Wednesday 22 November 2017

Recipes: Brenda Costigan says you can still indulge in some wonderful winter comfort food

Even if you've had to tighten your belt, says Brenda Costigan, you can still indulge in some wonderful winter comfort food with these deliciously tender, slow-cooked casseroles

Casseroles that use cheaper cuts of meat are great for the belt-tightening days of January. They're also ideal for busy cooks as they're best cooked the night before eating and then reheated the following day.

Just because the meat used is cheaper, doesn't mean it's not tasty. Long, slow cooking tenderises the meat; you can include lots of different vegetables and flavourings, and the resulting dish will have oodles of delicious juices. Or you can simply do an all-vegetable casserole, such as a Moroccan tagine. Most casseroles are suitable for freezing.



Chicken joints, complete with skin and bones, give a greater depth of flavour to a casserole. Chorizo could be described as the secret ingredient, and gives a tasty boost of flavour. I like to use the ready-to-eat chorizo in this recipe for good flavour. It reheats excellently. Serves 5-6.

You will need:

175g (6oz) chorizo (use ready-to-eat chorizo or fresh raw chorizo sausages)

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 chicken, cut into joints (or buy enough pre-cut joints for 5-6 servings)

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

1 x 400g (14oz) tin chopped tomatoes

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (optional)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon sugar

Approx 8 green olives and 8 black ones, pitted

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

Boiled rice, to serve

Slice the chorizo in thin slices and fry it gently in the olive oil to release its tasty oils, then, using a perforated spoon, transfer the pieces to a heavy-based saucepan. Next, fry the chopped onion and the chopped garlic in the tasty oil; when softish, transfer them to the saucepan. Now, fry the chicken joints, a few at a time, until golden on the outside, adding more oil if required, and transfer to the saucepan. Pour the chicken stock and the tin of chopped tomatoes into the saucepan, adding the nutmeg, the ground cloves, if you are using them, some salt and freshly ground black pepper, and the sugar. Bring to the boil. Cover the saucepan and simmer very gently for 45-60 minutes, or until the chicken is tender. About 10 minutes before the end, add the pitted green and black olives and the chopped fresh parsley. Serve with boiled rice.


If you like, thicken the cooking juices. Lift out the joints of chicken with a perforated spoon. Blend two generous teaspoons of cornflour with a little water and add this to the juices in the pot. Bring to the boil, stirring the juices until they thicken. Replace the chicken.


Venison has its own distinctive flavour. This is an excellent way of cooking the tougher cuts, such as the shoulder and leg. The flavour of this casserole improves dramatically if it is kept at least overnight, or even two nights before serving -- doing so allows the flavours to mellow and blend deliciously. Serves 5-6.

You will need:

3 tablespoons olive oil, approx

8 thin streaky rashers or 4 generous back rashers

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

3 garlic cloves, crushed

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

2 medium carrots, diced (optional)

1 parsnip, diced (optional)

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

425-600ml (3/4-1pt) beef stock

Grated zest of 1 orange

6 juniper berries, crushed (optional)

12 mushrooms, sliced

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

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon redcurrant jelly

Kneaded butter (1 rounded tablespoon each of butter and flour, mashed together to form a paste)

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped

Mashed potato, to serve

Heat a little of the olive oil in a frying pan and fry the rashers in it until they are browned. Lift them out and transfer them to a casserole or heavy saucepan. If you're using a casserole, ideally choose one that can be used on the hob as well as in the oven. Next, fry the thinly sliced onions and the crushed garlic until they become soft, adding more oil as required. Transfer them to the casserole when they are lightly browned. Fry the venison pieces in a few lots until they are browned, then transfer to the casserole. Add the diced carrots and the diced parsnip, if you are using them. Pour the red wine and the beef stock into the casserole -- use enough to cover the contents -- along with the grated orange zest and the crushed juniper berries, if you're using them, the sliced 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 a low 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.

If you wish to serve the casserole the next day, bring it gently to the boil and thicken the juices by adding enough little bits of the kneaded butter, stirring and simmering briskly until the sauce is thickened nicely. If, by chance, the meat is not tender enough, simmer a little longer. To serve, scatter the finely chopped fresh parsley over the top and accompany with the mashed potatoes.


