Sunday 11 December 2016

Slow food: Take time to prepare

Take your time to prepare a hearty stew, says Brenda Costigan, as the combination of tender meat and deliciously flavoured juices in a winter casserole is well worth the wait

Published 23/01/2011 | 11:00

MOROCCAN CHICKEN TAGINE
MOROCCAN CHICKEN TAGINE

I like to describe a casserole/stew as using a two-step method of cooking. Step one is to prepare and cook the stew slowly the day before. Having removed it from the heat, cover the casserole or saucepan with a big towel -- just like a tea cosy on a teapot -- and it will continue to cook in its own heat for a while longer.

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Leave it on the counter overnight. Step two is done when you rush home the next day: simply reheat this tasty casserole, sit down and eat! If you wish to keep it for a second night, cool it down and store it in your fridge or freezer in a suitable container.

Long, slow cooking tenderises the cheaper cuts of meat and you can include lots of different vegetables and flavourings; the resulting dish will have oodles of delicious juices. What used to be described as a solid-fuel cooker, such as a Stanley or an Aga, is ideal for cooking stews, but any cooker will do.

MOROCCAN CHICKEN TAGINE

(Pictured)

The delightful flavour of this recipe is achieved by combining spices, herbs and dried fruit. Serves 5-6.

You will need:

1 medium-large chicken, cut in portions, or part-boned chicken portion with skin on

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground paprika

1 medium onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1-2 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce, you will need:

3-4 tablespoons olive oil for frying

1 large onion, chopped

1-2 garlic cloves, chopped

300-600ml (1/2-1pt) chicken stock

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 tablespoon tomato puree

1-2 thin strips orange peel (no white pith)

50g (2oz) ready-to-eat dried apricots

50g (2oz) ready-to-eat prunes (optional)

1/2-1 teaspoon chopped fresh red chilli or chilli powder

Couscous, basmati rice or mashed potato, to serve

Put the chicken portions into a bowl. To make the dry seasoning, mix together the ground cinnamon, the cumin, the ginger, the paprika, the chopped onion and garlic and the chopped fresh coriander. Add some salt and freshly ground black pepper, and add to the chicken, tossing the portions well to coat them completely. Cover the chicken and leave for at least half an hour, preferably longer -- ideally three hours. If you're keeping it overnight, put the seasoned chicken in the fridge.

To make the sauce, heat the olive oil and fry the chopped onion and garlic until they become soft. Lift them out and transfer them to a heavy saucepan. Fry the seasoned chicken portions, including any seasoning remaining in the bowl, in three or four lots until all the pieces are lightly browned. Transfer them to the saucepan. Add the chicken stock to the saucepan along with the chopped tomatoes, the tomato puree, the thin strips of orange peel, the dried apricots, the prunes, if you are using them, and the chopped fresh red chilli or chilli powder, whichever you are using. If you're using a whole chicken cut in bulky portions, you will need up to a pint of stock. But, if you are using part-boned chicken breasts, then you may wish to use less stock.

Cover the saucepan with a lid and bring it to the boil. Use a layer of baking parchment or tin foil between the lid and the saucepan to ensure a good fit. Simmer very gently for about one hour, or until the chicken is tender. If you prefer, cook the tagine in the oven -- 180 C, 350 F, Gas 4 -- in a casserole for about 1? hours, or until the chicken is tender. If necessary, reduce the heat. Before serving, discard the strips of orange peel. Serve with couscous or basmati rice or mashed potatoes. This dish reheats excellently.

VENISON CASSEROLE

Venison casserole has its own distinctive flavour, which improves dramatically if it is kept overnight. This is an excellent way of cooking the tougher cuts, such as the shoulder and leg. Serves 5-6.

You will need:

3 tablespoons olive oil, approx

8 thin streaky rashers or 4 generous back rashers, chopped

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

3 garlic cloves, crushed

900g (2lb) stewing venison, cut in 5cm (2in) pieces

2 medium carrots, diced (optional)

1 parsnip, diced (optional)

450 ml (3/4pt) red wine (preferably Burgundy)

425-600ml (3/4-1pt) beef stock (use tinned beef consomme, if preferred)

Grated zest of 1 orange

6 juniper berries, crushed (optional)

12 mushrooms, chopped

Bouquet garni (sprig of thyme, parsley, bay leaf)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon redcurrant jelly

25g (1oz) each butter and flour to make kneaded butter, see note

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, to serve

Mashed potato, to serve

Heat a little of the olive oil in a frying pan and fry the chopped streaky or back rashers, whichever you are using, until they are browned. Lift them out and transfer them to a casserole or a heavy saucepan. If you're using a casserole, ideally choose one that can be used on the hob as well as in the oven.

Fry the sliced onions and crushed garlic until they become soft, adding more oil as required, and transfer them to the casserole when they are lightly browned. Fry the venison in a few lots until it has browned; then transfer the pieces to the casserole. Add the diced carrots and parsnip, if you are using them. Pour the red wine and the beef stock into the casserole -- there should be enough to cover the contents. Then add the orange zest, the crushed juniper berries, if you're using them, the chopped mushrooms and the bouquet garni. Season well with some salt and freshly ground black pepper and add the redcurrant jelly. Bring to the boil. Cover and simmer gently for 1? hours or cook in the slow oven (170 C, 325 F, Gas 3) for approximately two hours or so. Leave to stand in the kitchen overnight. The heat of the casserole will continue cooking the meat a little more.

