News and Reviews

The Winter Comfy Casserole Makeover…

November 12 2010 at 10:56

By celebrity Chef Rozanne Stephen’s visit www. for her excellent cookery school.

Stews and casseroles are the perfect comfort food on a cold evening. The only difference between the two is that a stew is simmered on the stove stop and a casserole is traditionally cooked in the oven, but no need to be pedantic, the taste is more important than the title.

Stews and casseroles exist in almost every cuisine as they are a great way of coaxing the best out of cheaper, tougher cuts of meat. The secret to a good stew is ‘low and slow’. This helps tenderise the meat fibres and break down gristle and tough bits. I cook mine in the oven at 150°C for 2 ½ to 3 hours for the most tender, melt in the mouth results. In this instance ’slow food is fast food’ as you can cook large quantities and freeze portions very successfully for speedy reheating on a cold night..

In the cold weather it is very easy to comfort eat and overeat, so it is important to watch the content of our favourite winter warmers. Fortunately, with a few simple steps its possible to cut saturated fat and trim calories without compromising flavour and enjoyment. You might even prefer the lighter version as it will be easier to digest.

Reduce The Saturated Fat

While stews and casseroles are hearty and wholesome it is very easy to rack up the saturated fat content when you brown off the meat in oil. Even if you have a good non stick pan, you still tend to use a fairly large quantity of oil. So I have experimented with not browning the meat at all and just adding the raw, unbrowned meat to the pot. And surprisingly, it works very well as a good recipe and the gentle cooking process will still create unctous complex flavours. So skip this step to save time and calories. Another tip for reducing saturated fat is removing any chicken skin. You really aren’t missing out on anything as the skin goes rubbery during the long stewing. And lastly, instead of using gallons of cream, use mostly stock, tomatoes and wine as your liquid. Add a little half fat crème fraiche just before serving for a creamy finish without all the fat.

Up The Veggies

Casseroles can be very meat heavy without many vegetables. Bulk up on veggies for the added health benefits but also for imparting extra depths and layers of flavour. I start off most casseroles with finely chopped onion, carrots and celery sauteed in a little olive oil. For the last hour of cooking I add a variety of chopped vegetables: courgettes, mushrooms, baby onions, butternut squash, celeriac, parsnips, sweet potato, aubergines and green beans.

Bulk Out With Beans

You can either make a whole stew using beans,lentils, chickpeas or barley with lovely sauces, spices, herbs and vegetables. Or you can add beans and chickpeas to almost any casserole. The French cassoulet is a great example of paring beans and meat. And Moroccan tagines work very well with chickpeas. Lamb and barley stews are a traditional, hearty dish that deserve a revival. I find tinned beans, especially cannelini beans and haricot beans, very versatile and convenient for most recipes. Just rinse well and add for the last 20 minutes of cooking.

Savvy Side Dishes

There is no point in making over your casserole if your side dishes are laden with butter and cream, such as the classic mashed potato. Why not try some alternative starchy side dishes that offer a variety of nutrients and new flavours. Instead of an all potato mash, use half celeriac, an ugly but delectable root vegetable with plenty of fibre which is particularly good with pork. I favour sweet potato mash mashed with ginger and a little honey with almost any casserole. For a really wholesome side dish try brown rice, pot barley cooked in stock or toasted buckwheat. Serve couscous, especially with tagines or alternate with quinoa. Cook 1 cup of quinoa in 2 cups of stock, add some garlic, lemon and black pepper for great texture and a fresh flavour.

Balancing The Plate

When you dish up, a quarter of the plate should be the meat, a quarter carbohydrate and half the plate should be devoted to vibrant veggies. It’s very easy to serve just carbs and meat, especially with stews. If you have frozen convenient portions of casserole for reheating, all you have to do is steam some greens or any vegetables of your choice. The lovely sauce from the casserole will help hide the veggies from vegetable resistant family members.

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