Lockdown and January together is the perfect storm for me.
January isn’t my favourite month, mainly due to the fact that I’m always trying to eat healthier and lighter, yet at the same time, crave comfort food to cheer me up during the long cold, dark days and nights.
Combine that with the crushing boredom of a necessary lockdown and you see my dilemma.
So I’ve come to the conclusion that eating healthily is important, but as long as once a week I can look forward to cooking something comforting, it stops me going lockdown loco!
This week my comfort fix is a beef casserole or stew. I’m not sure what the difference is between a casserole and a stew. Something to do with one being cooked in the oven, and the other on the hob. But no matter, once you accompany it with some fluffy mashed potato, you don’t care, you have your culinary comfort blanket!
My normal beef for slow cooked stews tends to be chuck or braising steak, but over the last year or two, I’ve been convert to Beef Shin.
This is a relatively cheap cut from the fore shank of the animal that has lots of connective tissue. It wouldn’t win a prize for the best looking cut of beef but once cooked long and slow, all that connective tissue melts down to give you wonderfully tasty, unctuous chunks of tender beef, and a fantastic deep flavoured gravy to boot.
Who needs the good looking fillet or sirloin anyway - looks aren’t everything!
This recipe can be used as a base for pies (just cover with a puff pastry lid) or for a wonderful cottage pie (cover with a thick layer of cheddar cheese mash).
Or for instant comfort and gratification, serve with a dollop of buttery mash, with some steamed cabbage for reasons of virtue.
BEEF CASSEROLE (serves 4)
1kg beef shin (off the bone)
1 onion, peeled and cut into chunks
2-3 large carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
2 celery sticks, peeled and cut into chunks
3 sprigs thyme
Head of garlic (optional)
2 tbsp plain flour
½ bottle red wine
700ml chicken stock
500 ml beef stock
Butter or oil (or a mix) for sautéing veg
Trim the beef shin of any silvery fat/sinew on the outside if there is any, and cut into big chunks.
Season well and sear the chunks in a hot pan with some vegetable oil until they are a deep brown on all sides. You may need to do this in batches to stop the meat stewing in its own juices. You need this caramelisation for flavour.
Set the meat aside and deglaze the pan with a little of the wine, scraping up the crusty bits from the meat in the pan. Add to the meat.
Wipe out the pan and add a knob of butter on a medium heat (a splash of oil will stop the butter burning). Saute the onion, carrots and celery until they are a nice golden colour. Set these aside with the meat.
Put all the red wine into the pan and reduce it to a glaze. Add the veg and meat plus the juices back to the pan and stir through the flour trying not to leave any lumps.
Pour in the stocks, thyme, and garlic if using and bring to a boil, while you heat the oven to 160℃/140℃.
Cover the casserole with a cartouche* and pop in the oven for at least 2½ hours until the meat is tender and you can cut it with a spoon. The sauce should be a nice dark colour.
If the sauce is still too thin, remove the meat and veg from the sauce and reduce until you have a rich gravy-like sauce. Add the meat and veg back to the pan and coat with the smooth slightly thickened sauce.
This casserole can be made the day before (it’s often better that way) and covered in the fridge. Just reheat in a moderate oven until hot all the way through.
*A cartouche is simply a baking paper lid that sits directly on top of your casserole (or other food you are braising). It is more efficient than a lid, giving less evaporation and better heat distribution, perfect for long slow cooking. A small hole in the middle helps steam escape - but not too much.
To make a cartouche, just draw a circle on baking paper a little bigger than the casserole or pan lid. Fold it in half, then half again and keep folding until you have a thin fan shape. Cut about half an inch off the pointed end of the 'fan', unfold, and voila! you have a cartouche ready to put on top of the stew.