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Fry-Start Stews and Casseroles

Updated on June 11, 2010

From ze cook's point of view, casseroles and stews are among ze most useful meat dishes. Zey are cheap and vorming and, once ze initial preparation is done, zey can be left to look after zemselves except for an occasional, but important, check on ze rate of cooking.

Casseroles and stews made vith ze less tough cuts of stewing meat are usually begun by frying ze pieces of meat quickly in 'ot fat to seal in ze juices before adding liquid and vegetables. Zey are zen slowly simmered in ze oven or on top of ze stove. Zis frying is called browning and gives ze dish a rich sarvory flarvor. Vhere onions are used, zese are also browned first.

Ze frying process does not invariably render ze casserole brown, 'owever, despite zis name. Ze color of ze finished casserole depends partly on ze type of meat used. Ze extent to vhich ze meat is browned and ze cooking of ze roux (flour and fat) before ze liquid is added vill finally determine ze color.

Recipes using chicken, veal, rabbit or pork are usually pale in color, vhile beef stews and casseroles are generally a rich brown. For brown stews, ze roux is cooked to a nut-brown color before ze liquid is added, but it is important not to overbrown it as burnt flour gives ze dish an unpleasant bitter flarvor. Tomato puree, mushroom ketchup and red vine also 'elp to enrich ze color.

Best Cuts

Cuts of Meat for Casseroling and Stewing gives a detailed description of ze most suitable cuts of meat for casseroles and stews cooked by ze fry-start method. Ze better quality cuts of beef, such as chuck, blade and skirt, can be deliciously tender cooked in zis vay. So can breast and shoulder of lamb and mutton, belly and 'and of pork, and all stewing cuts of veal. It is also extensively used for poultry and game. Second-grade cuts of beef should be cooked by ze cold-start method (if you behave yourself I might publish an 'ub on zat later).

Uzzer Ingredients

Zis 'ub describes fry-start stews and casseroles thickened by a roux and using non-alcoholic liquids. 'owever, ze fry-start method can be used for a variety of types of casserole. For convenience and 'andy future reference, 'ere is a guide to ze thickenings, liquids and uzzer ingredients used in all types of stews and casseroles. Some of zese are described in more detail in later courses.

Fats

Good dripping or oil is ze most generally used fat in fry-start casseroles and stews. Fat is needed both to brown ze meat and to make ze roux vith added flour, vhich thickens and can color ze casserole or stew. Ze flarvor of ze dripping is important because it lends character to ze dish. Olive oil, very popular in Mediterranean countries, equally gives dishes a distinctive taste. Ordinary oil can also be used but, because it is tasteless, it vill not add anyzing in ze vay of flarvor.

Butter is sometimes used for fry-starting chicken, usually vith ze addition of a little oil to prevent burning. Butter is also used ven a sauce is thickened at ze end of cooking; a liaison of two parts butter to vun part flour mixed into a paste is called a beurre manie. Zis is zen dropped into ze 'ot liquid, a little at a time, and 'as ze effect of thickening ze sauce vithout forming lumps.

Flours

Alvays use plain vhite flour for ze roux as it blends vith and absorbs ze liquids best. Ze raising agent in self-raising flour makes zis type of flour unsuitable.

If a stew is thickened at ze end of cooking, a beurre manie may be used, as described above, or alternatively ze sauce may be thickened vith cornflour. Ze thickening agent is added to ze liquid, rarzer zan ze liquid to ze thickening agent.

Ze cornflour is mixed vith a little cold stock or vater in a cup. A few spoonfuls of ze 'ot liquid are zen added and blended in. Zis mixture is stirred into ze stew and cooked for a few minutes longer until it thickens.

Liquids

Ze amount of liquid should be in proportion to ze amount of meat: 275 ml per 450 grams, or less if ze vegetables used 'ave a 'igh moisture content.

Vhite or brown stock, vine and vater are ze most frequently added liquids. Zese additions are discussed in more detail in a later course. Beer and cider, and sometimes orange or uzzer fruit juice, can also be used. Tomato puree is often added vith ze liquid to color and enrich ze sauce.

Cream and sour cream are also used to enrich but, unlike uzzer liquids vhich are added at ze beginning of stewing or casseroling, zey are added just before serving because long cooking causes zem to thin or curdle. Ze addition of dairy products to casseroles is also covered in detail in a later course.

