Is there anything more homely than the fragrance of a home-cooked stew or casserole, wafting in the air? That nostril twitching aroma, heady with a taste bud tantalising mix of ingredients cooking slowly to melting tenderness, is enough to bring them all running. A warming stew or casserole is the antidote to frosty days or the usual driving rain and gale-force winds that make up the Irish winter. Makes us hungry just thinking of it!
Stews and casseroles are very home-cook friendly. They don’t really need an awful lot of attention once you get them going. Think of these dishes as your low maintenance friends in the kitchen, the ones you can run to when you need sustenance and warmth.
Our guide to winter stews and casseroles will tell you which meats to use, what flavour combinations work, and if you don’t want to cook, where to find a good stew, braise or casserole among our network of members.
Read on for all you need to know to get the culinary equivalent of a big hug in a bowl!
First of all, you need to enlist the help of your local butcher. Search our butchers listing for sound meat advice in your area!
Cheaper cuts of meat are ideal for winter stews. Long slow cooking does away with the need for the prime premium cost cuts. This allows you to make the most of the economical cuts. A bit of fat on any stewing meat is fine, it will add succulence and flavour. Don’t be tempted to trim it off.
1. BEEF: Look for Chuck from the top forequarter and round from the rump. Housekeeper’s cut is also good for stewing. All these are typically lean cuts from muscles that have worked hard and built texture. These cuts have good connective tissues, which break down to make the meat tender and flavoursome in long slow cooking. Ready cut stewing steak may also include shin/shank from the leg, which has a gelatinous quality for good gravy, and flank or skirt from the underbelly of the animal. Be guided by your butcher.
2. PORK Shoulder is super. The belly is gorgeous but has quite a bit of fat. So if you are fat conscious it might not be what you prefer – but it makes really great stew!
3. LAMB: Shoulder is good for stewing or very slow roasting, having some fat layers in the meat. Lamb Shanks are delicious cooked whole on the bone in a stew or casserole. Neck chops are perfect for Irish Stew.
4. CHICKEN: Use the economical legs and cook on the bone for hearty flavoursome chicken stew or casserole. Free-range chicken legs are much more reasonably priced than breast.
5. DUCK: The Spanish cook duck legs with almonds and green olives in a superb stew. Give it a try. Again, everyone wants the duck breast, so legs come relatively cheap.
HOW TO STEW/CASSEROLE:
- Stewing is done in a covered saucepan on top of the stove, as opposed to casseroling, which is done in a covered casserole dish in the oven. Both methods are efficient for slow cooking these economical cuts for tender results. Casseroling, in our opinion, has the edge on stewing, just because once you’ve got everything together in the pot. You can stick it in a pre-heated oven on moderate heat, while you go away and get on with something else. If you’re going for a walk, coming back to the smell of your handiwork bubbling in the oven is just about one of the most satisfying feelings known to man!
- Fry the meat to brown first, and gently fry an onion with garlic, if using, to make them soft and transparent. Add other veggies according to taste and style of dish. See our suggestions below.
- If you are cutting your own meat, cut into cubes just a bit bigger than bite-size. They will shrink as they cook. You don’t want too small cubes as they will become even smaller during the cooking so you will end up with little bits of meat, rather than satisfying chunks.
- Fresh herbs never go amiss in a stew or casserole. The classic combo would be a fresh bouquet garni of thyme, parsley and bay leaf, tied into a bundle that can be removed afterwards.
- Use a heavy-bottomed flameproof saucepan for a stew or an ovenproof earthenware casserole dish for the oven. Either of these should have a tight-fitting lid that lets steam escape but doesn’t allow the liquid to evaporate.
- Liquid can be any meat or veggie-based stock, wine, stout, beer or cider.
- There is no need to use flour to thicken your dish. The addition of potatoes or pulses like lentils, chickpeas and beans will thicken the gravy naturally.
STEW AND CASSEROLE COMBOS
Try a few of these lovely flavour mixes for your next stew or casserole. The main ingredient is Irish meat. But after that, your imagination can run riot!
Chicken, with mushrooms, shallots, garlic and red wine – in a classic 24 hour marinated Coq au Vin.
Duck with ground almonds, dry sherry and green olives – a Spanish favourite.
Beef, Kidney and Mushrooms in Guinness – hale, hearty and Irish!
Pork with tomatoes, smoked paprika, chorizo and butterbeans – very Mediterranean and tasty
Lamb Shanks braised with celery, carrot and leeks – a nice wintry mix of Irish flavours.
Irish Stew with Potatoes, carrots and barley.
Beef Mexican style, with chilli, peppers and coriander – put the Latino heat into winter!
Chicken Basque – chicken joints with red peppers, chilli, paprika, smoked ham and tomatoes. A recipe from French/Spanish border country.
Wild Pheasant Braised in Irish Cider – a country combination for winter game.
WHERE TO EAT THE BEST WINTER STEW AND CASSEROLE COMBINATIONS WITH GOOD FOOD IRELAND
We have members who excel at these warming winter dishes. Some present them in the classic style; others put their own spin on things. Here are a few places to seek out seasonal twists on this favourite theme.
Harte’s of Kildare – famous for 8 hours of slow-braised beef – a magnificent meat feast.
Gilroy’s at Guinness Storehouse – Signature Beef and Guinness Stew.
The Cellar Restaurant at The Merrion Hotel – Roast Pork Belly with Dublin Coddle. A smart twist on a traditional Dublin dish from days gone by, from Executive Chef Ed Cooney.
Country Choice Cafe – Tipperary Hereford Beef Stew – a sustaining dish made with beef from the locality.
Ballymaloe Cookery School – Braised Lamb Shanks with Garlic, Rosemary and Flageolet beans – follow the recipe to create it yourself!
Moloughney’s, Clontarf – Irish Cider Braised Free Range Chicken – intense chicken wondrousness!