Wednesday 17 January 2018

Gone to pot: slow cooking has become something of a luxury

A pot-roasted joint can look more impressive than a stew, says Brenda Costigan, but the cooking process is similar. And once it's in the oven, there's plenty of time sit back and relax


Fast food is all very well, and it has its place in our busy lives. But slow cooking has become something of a luxury, simply because it is used much less frequently. Perhaps we don't appreciate the fact that the food in the oven only needs minimum checking, leaving us time to do other things.

Ideally, use a heavy, flame-proof casserole with lid, or an earthenware one. If an earthenware casserole is used, be sure to preheat it. The ingredients should also be well up to a steady, simmering heat before putting the casserole dish into the slow oven, as it would take too long to heat the food at the low temperature. It is a help, too, if the casserole is a fairly snug fit for the joint. A heavy saucepan with ovenproof handles also does the job. A tight-fitting lid is necessary to prevent evaporation. If you find you need to, cover the casserole with a generous layer of foil or baking parchment before putting on the lid. An added bonus of pot roasting is that the oven stays cleaner!


Sophie Grigson, in her lovely Country Kitchen cookbook, includes this recipe, which she claims was just one of those happy coincidences when a little bit of this and a bit of that worked out so well that she has repeated the combination. She has a fondness for pot roasts, finding the long, slow cooking so satisfying, especially when the meat cooks to such a tenderness that it could be cut with a spoon! Serves about 6.

You will need:

2 tablespoons sunflower oil

1.25-1.5kg (3-3 1/2lb) boned, rolled loin of pork

1 onion, sliced

3-6 garlic cloves, left whole and unpeeled

2cm (3/4in) piece root ginger, finely chopped

1 small sprig of rosemary

1 whole star anise

85ml (3fl oz) ruby port

3 tablespoons dark soy sauce

1 tablespoon tamarind puree or lemon juice

2 tablespoons light muscovado/brown sugar

Plenty of freshly ground black pepper

Preheat an ovenproof casserole that fits the meat snugly. Heat the sunflower oil in a frying pan and brown the joint of pork until the surface is nicely browned all over. Transfer the meat to the casserole. Fry the sliced onion in the fat just enough to soften and brown it lightly. Then add the garlic cloves, the finely chopped root ginger, the rosemary, the star anise, the ruby port, the dark soy sauce, the tamarind puree or lemon juice, whichever you are using, to the pan with the browned onion. Stir, and then also add the light muscovado or brown sugar, whichever you are using, and the freshly ground black pepper. Bring to the boil, then pour over the meat in the casserole and cover. If the lid is not tight-fitting, place a large sheet of baking parchment or foil over the casserole and then put on the lid.

Cook in the oven -- preheated to 140 C, 275 F, Gas 1 -- for about three hours, or until the meat is very tender. Pour off the juices and skim off the fat, taste and adjust the seasoning. Slice the pork thickly and serve with the juices.


I agree with Jamie Oliver when he says that meat loaf with a freshly made tomato sauce is just great comfort food, making an interesting alternative to the traditional Sunday roast. Jamie's suggestion is to cook the meat loaf in a casserole-type pan or baking dish rather than in a roasting tin. There is no need to cover the pan or dish during cooking until the meat loaf has turned a nice brown colour. While the meat loaf cooks, the sauce is made in a saucepan, then it's poured around the meatloaf and cooked further in the oven. This is not such a slow recipe! Serves 5-6.

You will need:

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

Olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 level teaspoon ground cumin

1 heaped teaspoon ground coriander

12 Jacobs cream crackers

1 teaspoon dried oregano

500g (16oz) good-quality minced beef (choose rib steak or round steak, or a combination of both)

1 large egg

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

6-8 streaky smoked rashers or thinly sliced pancetta

For the sauce, you will need:

1 medium onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

?-1 fresh red chilli, to your taste, chopped finely (optional)

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

400g tinned chick peas, drained

800g tinned chopped tomatoes

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Preheat the oven to 220 C, 425 F, Gas 7.

Gently fry the chopped onion and the chopped garlic in the oil, stirring them occasionally until they soften. Then add the salt and freshly ground black pepper and the ground cumin and the ground coriander. Put this mixture in a large bowl to cool.

Wrap the cream crackers in a tea towel and smash them into very small pieces with a rolling pin. Add the smashed crackers to the bowl with the onion mixture. Then add the dried oregano, the minced beef, the egg, the Dijon mustard and the streaky smoked rashers or thinly sliced pancetta, whichever you are using.

Mix the ingredients thoroughly, ideally using your hands. Pat and mould the meat loaf into an oval shape. Put it into an oiled, casserole-type dish and then pop it into the oven. Reduce the heat to 200 C, 400 F, Gas 6. Bake for about half an hour.