To serve, reheat gently and thicken the juices by adding enough little bits of the kneaded butter, see note below. If, by chance, the meat is not tender enough, simmer a little longer. Scatter the chopped fresh parsley over the top. Serve with mashed potato.

Note:

To thicken the stew juices, mash together equal amounts of butter and flour to make a paste. Drop teaspoons of the kneaded butter into the steadily simmering casserole, stirring briskly for a few minutes to cook the paste and thicken the juices.

BEEF GOULASH

This is one of my favourite standby recipes -- it's a real comfort food for a cold, wintry day. It is based on the classic Hungarian goulash, with lots of paprika (not a hot one). However, I do like to include a little cayenne pepper as it gives a marvellous hot kick. I am very partial to adding sliced carrots, because they are wonderfully low in calories, they take on the flavour of the casserole, and they make the meat go further. Serves 6.

You will need:

900g (2lb) stewing beef (a combination of rib and round steaks is very good)

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

200g (7oz) chopped smoked rashers

350g-450g (12-16oz) onions, sliced

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1-2 heaped teaspoons mild paprika

Generous 570ml (1pt) beef stock

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 tablespoon tomato puree

1 glass red wine (optional)

175g (6oz) mushrooms, sliced

4 carrots, sliced

2 sticks celery, chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 -1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (very hot)

1/4 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon thyme

25g (1oz) each butter and flour to make kneaded butter (optional), see note

Chopped fresh parsley, to serve

Greek yogurt, to serve

Mashed potato, or basmati rice to serve

Cut the stewing beef into generous, bite-sized chunks, discarding any fat and gristle. Fry the meat in some of the olive oil in a pan, in small lots, until it is browned. Transfer to a heavy saucepan or casserole. Fry the chopped smoked rashers until they are lightly golden and add them to the meat. Fry the sliced onions and the chopped garlic until soft, adding the paprika, and cook gently for a minute or so, then add to the meat. Pour the beef stock over the meat, adding the tinned tomatoes, the tomato puree, and the red wine, if you are using it. Stir, then add the sliced mushrooms and carrots, the chopped celery, some salt and freshly ground black pepper, the cayenne pepper, the oregano and the thyme.

If you're using a saucepan: Bring to the boil, cover and simmer very gently until the meat is tender -- 1?-2 hours.

If you're using a casserole: cover the casserole with a tight-fitting lid and cook it in the oven until the meat is tender -- about 2-3 hours (at 170 C, 325 F, Gas 3).

If you want to thicken the stew juices using the kneaded butter, then see the note in the previous recipe.

Scatter the chopped, fresh parsley and spoon some Greek yogurt on to each serving. Serve with mashed potato, or basmati rice.

CREAMY IRISH STEW

Traditional Irish stew is difficult to make successfully without the strongly flavoured mutton that was available in times past. Instead, I love this creamy version. Ideally, use gigot lamb chops and leave them whole, as the bones will add extra flavour. After they have been cooked, it is easy to remove the bones and any bits of fat, returning the lean meat to the pot. There is far less waste doing this after cooking rather than before. Serves 4-6.

You will need:

700g (1 1/2lb) gigot chops, or stewing lamb cut into generous bite-sized pieces

2 carrots, sliced

2 whole cloves (the apple-tart kind)

2 onions, cut in wedges

1-2 sprigs of parsley

1-2 sprigs of thyme

1 chicken stock cube, crumbled finely

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

50g (2oz) butter

50g (2oz) flour

110g (4oz) frozen peas, thawed

1 tablespoon lemon juice or 1 teaspoon mustard

3 tablespoons cream

Chopped fresh parsley, to serve

Mashed potato, to serve

Put the gigot chops or the bite-sized pieces of stewing lamb, whichever you are using, in a saucepan along with the sliced carrots. Stick the whole cloves into two of the onion wedges, and add all the onion wedges and the sprigs of parsley and thyme to the saucepan. Add enough water to cover everything, but don't be too generous -- no more than 1.2L (2pt). Add the finely crumbled chicken stock cube, and season well with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bring to the boil and simmer gently with the lid on for about one hour, or until the meat is tender. If you have time, leave the stew to sit for a while to allow any excess fat to solidify on top; it's then easily removed. If you're short of time, then see the tip below.

If you are using gigot chops, lift them out, and cut the meat off them into bite-sized pieces, discarding the fat and bone. Strain the cooking liquid. Put the butter and the flour in a saucepan with 900ml (1?pt) of the strained cooking liquid. Bring it to the boil, whisking it all the time. Add the bite-sized pieces of gigot chops or stewing lamb, whichever you are using, and the carrots, onions and the thawed peas. Season to taste with the lemon juice or mustard, whichever you are using. Add the cream and stir it through, adding extra salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste if necessary. Scatter plenty of chopped fresh parsley over the stew and serve with mashed potato.

Tip:

To remove melted fat from the surface of soups or stews, allow a clean paper towel to touch down on to the surface of the liquid for a few seconds before quickly lifting it off. The paper towel will have soaked up some of the fat. Repeat the process with a new paper towel until all the fat disappears.

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