Stews, casseroles, daubes, whatever you call them, they’re the ultimate solid and satisfying autumn dish – and kids love them.
40g unsalted butter
350g chuck steak, cubed
5 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
3 small onions, chopped
6 medium carrots, chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes
250g button mushrooms, sliced
Large handful of spinach
A couple of sprigs of thyme
400 ml veg or chicken stock
(makes 10 portions)
How I cook it: The joy of stew, though, lies in its completeness. It’s all in there, a proper lunch, where ballast and tucker meet. I like to brown my meat first (using a tough cut such as shin or chuck), so you get an extra layer of flavour. Choice of liquid is important, too. Beer is great with beef, but probably not the ideal choice for children (although the alcohol does cook off). Passata or tinned tomatoes are wonderful with any meat, and smoked bacon always adds charm. I try to chop the carrots quite finely, to avoid the usual fuss created when kids are faced with great chunks of the thing. And if you can leave the stew to sit overnight, then so much the better. Slow-cooked dishes always taste better after a little rest. So there it is – stew. One word. One magnificent children’s lunch.
Why it’s great
Ah, stew, winsome warmer of the winter months. Supplier of succour, and high priest of the comfort food church, it’s one pot perfection, a beautifully simple dish that takes tough cuts of meat and breaks them down, slowly, so slowly, until the flesh can be cut with a spoon. Liquids concentrate, flavours intensify and you’re left with the very essence of edible delight.
When nights are long, and gloom incessant, there are few things that warm both belly and soul. It can be slurped with a spoon, and mixed into great mounds of buttery mashed potato. I can’t get enough. But it wasn’t always thus. As children, my sister and I hated the stuff. Even the word depressed us. It had little to do with the quality of the cooking, rather the big lumps of soft carrot and the lack of visual appeal. We thought it just plain dull.
I went on, though, to fall in love with the stew, casserole, daube or whatever else you want to call it. Sure, there might be tiny, pedantic difference between the various terms, but really, all use the same technique – slow cooking at a low heat. When our children were tiny, I used to make vast pots of beef and sweet potato stew, hiding endless carrots and peas within. And they loved it. Now, they’re older. And rather more picky. One will inhale his plate of beef and mushroom stew in seconds, while the other will push it away with a sneer, claiming that the fungi ‘scares her.’
In a cast-iron casserole, mix the butter with the a big glug of the olive oil, and brown the meat in batches over a highish heat. Set aside. Fry the bacon until crisp and set aside. Soften the onions for about five minutes, then add the carrots, tomatoes and mushrooms, and cook for five minutes more. Add spinach, cook for one minute then add thyme and stock. Bring to the boil, then put it in the oven, covered, at 140?C for three hours.
Buy: Let’s Eat by Tom Parker Bowles, Pavilion Books. Buy at Amazon