, except he did confess to supporting Spurs!
Reflecting on this New Year’s Honours list, I thought about how pleased I felt to see Penelope Keith honoured this year, being created a Dame of the British Empire.
Back in the mid-1970s, when I was head chef at Drakes in Chelsea, and was a shy, reserved young chef – hard to believe, even for me – I met Penelope.
In those days, I would not go into the restaurant under any circumstances but, one evening, the restaurant manager told me that a friend of mine was in, a young man who had worked under me at the Savoy, and he insisted that I should go and say hello.
Reluctantly, I agreed, and walked swiftly to the table, eyes fixed straight ahead to avoid eye contact with other customers.
I froze as I saw he was sitting with the afore mentioned Dame, who was at that time regularly on our screens in The Good Life.
I initially wanted the ground to open up, but she very quickly made me feel at ease, asking me some pertinent questions in a very relaxed and charming way.
I eventually left them to enjoy their dinner, returning to the safety of my kitchen, chest puffed out!
After all those years at the Savoy, cooking for a multitude of celebrities and royalty, I’d now actually met somebody famous.
So I am dedicating this week’s recipe to Dame Penelope, and extend my warmest congratulations to her, for her honour.
I got the idea from a good friend of mine, and wanted to try this recipe.
l 1.5kg oxtail, jointed
l 3tbsp plain flour
l salt and freshly milled black pepper
l 3tbsp vegetable oil
l 2 medium onions finely chopped
l 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
l 2 medium carrots, finely chopped
l 2 sticks of celery, finely chopped
l 4 sprigs fresh thyme
l 2 bay leaves
l 250ml red wine
l 500ml stock, beef, chicken or vegetable
l 300g self-raising flour
l 2tsp English mustard powder
l 140g shredded suet
1) Wash the oxtail and dry with kitchen paper.
2) Trim off the excess fat. Season the flour and lightly coat the oxtail pieces.
3) Heat the oil in a large frying pan, and brown the oxtail over a medium heat for about 10 minutes, until browned all over.
4) Put the oxtail into a large ovenproof casserole, leaving the fat and juices in the frying pan.
5) Add the onions, garlic, carrots and celery, and cook gently for 10 minutes, until the vegetables are lightly browned, stirring occasionally.
6) Tip the vegetables on top of the beef and add the thyme and bay leaves.
7) Stir in the wine and stock.
8) Season with salt and pepper, put the casserole on the heat and bring to a gentle simmer, cover with a lid and cook in the centre of the oven, 150C/gas 2, for about three hours.
9) Stir after 1½ hours, turning the oxtail in the sauce.
10) The meat should be falling off the bones and the sauce should be thick.
11) Remove the oxtail on to a tray, allow to cool slightly, then remove the meat from the bones and discard them.
12) Return the meat to the casserole, and stir in, seasoning to taste.
13) Skim any fat that has risen to the surface of the sauce.
14) For the suet pastry lining, grease a 1.5-litre pudding basin.
15) Make the pastry by mixing together the flour, mustard powder, suet and half a teaspoon of table salt.
16) Add enough cold water, about 150ml, to make a soft dough.
17) Remove one-quarter of the dough and set to one side.
18) On a floured surface, roll out the remaining dough to make a large round, big enough to line the basin.
19) Place the oxtail mix into the lined bowl, and cover with lid, sealing the edges well.
20) Cover with some greased baking parchment, and then some foil, again, sealing well.
21) Place into a steamer, and simmer for about an hour and three quarters.
22) When cooked, allow to cool slightly before removing from the steamer.
23) Turn out and serve with creamy mash, and buttered cabbage.