ALL we are hearing about at the moment is the 'credit crunch'. We seem to have practically given up on talking about the weather (it is not like talking about it is going to change it anyway) in place of the big CC. While I do feel like screaming sometimes when I hear about the economic doom and gloom, there is no denying the fact that it is not going to go away today or tomorrow, so we might as well embrace what we can of it. Economic factors do, of course, have an impact on food shopping, but that is not to say that we need to start eating rubbish – quite the opposite in fact. We need to comfort ourselves with really good food, to protect and nourish us as we come into the winter.
There's no better smell in bad times than some really good food bubbling away on the hob in the kitchen. Stews and casseroles are, if not a recession beater, than a recession buffer: a healthy pot of cheap meat and seasonal vegetables (think root) with a few nutrient-rich pulses thrown in for good measure will put a smile on your face for sure. They are easy to throw together, the leftovers will taste even better the next day (or the day after that), and you can make a big batch at one time and freeze it in little portions.
This is autumn and winter food at its best, using the season's root vegetables and the more mature and rich-in-flavour meats. Now that the mild spring lamb is finished, go for ordinary lamb or, even better, its older sister, hogget, or better still, mutton, which, being older, has even more flavour and succulence. Forget the loins, fillets, ribs and racks; you want those less-tender cuts of meat that come into their own when slow cooked.
» irish stew
There is no one traditional Irish stew recipe – in the past, each household had their own version. The only consensus seems to be that people in Munster add carrots. Many people make theirs by placing alternate layers of meat, onions, carrots and potatoes in a pot, which are then seasoned with salt and pepper, covered with water and stewed gently for two hours. I sometimes add a few whole cloves of peeled garlic for extra flavour.
3 tbsp olive oil, or 3tbsp of the lamb or mutton fat that you have put into the hot casserole or saucepan to render down
1.5kg chops, cut from the neck, or shoulder of hogget or mutton, still on the bone, cut about 1.5cm thick
3 medium-sized carrots, peeled, and cut into thick slices at an angle, or 12 small baby carrots, scrubbed and left whole
12 baby onions, peeled, or 3-4 medium onions, cut into quarters through the root, which should keep the wedges intact
Salt and pepper
400ml lamb or chicken stock or water
8-12 potatoes, peeled
Sprig of thyme
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tbsp chopped chives
Preheat the oven to 160ºC. Cut the chops in half, but keep the bones intact. Heat a casserole pot or large saucepan with the fat or olive oil until hot. Toss in the meat and cook for a minute on either side until brown. Take out of the pan and cook the onions and carrots in the hot oil or fat for a couple of minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Put the meat and vegetables back in. Add the stock and season and bring to the boil.
Put the peeled potatoes on top and cook in the preheated oven for 90 minutes to two hours approximately, until the meat is very tender. When it is cooked, pour off the cooking liquid and allow it to sit for a minute; the fat will float up to the top, so spoon the fat off and pour the juices back over the stew. Add the chopped herbs and serve.
Tip: I love to add one or two tablespoons of pot barley to the stew before cooking. The grains will swell up as they cook and absorb the wonderful flavours of the meat and vegetables.
» beef, stout and anchovy casserole
The salty flavour of the anchovies in this dish work so well, but they can be left out if you wish. Like all stews and casseroles, this will taste even better if reheated the next day or day after. If you want to make this into a pie, place it in a pie dish, cover with mashed potato or pastry (such as flaky) and bake in the oven for about 45 minutes.
4 tbsp oil or beef dripping
600g stewing beef, trimmed and cut into 2cm chunks
400g button mushrooms, cut into quarters
2 large onions, sliced
4 large cloves of garlic
500ml beef or chicken stock
250ml bottle of stout
1 tbsp chopped rosemary or tarragon
30g tin of anchovies (optional)
Place a casserole pot on a medium heat and allow to get hot. Add two tablespoons of oil or dripping and brown the chunks of beef (in batches if necessary). Season with salt and pepper. Remove the beef and set aside. Add one more tablespoon of oil, and brown the mushrooms, seasoning with salt and pepper. Remove the mushrooms and set aside.
Place the last bit of oil in the pot and add the onions and garlic; toss these on the heat for a minute. Add the beef, mushrooms, stock, stout and the chopped anchovies. Bring to the boil, then cover and gently simmer on the hob or in an oven preheated to 150ºC for about an hour or an hour and a half. When the meat is lovely and tender it is cooked. Add the chopped herbs and season to taste.
» greek lamb, onion and butterbean stew
This is a recipe of Darina's which we make at the cookery school. Like many other stews, it's even more delicious if made a day or two in advance. Serve with just a green salad, or some mashed or boiled potatoes or rice. Replace the butterbeans with other pulses such as haricots or black-eyed beans if you wish.
225g of dried butterbeans, soaked in water overnight, then drained and boiled in fresh water for 30-45 minutes until soft, OR 2x 400g tins of cooked butterbeans
2 tbsp olive oil
1.1kg shoulder of lamb, cut in 4cm cubes
680g small onions, peeled, or large onions cut in quarters
6 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
450ml lamb or chicken stock
2 bay leaves
A generous sprig of thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp chopped parsley
Heat the olive oil in a pan; toss in the meat, onion and garlic in batches until lightly golden, and transfer to a casserole pot. Drain the butterbeans and add with the bay leaves and a large sprig of thyme.
Pour in the stock; it should come about half way up the meat. Add some salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and simmer for about an hour or an hour and a half (either on a low hob, or in an oven preheated to 160ºC), until all the ingredients are tender. Taste – it may need more seasoning. The stew should be nice and juicy. Sprinkle with coarsely chopped parsley and serve.
» chicken and bacon casserole
While chicken is not the cheapest of meats, this delicious recipe does make one chicken go a long way. Of course, you can put peeled potatoes on top of the meat and vegetables to cook in the casserole pot, like the Irish stew.
If you like a nice thick sauce when the casserole is cooked, you could toss the chicken pieces in flour, seasoned with a little salt and pepper, before you brown them. There will be no need then to strain the juices and degrease at the end of cooking.
450g piece of streaky bacon, cut into 2cm chunks
4 tbsp olive oil
1 chicken, jointed into 8 pieces
4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 4cm chunks
4 medium onions, peeled and halved or quartered
6-8 garlic cloves, peeled
400ml chicken stock
Sprig of thyme/ rosemary/ sage
Put the bacon into a small saucepan of cold water and bring to the boil to remove excess salt. Drain, and dry the bacon on kitchen paper. Heat up a frying pan. Add two tablespoons of olive oil. Sauté the bacon until golden and crispy. Remove to a casserole pot or saucepan. Add the chicken to the pan, adding more oil if necessary. Sauté the chicken for a few minutes until golden, then remove to the casserole. Sauté the carrots, onions and garlic for a minute, seasoning with salt and pepper, adding them to the other sautéed ingredients in the casserole pot.
Deglaze the frying pan by adding the stock over a high heat and dissolving the juices on the bottom. Pour the stock into the pot, add a sprig of thyme or rosemary or sage and put into an oven at 160ºC for 45 minutes to one hour, or until cooked. Strain the juices if you like, and spoon any fat off the top. Add back in to the stew. Sprinkle with some chopped parsley. Serve with mashed potatoes.
choosing meat cuts
FOR STEWING AND BRAISING beef
Go for the neck, shoulder and leg meat, round steak and pieces of shin meat (from the leg) and brisket are the best, not forgetting the older housewife's favourite: oxtail.
FOR STEWING AND BRAISING lamb
Like the beef go for shoulder, neck and lower leg. The chops from the shoulder (gigot), the neck and also the shanks are best.