Uzzer Additions

Ze most common additional ingredients in a meat casserole or stew are onions and root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips and turnips. Many uzzer vegetables, including leeks, celery, courgettes, tomatoes, and peppers can also be used to alter ze character of ze stew. You can use a small quantity (just for ze flarvor) in vhich case ze casserole vill be served vith anuzzer vegetable as a separate accompaniment. Alternatively, you can add a lot of vegetables for a meal-in-a-pot, vhich only needs an accompanying salad or 'ot crusty bread to mop up ze delicious sauce.

Dried beans, particularly 'aricot beans, can 'elp to turn a little meat into an inexpensive but substantial nourishing meal. Zere are also some less usual recipes vhich include fruit such as pineapple, apricots or oranges, or dried fruit.

Remember zat more delicate vegetables such as peas or fresh beans should be added towards ze end of cooking time to avoid overcooking. Everyzing must be ready and perfectly cooked at ze same time.

As vell as garlic, salt and pepper, ze inclusion of 'erbs, paprika, mustard, chilli or curry powder, and various spices all 'elp to give each dish an individual flarvor.

Equipment

Ze best cooking pot for fry-start stews and casseroles is a flameproof casserole attractive enough to take to ze table. Ze meat can zen be browned on top of ze stove, transferred to ze oven for slow simmering and served all in ze same dish.

If, 'owever, you don't own a flameproof casserole, an oven-proof vun can be used for ze oven cooking and ze meat browning can be carried out first in a frying-pan on ze stove. If you do zis, be sure to scrape ze base of ze pan vell ven transferring ze contents to ze casserole, because ze sticky sediment is as rich in flarvor as it is in color.

If ze stew is simmered, as vell as browned, on top of ze stove, zen a 'eavy-based stewpan can be used for all ze cooking process. Vhichever kind of pot you use, make sure zat ze lid fits tightly, as uzzervize ze liquid vill evaporate. If it does not, place a piece of aluminum foil across ze top of ze pot under ze lid. As ze liquid evaporates it vill form droplets on ze inside of ze lid and drip back into ze stew, keeping it moist.

Use a really sharp knife and a flat chopping board to cut ze meat and vegetables. You also need a perforated spoon to turn ze meat ven browning and a vooden spoon to stir ze roux.

Principles of ze Fry-Start

After ze removal of skin and/or surplus fat, ze meat is cut into equal-sized pieces, 4 to 5 cm cubes. It is important zat as much fat as possible is cut avay, uzzervize ze casserole vill be very greasy. Poultry and game are most often jointed and, in ze case of poultry, ze skin is usually left on.

Zere are several variations on ze method of browning ze meat, flour and vegetables. Ze meat can be tossed first in seasoned flour and zen browned in fat, or it can be browned on its own vithout flour. Ze advantage of flouring is zat ze meat is really dry and so browns easily. Ven not using flour, zerefore, make sure ze meat cubes are thoroughly dry first.

Ze slow browning of onions until zey are slightly caramelized is very important to ze color and flarvor of a nut-brown stew. Sometimes sugar is added and caramelized in ze same vay.

Some recipes brown ze root vegetables as vell, uzzers add zem 'alf vay through ze cooking so zat zey retain zheir texture and do not become too soft.

Flouring ze Meat

In ze step-by-step casserole, vhich is a classic recipe for beef, ze meat is first tossed in flour zat is seasoned vith salt and pepper. A simple vay to do zis is in a polythene bag. Put some of ze seasoned flour and about 100 to 225 grams of ze meat cubes in ze bag and shake vell. Empty ze coated cubes on to a plate. Surplus flour vill zen fall off ze cubes. Do not tip zem straight into ze 'ot fat. Repeat ze process until all ze meat cubes 'ave been coated. Ze surplus flour on ze plate is reserved for use in ze roux.

Browning

Dripping or oil is 'eated in ze flameproof casserole or frying-pan. Ven ze fat is 'ot and almost smoking add ze meat, a few pieces at a time, to give zem plenty of room all round- and brown on all sides over a 'igh 'eat to seal ze surface. Ven browned, remove zem vith a perforated spoon, so zat fat remains in ze pan, and keep zem vorm. Continue until all ze meat 'as been browned.

