Winter Warmers

Hot bubbly stews and casseroles, the sort of comforting food that we love to come home to on these wet or frosty January evenings – what a choice there is.
I’ve just been thinking about the word casserole – not easy to define, because there is such a diverse variety of dishes.   Basically it could be described as something cooked in a casserole, fish, meat or vegetables.   The casserole itself could be made of clay or cast iron. Depending on the part of the world – it could be a tagine, sandpot, hotpot, stew or daube, ragout, fricassee, curry or cassoulet.   Once you start to do a global cook’s tour one realises that one cook’s tagine is another cook’s gumbo, one cook’s braise is another’s curry.
In America a casserole is often interpreted as an assembly of par-cooked or cooked food baked in an open dish topped with crumbs and so the confusion continues, but here in Ireland a casserole conjures up an image of a bubbling Le Creuset pot of juicy meat and vegetables with lots of flavourful savoury liquid to soak into rice or fluffy mashed potato.
Here are some of my favourite warming winter stews and casseroles .

Spiced Lamb with Aubergines

Serves 6
2 lb (900g) shoulder of lamb
2 aubergines
1 large onion
2 tablesp. (28ml) olive oil
3 teasp. chopped mint
3 teasp. chopped marjoram
salt and freshly ground pepper
8 ozs (225g) very ripe tomatoes, or 1 tin of tomatoes
1 large clove of garlic
1 heaped teasp. crushed cumin seed

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/regulo 4
Cut the meat into 1 inch (2.5cm) cubes.  Cut the aubergines into cubes about the same size as the lamb.  Sprinkle the aubergine cubes with salt and put in a colander to drain with a plate on top to weigh them down.

Heat the olive oil in a pan and sweat the sliced onion.  Add the meat and allow it to colour, sprinkle with mint and marjoram and season.  Transfer the meat and onions to a casserole.

Wash off the aubergines and drain them with kitchen paper; toss them in olive oil in the pan, season with salt and freshly-ground pepper and cook for 10 minutes.   Add to the meat and cover.  Skin the tomatoes, chop them up and put them into the casserole with the meat mixture.  Add crushed garlic.   Heat the cumin for a few minutes, either in a bowl in the oven or in a frying pan, crush in a mortar and add to the casserole.  Cook on a gentle heat or in a moderate oven for 1½ hours approx.  Taste, correct the seasoning and de-grease the cooking liquid if necessary.  Serve with rice.

Daube of Beef Provencale


This gutsy Winter stew has a rich robust flavour. It reheats perfectly and can also be made ahead and frozen.
Serves 8
3 lbs (1.35kg) lean stewing beef - topside or chuck
Marinade
2 tablesp.  olive oil
10 fl ozs (300ml) dry white or red wine
1 teasp. salt
¼ teasp. pepper
½ teasp. thyme, sage or annual marjoram
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 cups thinly sliced carrots
2 cups thinly sliced onions
1 lb (450g) streaky bacon cut into ½ inch (1cm) lardons
1 tin tomatoes, chopped
6 ozs (170g) sliced mushrooms
10 anchovy fillets
2 tablesp.  capers
3 tablesp. wine vinegar
2 tablesp.  chopped parsley
2 cloves mashed garlic
Roux, optional
Garnish
Chopped parsley
Cut the beef into large chunks, 3 inches (7.5cm) approx. Mix the marinade ingredients  in a bowl or large casserole. Add the meat, cover and marinade in a fridge or cool larder overnight. Remove the meat to a plate. Strain the marinade, reserve the vegetables and the marinade.

Heat the oil in a frying pan, cook the bacon lardons until crisp, add to the casserole. Dry the meat with kitchen paper. Seal the meat on the hot pan, and add to the bacon with the marinated vegetables and tinned tomato.

Degrease the pan and deglaze with the marinade and ¼ pint (150ml) good beef stock, add to the casserole. Bring to the boil and either simmer very gently on top of the stove or transfer to a preheated oven 160C/325F/regulo 3 for 1½-2 hours approx.

Meanwhile saute the sliced mushroom on a hot pan and keep aside.
When the meat is soft and tender liquidise the anchovies with the capers, chopped parsley, wine vinegar and garlic. Add to the casserole with the mushrooms. Simmer gently for 8-10 minutes. Taste and correct the seasoning. Degrease and if necessary thicken the boiling liquid by whisking in a little roux (see below). 

Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with fluffy mashed potatoes.

Shanagarry Chicken Casserole

A good chicken casserole even though it may sound 'old hat' always gets a hearty welcome from my family and friends, sometimes I make an entire meal in a pot by covering the top with whole peeled potatoes just before it goes into the oven.  Pheasant or rabbit could also be used.
Serves 4-6
1 x 3½ lbs (1.57kg) chicken (free range if possible)
A little butter or oil for sauteeing
12 ozs (340g) green streaky bacon (blanch if salty)
12 ozs (340g) carrot, peeled and thickly sliced (if the carrots are small, leave whole.  If large cut in chunks)
1 lb (450g) onions, (baby onions are nicest)
Sprig of thyme
Homemade chicken stock - 1¼ pints (750ml) approx.
Roux - optional (see below)
Mushroom a la créme (see recipe)
Garnish
1 tablesp. parsley, freshly chopped
 Cut the rind off the bacon and cut into approx. ½ inch (1 cm) cubes, (blanch if salty). Dry in kitchen paper. Joint the chicken into 8 pieces. Season the chicken pieces well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and cook the bacon until crisp, remove and transfer to the casserole. Add chicken pieces a few at a time to the pan and sauté until golden, add to the bacon in the casserole. Heat control is crucial here, the pan mustn't burn yet it must be hot enough to saute the chicken. If it is too cool, the chicken pieces will stew rather than sauté and as a result the meat may be tough. Then toss the onion and carrot in the pan adding a little butter if necessary, add to the casserole. Degrease the pan and deglaze with stock, bring to the boil and pour over the chicken etc. Season well, add a sprig of thyme and bring to simmering point on top of the stove, then put into the oven for 30-45 minutes, 180ºC/350ºF/regulo 4.

Cooking time depends on how long the chicken pieces were sauteed for.
When the chicken is just cooked, strain off the cooking liquid, degrease, return the degreased liquid to the casserole and bring to the boil. Thicken with a little roux if necessary (see below). Add the meat, carrots and onions back into the casserole and bring to the boil. Taste and correct the seasoning.  The casserole is very good served at this point, but it's even more delicious if some mushroom a la creme is stirred in as an enrichment. Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley and bubbling hot.

Roux
4 ozs (110g) butter
4 ozs (110g) flour
Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally. Use as required. Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred. It will keep for at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.
Mushroom a la Creme

Serves 4

½-1 oz (15-30 g) butter
3 ozs (85 g) onion, finely chopped
½ lb (225g) mushrooms, sliced
4 fl ozs (100ml) cream
Freshly chopped parsley
½ tablespoon freshly chopped chives (optional)
A squeeze of lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan until it foams.  Add the chopped onions, cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 5-10 minutes or until quite soft but not coloured; remove the onions to a bowl.  Meanwhile cook the sliced mushrooms in a hot frying pan in batches if necessary.  Season each batch with salt, freshly ground pepper and a tiny squeeze of lemon juice .  Add the mushrooms to the onions in the saucepan, then add the cream and allow to bubble for a few minutes.  Taste and correct the seasoning, and add parsley and chives if used.