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Issue 66 - Infinitely versatile

Scotland Magazine Issue 66
December 2012


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Infinitely versatile

Sue Lawrence cooks up some serious comfort food

Whatever food trends happen to be sashaying round the fashionable restaurants, you can be sure that slow braised stews and casseroles will never lose their appeal. For they are easy to prepare, need no attention at all once in the oven - and are infinitely versatile. They are also nostalgically comforting, truly delicious and deeply satisfying. Perfect for a winter’s day.

For the meat, ask your butcher’s advice about which cuts for which stew or casserole recipe but as a general rule, try the following cuts: Beef: shoulder or stewing steak, brisket, topside, rump, hough(shin) or oxtail Lamb: shoulder or leg Pork: shoulder, trotters or leg As for accompaniments, although mashed potatoes and a green vegetable (broccoli, beans, spinach, peas, cabbage) are traditional in Britain, a green salad with a lemony or mustardy vinaigrette is also good, with its sharp freshness cutting throughout the potential richness of the casserole.

Try couscous, pappardelle, red rice or pearl barley instead of potatoes.

Here are my top tips for creating a perfect stew:

1. Ensure meat is dry before browning or it will steam, not brown. Wipe off any marinade well on paper towels.
2. If you are tossing the meat in seasoned flour, do this just before browning, otherwise the meat will absorb the flour and become soggy.
3. Only brown a few pieces at one time ; if the pan is crowded, the temperature of the fat is lowered and the meat steams.
4. Browning the meat first (preferably in a mixture of butter and olive oil, for the best flavour) ensures the meat will be a good colour and also seals in the juices.
5. A good casserole with a tight-fitting lid is essential to keep in flavour and avoid evaporation. If the lid is not tight, place a sheet of foil under it.
6. Take care the stock you are cooking in is not too salty as this will become saltier as it reduces down and thickens.
7. If you do not want to use the oven, you can use the top of the stove over a low heat, but stir more often. The liquid should never boil, (or the meat will dry out), but rather, simmer slowly.
8. If you find that your sauce is too thin at the end of cooking time, reduce it by ladling it into a small saucepan and boiling it down.
9. All stews and casseroles keep well and indeed are better when reheated, as the sauce mellows and matures. Keep refrigerated for up to three days - or frozen for a couple of months. Then remove surface fat before reheating.
10. When reheating, ensure it is piping hot and check seasoning again, adding extra salt, pepper and perhaps a splash of red wine to zap it up.

Lamb Stew with black pudding crust
Serves 5 – 6
Olive oil
25g butter
750g/1 lb 10 oz lamb shoulder, diced
1 tbsp flour, seasoned
1 onion, peeled, chopped
1 medium leek, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled chopped
2 fat sprigs of rosemary
150 ml / 5 fl oz red wine
150 ml / 5 fl oz lamb stock
200g / 7 oz skinned black (blood) pudding, thinly sliced

Heat 1 tbsp oil with the butter in an oven a casserole until hot.

Toss the lamb in a large bag of seasoned flour then tip half into the fat and brown all over.

Remove with a slotted spoon then brown the remaining meat and remove.

Add 1 tbsp oil and gently fry the onion, leek and garlic until softened then return the meat to the casserole with the rosemary, wine and stock. Bring to the boil then cover and remove to a preheated oven (160C / 325F / Gas 3) for about 1 hour, stirring once.

Remove from the oven, discard the rosemary.

Increase the heat to 190C / 375F / Gas5.

Place the black pudding slices on top, overlapping slightly. Brush the slices with a little olive oil and replace in the oven for about 25 minutes until the stew is bubbling and the top crusty.

Serve at once with mashed potatoes and a green vegetable.

Daube of Beef
Serves 5 – 6
Start this classic southern French stew two days before to marinate the meat and allow for reheating Two days before eating, place the beef in a bowl with the wine, two garlic cloves, two thyme sprigs, the parsley stalks (roughly chopped), one strip orange peel and one celery stalk. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Next day, remove the beef and pat dry on kitchen paper. (Discard the herbs and vegetables). Strain the marinade over a bowl, reserving the liquid.

Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large flameproof casserole and gently fry the bacon, onion, remaining garlic and celery stalks for 10 minutes then remove with a slotted spoon. Add the remaining one tbsp oil to the casserole and brown the beef in two batches then return the vegetables and bacon to the casserole with the marinade and the stock. Season generously with salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Then add the brandy, two sprigs of thyme, one strip of orange peel and the olives. Cover tightly and place in a preheated oven (140C / 275F Gas1) for three hours, stirring once.

Leave to cool then cover and refrigerate.

Next day, scrape off the surface fat and bring to room temperature. Cover the casserole and reheat in a medium oven (180C / 350F / Gas 4) for about 45 minutes until piping hot ; alternatively, reheat gently on the stove.

Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with pappardelle or potatoes mashed with olive oil. s.

1.5 kg / 3 lb 5 oz stewing beef, cut into large cubes
500 ml / 1 pint gutsy red wine
5 garlic cloves
4 large sprigs of thyme
Small bunch of parsley (stalks and leaves)
2 large strips of orange peel
3 celery stalks, chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
115g / 4 oz streaky bacon, chopped
2 onions, peeled, chopped
300ml / 10 fl oz beef stock, hot
2 tbsp brandy
2 heaped tbsp black olives (preferably nicoise), stoned