If keeping for a second night before serving, transfer the casserole to a suitable container and store it in the fridge or a cool larder, then reheat and thicken the juices as described above.


I love Irish stew and I have devised my own recipe with a thickened sauce. Don't omit the whole cloves as they add a special touch to the flavour.

Ideally, use gigot lamb chops and leave them whole, as the bones add extra flavour. After the chops have been cooked, it is very easy to remove the bones and any bits of fat, returning the lean meat to the pot. There is far less waste if you do 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 onions, cut in wedges

2 whole cloves -- the apple tart kind! -- stuck into pieces of onion

1-2 sprigs each of parsley and thyme

1 chicken or vegetable stock cube, crumbled finely

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

50g (2oz) each of flour and butter, mashed together into a paste

110g (4oz) frozen peas, thawed (optional)

1 tablespoon lemon juice or 1 teaspoon mustard

Fresh parsley, chopped

Put the meat in a saucepan with the sliced carrots, the onion wedges, the whole cloves, and the sprigs of parsley and thyme. Add enough water to cover the saucepan's contents, but don't be too generous -- add a maximum of 600ml (2pt). Add the finely crumbled chicken or vegetable stock cube, whichever you are using, and season well with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bring to the boil and simmer gently with the lid on for about an hour, or until the meat is tender. If you have time, leave the stew to sit a while to allow any excess fat to solidify on top -- it's easy to remove then. If you're pressed for time, see the note below.

Lift out the chops and cut the meat off and into bite-sized pieces, discarding the fat and bone. Strain 900ml (1?pt) of the cooking liquid and put it into a saucepan. Bring to the boil, continue to simmer and drop in little bits of the flour-and-butter paste, whisking all the time until the liquid has thickened slightly. Add in all the meat, carrots, onions and the thawed frozen peas, if you are using them. Season to taste with the lemon juice or the mustard, whichever you are using. Add extra salt and freshly ground black pepper if necessary. Serve, scattering with plenty of chopped fresh parsley on top.


To remove melted fat from the surface of soups or stews, use clean paper towels, one at a time, allowing them to touch down the surface of the liquid for a few brief seconds before quickly lifting off. Repeat this process until all the fat has been removed.


Tagines are flavourful Moroccan stews loaded with cooked vegetables. The name tagine comes from the typical Moroccan conical-lidded cooking vessel, which gives its name to everything cooked in it -- as does a casserole. This tagine can be successfully cooked in a heavy saucepan with a lid.

Lots of spices are used in this tasty dish. The cooked dish should not be soupy, and the vegetables should be tender and still maintain their shape. The choice of vegetables can be varied to suit what's in your larder. Potatoes, parsnips and the like, may also be used. Serves 4-6.

You will need:

2 tablespoons olive oil

15g (1/2oz) butter (optional)

1 onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

2.5cm (1in) root ginger, peeled and grated

275g (10oz) fresh tomatoes, skinned and chopped or 1 x 400g (14oz) tin of chopped tomatoes

1 small aubergine, chopped (ideally with a bit of the black skin on each chunk)

2 small carrots, diced or small chunks, about 150g (5oz)

275g (10oz) butternut squash, diced

1-2 sticks of celery, chopped

1 small courgette, chopped (ideally with a bit of the green skin on each chunk)

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

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon paprika

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Vegetable stock

1/2-1 tin of chick peas, drained

Couscous, to serve

Heat the olive oil and the butter, if you are using it, in a heavy-based saucepan and fry the chopped onion and the chopped garlic until they are soft but not browned. Add the peeled, grated ginger. Next add the fresh or tinned tomatoes, whichever you are using, the chopped aubergine, the diced carrots, the diced butternut squash, the chopped celery, the chopped courgette and the chopped dried apricots. Then stir in the cinnamon, the cumin, the turmeric, the cayenne pepper, the paprika and the salt and freshly ground black pepper, and stir over the heat for a couple of minutes. Pour in enough vegetable stock to come halfway up the vegetables. Stir well and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cover with a lid and leave to cook gently for about 30 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Stir occasionally. Add more hot stock only if it's necessary. After about 15 minutes, add in the drained tin of chick peas. When everything is tender, serve with the tagine with some couscous. This dish reheats well.


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