Thursday 21 June 2012

A wintery beef casserole

According to Miss Nine and Miss Seven, “stew” is disgusting and “casserole” is ok.  They usually ask me what sort of “chicken” is in the casserole to check whether it will be edible.  I’ve taken to calling everything with a sauce “stew” in an effort to overcome this weird food-word-phobia.

My current favourite stewing beef is cross cut blade steak – it’s cheap, it has lovely gelatinous connective tissues and it seems immune to drying out.  I’ve found it difficult to make a bad stew with cross cut blade steak.

I’ve tried a few different approaches to casseroles in the crockpot/slow cooker.  After some experimentation, I’m firmly in the browning first camp.  There is something about the process of tossing beef in seasoned flour and browning in small batches that creates colour, texture, and (more importantly) flavour that doesn’t just appear.  Throwing all the ingredients in the crockpot is fine when there is no time (I’ve done it plenty of times), but if there’s a spare 30 minutes, take the browning first option!

Family Beef Casserole Recipe
Makes enough for a family of four, and some leftovers.

400-500 g cross cut blade steak, diced into about 1 inch cubes
Seasoned flour – depending on the tastes of your diners, you could add 1 tbsp of spicy paprika or some chilli, or just salt and pepper, to about ½ C of plain flour
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, finely chopped (really, really finely chopped)
2 stalks of celery, finely chopped (ditto)
½ cup red wine
1 ½ cups beef stock
1 tin tomato passata (chopped and sieved tomatoes)
Herbs to taste (I usually use fresh thyme and marjoram, and a dried bay leaf)
1 tbsp red currant jelly
Salt & pepper
Toss the steak in the seasoned flour.  Brown, in batches, in a hot frypan, with a little oil.  The batches are important – you don’t want the cubes to be touching each other.  Too much meat in the pan at once, and the pan cools down, the meat sweats rather than browns, and you might as well not bother.  Fry until lightly browned and then transfer to your casserole dish or crockpot/slow cooker.  Add more oil between batches, so that the meat doesn’t burn or stick. 

Using the same pan, add some more oil, and gently fry the onions until they are soft and then add the carrot and celery.  I like the veges in my casserole to gently disappear into the gravy as they cook, so I chop them really, really small.  If I want to add visible veges I do so just before serving, so that they still have their shape and colour.
Add about ½ cup of red wine (or more, or less, or white wine) and bring to the boil.  Boil for about a minute and then add the beef stock and bring back to the boil.  Pour (carefully, it’s hot!) into the casserole dish, along with the tinned tomato, herbs, red currant jelly, salt and pepper.  I always use fruit jellies or pastes as secret ingredients to sweeten casseroles – quince or plum would also be fine.

Stir everything together.  Cook for 1 1/2 -2 hours at 160 C in the oven, or 6 hours in the crockpot/slow cooker.  The meat should be lovely and tender.  Taste the gravy and add your choice or combination of salt, pepper, some more red currant jelly, a dash of sweet chilli sauce, a squeeze of lemon – or whatever the gravy needs to taste great for you.

If you think the gravy is too runny, you have several options.  You could just put some bread on the table to swipe the plates clean with.  Alternatively, you could add 1 tbsp of cornflour dissolved in ¼ C of water, stir through and bring to the boil/cook until it has thickened up (if you don’t cook it properly, it will taste floury).  Or, if you had nothing better to do, you could scoop the meat out to a serving dish, sieve or mouli the gravy into a saucepan, add a splash of red wine and reduce it down to your desired consistency and pour over the meat.  Up to you.

Sorry, forgot to take a photo of the finished product.  It tasted great though!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent! Have some blade steak so I'm going to make this tonight.
May add some chorizo as I have some of that too!