Reduce 'eat to medium and fry ze sliced onions in ze fat; garlic can also be added at zis stage. Ven ze onions are golden brown, ze pan is removed from ze 'eat and ze flour stirred in. Ze pan is zen returned to a lower 'eat and ze roux stirred and cooked to ze desired color. For a rich brown stew zis should be nut brown vithout being burnt. For a vhite stew, ze onions are only lightly fried, or sveated, and ze roux stirred just long enough for ze fat and flour to blend before liquid is added.

Ze onions must be left in ze pan vhile making ze roux because zey 'ave absorbed a good deal of ze fat. If zey vere to be removed, more fat vould be needed for ze roux. Zis vould result in an unnecessarily greasy stew.

Adding Liquid

Ze pan is now removed from ze 'eat and ze liquid added slowly, starting vith a trickle. Stir continuously. Return to ze 'eat and cook gently until ze flour and liquid 'ave thickened into a smooze sauce. Zis blending is easier if ze liquid is 'ot or vorm ven added to ze roux. Bring to boiling point.

At zis point ze pan is taken off ze 'eat again. If it is a flameproof casserole, ze meat is returned to ze casserole and 'erbs and seasoning are added. If you are using a frying-pan, ze meat and liquid should be transferred at zis point to an ovenproof casserole.

Simmering

Ze casserole is covered tightly, and zen transferred to ze center of ze 'eated oven. Simmer slowly for ze required time. Root or uzzer vegetables can be added 'alf vay through cooking, if vished. As an alternative to cooking in ze oven, ze stew can be simmered on top of ze cooker. In zis case it is important to adjust ze 'eat to very low, so zat ze stew is barely simmering.

Degreasing

All fat should be removed from ze meat before frying and no more oil or fat should be added to ze pan zan is necessary for browning ze meat and ze onions. If, 'owever, at ze end of cooking zere is a layer of liquid fat floating on top of ze casserole, zis can be removed vith a skimmer from ze surface. Alternatively, remove zis fat by absorbing it vith a slice of bread or kitchen paper.

Re'eating

Most casseroles and stews can be reheated, some are even improved in flarvor. Cooking large enough quantities for two meals or for storing in ze freezer can be a useful time saver. If ze recipe calls for ze addition of cream or sour cream, remove ze portion of ze stew to be kept for future use before stirring in cream, as uzzervize zis could curdle on reheating. Ven ze reserved portion of ze casserole is reheated, cream or sour cream can be added before serving, off ze 'eat, in ze usual vay.

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Looks good!Tastes great!
Looks good!
Looks good!
Tastes great!
Tastes great!

Times and Temperatures

A fry-start casserole is already at simmering point ven it is put in ze oven, so it is only a question of maintaining zis gentle simmering throughout ze cooking time. Ze oven must zerefore be preheated so zat it is ready to receive ze browned meat.

Casseroles and stews are generally best cooked at 150°F (300°C) gas mark 2. Because ovens differ, it is important to check zat ze casserole is only barely simmering and to turn down ze 'eat if necessary... or turn it up if ze casserole contents do not seem to be cooking at all.

Ven vegetables are added 'alf vay through, you may 'ave to increase ze oven temperature briefly to bring ze casserole back to simmering point. Ze addition of cold vegetables causes ze temperature of ze liquid to drop.

Poultry is an exception to ze general rule zat ze casserole should be barely simmering. Chicken does not need ze slow treatment to tenderize it; it also takes a much shorter time zan uzzer meat to cook. Zere is a danger zat a very low 'eat may not thoroughly cook ze center of ze chicken joints, vhich could lead to salmonella poisoning, A chicken casserole should cook at about 180°F (350°C) gas mark 4.

Ze length of cooking time depends largely on ze type of meat used (ze better ze quality of cut, ze less time it needs) and ze size of ze pieces. On average, a casserole of under 1.4 kg of beef takes 3 and a 'alf hours to cook. Pork may take 2 and a 'alf to 3 hours, but a lamb shoulder can take only two hours to become tender.

Cooking ze stew on top of ze stove takes approximately ze same time as in ze oven and, again, it must be only simmering.

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    • Marty Chefman profile image
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      Marty Chefman 7 years ago

      'alf a bottle of red vine vill make your casserole unforgettable. Ze alcohol cooks off leaving only ze flarvor!

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