I am a cynic – you may have noticed – but never more so than when a thing becomes, you know, “a thing”. Whether it’s avocado on toast, shabby chic style or hipster beards, we have a tendency, in the UK at least, to over-egg the proverbial pudding, to do things to death or at least to the point of extreme naffness.
Even worse is when marketeers spot ker-ching potential in the latest fad and merchandise the crap out of it. Take what has become the 21st century’s most overdone, most messed about with and therefore most irksome meme, to ‘keep calm and carry on’. Does anyone remember the rather quaint story behind this slogan, of a secondhand bookseller in Northumberland uncovering a copy of an abandoned wartime propaganda poster in a box of dusty old books, framing it, then reproducing it when it sparked high levels of interest among its customers, blissfully unaware of the monster it was creating? No, of course not. It’s long since been buried along with the poster’s simple, inspiring message, under a pile of discarded tea towels, tote bags and mugs.*
Now it’s cosiness, or at least the Danish version of it – hygge – that’s being hailed as the next big thing. In what has to be the finest example of teaching one’s grandma to suck eggs, the Danes are telling us Brits how to do cosy, with the publication of 17 books (and counting) on the subject in the past year. Hygge, which roughly translates as stating the bleedin’ obvious, is fundamentally sound in principle – snuggle up, be kind to yourself, enjoy the simple things in life, make a hot drink and light a candle if it makes you feel better. It’s the smug and patronising tone of its delivery – at a level previously only enjoyed by clean eaters – that grates on me. ‘No, no, no,’ the hyggsters cry, ‘you Brits are doing it all wrong, with your wall-to-wall carpets, homely clutter, mugs of builder’s tea and shepherds pie.’ To give good hygge, they tell us, you need roaring open wood fires, stripped back interiors with a few well chosen pieces of minimalist furniture (from Skandium NOT Ikea), artfully dressed tables, cashmere everything, beautiful hair and reams of faux fur.
Oh fuck off already. Don’t they know we invented the apple crumble? I’ll take a bowl of that for comfort (with custard of course) over pickled herring with foraged sea vegetables any day.
And mark my words, it will not stop at books. The marketeers must be wringing their hands at the merchandising opportunities hygge opens up. I’ve already clocked hygge candles and sweatshirts, but it’s just a matter of time (this side of Christmas, I’ll wager) before we see onesies emblazoned with ‘Getting hygge with it’, cashmere (OK probably not cashmere) hot water bottles embroidered with ‘Give us a hygge’, oversized mugs shouting ‘Get your hygge on!’ and, no doubt, aprons and tea towels telling us to ‘Keep calm and hygge on’. (No matter that hygge actually rhymes with ‘sugar’ and not ‘jiggy’ when there’s cash to be made.)
Right, it’s getting late. Time for me to don my fluffy slippers, draw the curtains and settle down to a big bowl of this warming stew, perhaps with a glass of red. Hell, I might even dim the lights and catch up with the latest Nordic noir TV series. This, my friends, is simple common sense. Not hygge or any other bullshytte.
Slow braised lamb shanks
This is adapted from How to Cook the Perfect… by Marcus Wareing. Serve with mash and by all means, light a candle or two.
Serves 4 with leftovers
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 4 large lamb shanks
- 2 onions, roughly chopped
- 2 sticks celery, sliced
- 2 carrots, coarsely chopped
- 1 leek, sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- 1 tbsp flour
- 1/2 bottle white wine
- 1 litre chicken stock
- salt and pepper
- finely grated zest of one lemon and a handful of mint leaves, chopped, to finish
- Preheat your oven to 160°C (fan).
- Season the shanks well with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large, deep casserole or pan and brown the shanks in batches until the outsides are really brown and caramelised (this will give the end dish a good colour). This will take about 20 minutes.
- Remove the shanks to a plate then add the vegetables, garlic and herbs to the pan and fry for about 5 minutes until beginning to colour. Add the tomato puree and cook for about 3 minutes, then add the flour and cook for a further minute.
- Pour in the wine and simmer to reduce the volume by half, then add the stock and bring to the boil.
- Submerge the lamb shanks in the broth, place the lid on the pan or casserole and cook in the oven for 2 1/2 hours. The meat is done when it is coming away from the bone.
- When cooked, strain the meat and vegetables from the stock into a pan then skim off the fat (there will be quite a lot). If the strained stock is a bit thin, reduce it by simmering, then taste and add salt and pepper accordingly. Return the meat, veg and strained stock to the casserole, discarding the garlic and herb sprigs as in the top photo. Alternatively, for a smoother sauce, discard all the veg and just return the meat to the sauce (second photo). Warm through.
- Sprinkle over the grated lemon zest and chopped mint and serve.
* Between me and you, I think this may be a more fitting slogan for our times. Just don’t tell the marketeers…