Back to basics: Casseroles
Casseroles are perfect winter warming meals that are easy to make. Sarah Swain shows how.
- Cut the meat into even-sized pieces.
- Heat a non-stick pan for a few minutes until hot. Spray with a little spray oil.
- Add the meat or chicken stated in the recipe in batches – when added to the heated pan it should sizzle immediately and change colour very quickly.
- Turn the meat to colour evenly, remove from the pan and do the next batch. Add a little spray oil if the meat starts sticking. If much moisture comes out of the meat as it is cooking, use some paper towels to wipe out the pan. If you are cooking chicken, this will change from its pinky colour to a white colour tinged golden at the edges.
- Use a slotted spoon to remove the meat from the dish and drain on paper towel.
- Once cooked, the sealed meat can be transferred to the casserole dish.
- Brown onions and other veges, add these to the casserole with stock, spices, herbs, vegetables and other liquid.
- Simmer casserole gently on the stove or in the oven, until the meat is tender and the liquid reduced. If necessary, thicken sauces at the end of cooking by blending a tablespoon of cornflour with a little of the juice from the casserole to make a paste. Stir the paste into the sauce and allow it to thicken.
- A variety of different dishes can be used for cooking casseroles. Some casserole dishes are only ovenproof while others are flameproof.
- Flameproof can be used in the oven as well as on the hob and include cast iron and stainless steel dishes.
- Ovenproof dishes can be used in the oven without breaking and include pyrex, earthenware and certain types of clay pottery.
- Cast iron dishes retain higher heat than most other cookware, so cooking time and temperature may need to be reduced slightly.
- Cookware should be the right size in proportion to the amount of food put in it. If cookware is too large the food may dry out.
Cuts of meat
For casserole cooking, the cheaper cuts of meat work well but trim off any visible fat. For a healthy option, always choose lean cuts. Most supermarkets have products marked suitable for casseroles. For lamb and pork choose diced leg steaks. For beef choose diced, chuck or gravy steak. For chicken choose thigh fillets or breast fillets, skinned.
- Don't overfill the freezer container; allow for about 3cm expansion.
- Always use a solid freezer container to protect the food from other flavours and odours.
- Always label the food clearly with its name and date packed.
- As a general rule, casseroles can be frozen for up to two months.
- Choose a good heavy-based pan to prevent the contents burning or sticking to the bottom. Make sure it has a tight-fitting lid so the liquid will not evaporate too quickly.
- If cooking your casserole on the hob, keep the liquid at a gentle simmer just below boiling point. If it boils, the meat is likely to be tough.
- Casseroles tend to use less tender, more economical meat cuts. Always trim off any visible fat. Meat labelled 'stewing' will take longer to cook than meat labelled 'braising'.
- Canned tomatoes add flavour to the sauce. They are very low in fat and you can buy them flavoured with onion, capsicum and herbs.
- Season your casserole with pepper and salt if needed at end of cooking, rather than through habit. Freshly ground black pepper may add to the dish but salt often isn't needed.
- If you want to add more texture to your casserole, add some red lentils for the last half hour of cooking.
- Serve casseroles with a mashed root veg of your choice. Add more flavour by adding roasted garlic. For a curry flavour, mix 1 teaspoon curry powder with 4 tablespoons natural low-fat yoghurt and stir into the mash.
- If you have any casserole leftover, it is a dish that actually improves the second time around. Make sure you reheat thoroughly. Add a little more stock if there is not much liquid left.
Beef and lentil casserole
And search Casseroles / stews under Meals and occasions in the recipes section of this website for more great-tasting casserole ideas.