by Nick Barnard from Eat Right (Kyle Books)
The best cuts for a slow-cooking stew are well endowed with fat, either within the meat (marbling) or around the meat, and also with some chewy connective tissue. Both will give flavour, nourishment and body to the stew, and once cooked will be melty to the bite. Also, they are often the least expensive, such as shin, oxtail and chuck.
When you cook a stew with shin, you’re not looking for veal shin (for ossobuco) in particular, but for beef shin from a traditional breed that has been pastured, and the carcass or cuts dry aged for at least 2–3 weeks.
Have the butcher cut the shin into pieces 2.5cm thick complete with bones. You will be cooking the shin bones in the stew to take advantage of all the nutrient-rich goodness in the bone marrow.
Prepare and begin cooking this stew in the morning. It will be ready for supper. Very slow. Very convenient. Extremely tasty and nourishing.
Makes plenty for 4, enough for 6
3 or 4 good-sized cuts of beef shin, 2.5cm thick
500ml red wine
20g ghee, or butter and olive oil, plus extra for sautéing the onions
1 litre chicken, venison or beef stock
Several thyme sprigs
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2–3 small pieces of rind pared from an unwaxed or organic orange
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
To thicken the gravy (optional)
A little arrowroot powder
1. Cut away the meat from around the shank and chop coarsely into 3–4cm cubes. Marinate the meat and the shin bones in the red wine for 3–4 hours at room temperature or overnight in the fridge. Stir the marinade once or twice or when you remember.
2. You now have the choice of browning the meat before stewing, or merely assembling all the ingredients in your casserole pot. Either way, make sure your casserole pot is big enough; you want no more than three layers of diced meat, or the stew will cook unevenly.
3. Drain the meat, but keep the wine marinade. Let the meat sit in a colander or sieve for a few minutes before patting dry with kitchen roll or a tea towel.
4. Heat the ghee in a good-sized cast-iron casserole – big enough for your stew. Sauté the cubed meat in small batches. Remove the seared and browned pieces with a slotted spoon and discard any fat remaining. Add the wine marinade and bring to the boil, scraping the pan with a wooden spoon to incorporate any residues from the browning. Skim off any foam. Reduce the wine marinade by about half.
5. Preheat the oven to 120°C/gas ½. Pour about half the stock into the casserole, bring to a simmer and throw in the thyme, garlic, peppercorns and orange rind. Return all the browned meat and bones to the casserole. Or, if you did not brown the meat earlier, pour off its marinade into a saucepan and bring to the boil, and then simmer to reduce it by about half. Add the meat and bones to the casserole with the reduced marinade. Ensure that the meat is nearly covered but not fully immersed in stock, and if need be, add more stock and bring to a simmer, before covering and cooking in the oven for 8–10 hours.
6. About 2 hours before serving, peel and dice the carrots into roughly 3.5cm cubes and add to the casserole.
7. Peel and similarly dice the onions and sauté in plenty of butter or ghee until they are soft and golden. Put the cooked onions to one side until the stew is cooked.
8. If you need to thicken your gravy, use a paste of arrowroot. Make this with equal measures of powder and water and stir into the stew, a little at a time, just before adding the onions, until the gravy is the desired thickness.
9. Remove the stew from the oven and add the onions. Taste for seasoning and cook for a few more minutes.
10. Smash and coarsely chop some garlic, along with some flat-leaf parsley leaves, and scatter this combination over each serving of stew.
11. Serve this supremely nourishing and comforting stew with boiled potatoes in shallow bowls, alongside a wedge of sprouted sourdough bread to mop up the marrow-rich gravy.
...For a veggie version use any combination of potatoes, turnips, swede, pumpkin, or sweet potato that you fancy. Peel & cut them into rough 3 cm cubes. Throw them into cold salted water & once you’ve brought it to the boil drain them, but retain the veg water & then brown as you would the meat, in butter & olive oil. If using new potatoes, keep their skins on. Unlike the meat there's no need to cook the veg for too long in the oven. Maybe 60-90 mins, until softened, but not breaking up. Use veg stock in the cooking, alongside some of the retained veg water & a teaspoon of Marmite delivers an extra umami hit. Add the carrots to the other veg when the dish is transferred from the hob to the oven & if you have a handful of roughly diced white or green cabbage thrown it into the pot with the carrots. Stir in the sautéed onions at the end, as in the beef recipe
When you bake sliced potatoes in cream and milk, don’t spare the quality or butterfat richness of the dairy; find some super-creamy Jersey or bright golden Guernsey cream and milk, and you will take this comfort food to a new level of satisfaction.
If you want your potatoes to remain intact, you need waxy potatoes for this recipe, such a Yukon Gold, Maris Piper or Charlotte varieties, or Jersey Royal new potatoes. Or, if you like your potatoes beginning to disintegrate in the creamy sauce, use floury ones, such as Russets, Maris Piper or King Edward.
Some butter, preferably raw, in its paper, plus extra, cubed, for topping
750g potatoes, peeled and cut into 1.5mm slices
500ml thick cream, ideally Jersey or Guernsey, or a mix of cream and creamy milk
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 180c/gas 4.
2. Rub a medium-size baking dish thickly with butter. Not a smear, more like a render of butter.
3. Wash the potato slices until the water runs clear; drain. Lay the slices of potato onto the dish, forming overlapping layers, seasoning each layer as you go with salt and pepper. Gently pour thick cream, or milk and cream mixture over the potatoes, so that the top layer is just visible. Add more liquid if need be.
4. Dot the top of the potatoes with lots of cubes of butter. Transfer the dish to the middle shelf of the oven and bake for about 45 minutes, then press the potatoes into the liquid so that the top layer does not dry out too much.
5. After about 1- 1¼ hours when the potatoes are soft and the top is golden, it’s ready.
Ways to add even more goodness and flavours:
Peel and flatten 2 whole garlic cloves and rub them hard around the inside of the dish before buttering it.
Sprinkle chopped fresh herbs between the layers, such as flat-leaf parsley or thyme.
Sauté in butter some sliced wild garlic, small leeks or sorrel and lay them between the layers of potatoes.
Roughly grate some Parmesan or Gruyere cheese over each layer, and, 20 minutes before it’s ready, even more on the top.
Replace half the potatoes with sliced parsnips.