Meanwhile, make the sauce. Fry the chopped onion and garlic in the olive oil, stirring occasionally until they are softened and lightly golden. Add the finely chopped fresh red chilli, if you are using it, the smoked paprika, the Worcestershire sauce, the drained, tinned chick peas, the tinned chopped tomatoes, and the balsamic vinegar. Bring to the boil and then simmer very gently for about 10 minutes. Add more salt and freshly ground black pepper if required.

Pour the sauce into the casserole around the meat loaf. Lay the rashers or pancetta, whichever you are using, over the meat loaf and, if there are some left over, put some on top of the sauce as well. Return the meat loaf to the oven and cook it for another 15 minutes until the rashers are golden and the sauce is bubbling. Serve hot.



A pot-roasted joint can look more impressive than a stew, although the cooking process is somewhat similar. For better flavour, fry the joint of meat until it is brown all over. The joint I used had very little fat, so I wrapped a few smoked rashers over the top instead. If you like, the joint can be turned over halfway through the cooking time.

Incidentally, if you enter "Bord Bia" and "beef" into Google you will find a diagram of the carcass and photographs of the different cuts. Serves about 6.

You will need:

1 onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 carrot, chopped (optional)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1.4-1.6kg (3-3?lb) beef topside

Sprigs of fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, bay leaves)

250ml (8fl oz) red wine (or just 1 glass)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

250g (8oz) mushrooms

250ml (8fl oz) beef stock

250g (8oz) smoked rashers (optional)

Kneaded butter -- 25g (1oz) each of butter and flour mashed together (optional)

Lightly fry the chopped onion, garlic and carrot, if you are using it, in the olive oil and transfer into the casserole. If necessary, tie up the topside joint to make it a neat shape. Then fry the beef in the oil until it is browned all over, before transferring it to the casserole. Add the fresh herbs, the red wine, and some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover the pot. Roast in the oven at 150 C, 300 F, Gas 2 for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, fry the mushrooms until they are golden and then add in the beef stock. Carefully lift the casserole out of the oven and pour in the mushrooms-and-stock mixture. Place the smoked rashers on top, if you are using them. Cover and return to the oven. Continue cooking for about 2-3 hours until tender.

Remove the joint from the casserole and keep warm. Strain the juices off the the mushroom mixture and keep it warm. Remove the fat from the surface of the juices -- ice cubes dropped into the juices will help set the fat on top quickly so it can be more easily spooned off. If the juices are too liquid, boil briskly in a little saucepan so that they reduce or, if you prefer, you may wish to thicken them with kneaded butter. To do this, drop little bits of the kneaded butter paste into the simmering juices, while stirring briskly with a whisk. Boil for about two minutes to cook the flour. Reheat the mushroom mixture in the thickened juices and serve it as gravy.


You will love the aroma that fills the air when you lift the lid off this casserole after cooking it.

You will need:

25g (1oz) butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

Good-quality large chicken

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

A few sprigs of fresh thyme and parsley

1 onion, chopped

2-3 garlic cloves, chopped

150g (5oz) pancetta or chopped rashers

2 sticks celery

2 potatoes, peeled and chopped

1 leek, thinly sliced and washed

Glass of white wine (optional)

300ml (1/2pt) chicken stock

Kneaded butter -- 25g (1oz) each of butter and flour mashed together (optional)

Use a deep, cast-iron casserole with a lid (or an earthenware one, but do the initial frying on a separate pan). Preheat the oven to 150 C, 300 F, Gas 2.

Melt the butter with the olive oil and fry the chicken on all sides to give it a nice brown colour. Season it well with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put a few sprigs of the thyme and parsley into the body cavity of the chicken. Leave the chicken to one side.

Next, fry the chopped onion and garlic, and the pancetta or chopped rashers, whichever you are using, before transferring them to the casserole with a perforated spoon. Toss the celery, the chopped potatoes and the thinly sliced leek in the remaining fat and transfer them to the casserole also. Sit the chicken on top of the vegetables or burrow it down into them, if necessary. Season the dish with some more salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add a sprig or two of the thyme and parsley here and there and then pour in the white wine, if you are using it, and the chicken stock. If you are not using wine, add a little more stock. Bring the casserole to a bubbling simmer. Cover it with a well-fitting lid and then transfer it to the oven to cook for about 1?-2 hours, or until the chicken is deliciously tender.

Strain off the juices, keeping the vegetables. Spoon off the fat and then thicken the juices, if liked with kneaded butter (as described at the end of the previous recipe) to make a gravy. Serve the chicken with the vegetables and juices or the gravy.


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