Chef Silvena Rowe answers your culinary queries.
Q My family loves casseroles, but whenever I braise meat, it looks unappetising and tastes bland. Please suggest a foolproof method.
A Once you get it right, braising is a delicious and fuss-free way to prepare a hearty casserole. It is really healthy, all about imagination and does not require much supervision.
Here’s a way to make a perfect casserole: First of all, cut the meat and vegetables into chunks, ensuring that they are the same size. Don’t cut them too fine as they will cook too quickly and will not give you a rich dish.
Season the meat and vegetables with salt, pepper, dried herbs and spices. Then heat a large, heavy-bottomed pan over high heat and add a drizzle of oil – enough to make a thin layer in the pan. Carefully slide in the meat and vegetables and sauté over high heat until they turn a deep brown colour on all sides.
Don’t worry if it begins to stick at the bottom slightly – this process of searing is vital as it ensures the meat does not look pale and bland and gives the sauce its rich colour.
Once the ingredients have darkened, add liquid, which can be water or stock. The quantity of liquid should be enough to ensure that the meat and vegetables are covered half way.
Reduce the heat and cover. Simmer until the meat and vegetables are cooked through. If you want a thick sauce, then I would recommend that you take the cover off towards the end of cooking, but take care to ensure that all the liquid does not evaporate and your dish does not burn at the base.
You can also prepare this dish in the oven. All you need to do is ensure your pan is ovenproof or transfer the ingredients into an ovenproof dish once you’ve browned them off.
Poultry and small cuts of meat generally take about 45 minutes to cook, ribs and tough shanks take about six hours and vegetables take no more than 30 minutes. So make sure to add the vegetables towards the end of cooking if your meat will take longer.