On the ultimate winter braises
AH,THE comfort of the casserole,the beauty of the braise, the simplicity of a stew. Is there any meal more redolent of winter than something bubbling away merrily on the stovetop or slowly in the oven? The very act warms the kitchen and the whole house fills with the heart-warming aroma of home.
Strange, then, that casseroles and stews seem to have fallen out of favour as we cast admiring glances the way of tray bakes and all manner of ‘bowls’ instead. Oh, fickle us.
Casseroles and stews aren’t just something your grandma made when she lived in a bark hut in the bush. They’re beautifully simple, one-pot wonderous ways of cooking (with minimal washing-up) and we just need a little adventurousness to reinvent them for a new generation. Here are four great ideas that will get your family reassessing the humble stew.
A QUICK CHEAT’S CASSOULET
The French really are the masters of the braise with all their daubes and dishes like boeuf Bourguignon, chicken Normandy, cooked with cider and cream, and coq au vin. My favourite, however, are the bean-laden cassoulets of the country’s south-west.The trouble is that a good cassoulet takes an age to make properly; if you make it quickly you invariably fail to get the wonderful lip-stickiness that’s very much the delicious joy of this pork and bean dish.
At least that was until we perfected the cheat’s cassoulet.The recipe uses more familiar pork snags and chicken thighs rather than duck and esoteric sausages or salted pork belly, but it still achieves that delicious meaty stickiness with the cunning addition of a couple of teaspoons of powdered gelatine (see Matt’s recipe for a simple French cassoulet at delicious.com.au.)
Interestingly, coq au vin was originally made with white wine rather than the red we more usually use these days and that makes for a surprisingly good variation to this French classic.
UN-ITALIAN LAMB PUTTANESCA
For all their off-handedness and relaxed outlook, Italians are pretty rigid when it comes to food and fashion.To test this,try wearing a yellow Pringle jumper tied round your shoulders at the wrong time of year, or order a latte after dinner. At the risk of offending them, however, I’ve always felt the classic Neapolitan puttanesca sauce was wasted served just on pasta. It seems to offer so much more given how tomatoes, capers, olives and anchovies love both fish and lamb so very much.
For fish with puttanesca, fill a warmed casserole to thumb-deep with hot puttanesca sauce and paddle firm white-fleshed fish in the hot sauce and roast in the oven. For full recipes for my super-easy fish puttanesca, lamb puttanesca and puttanesca with mussels and orecchiette head to delicious.com.au.
GHANAIAN PEANUT STEW
There’s much stewin’-spiration to be found in the kitchens of sub-Saharan Africa, from Botswana’s pounded beef, or seswaa, to Nigeria’s egusi, but the African dish tipped by US hospitality pundits as a possible break-out braise for restaurants in 2018 is the gorgeous peanut curry (aka nkatenkwan) from Ghana.This stew of chicken seared off with ginger, garlic, hot chilli and sweet potato, and finished with peanut butter and tomatoes is tipped as being familiar enough in flavour, technique and ingredients that it won’t scare off US diners who still want a bit more adventure (but not too much) when they eat out. It’s a super-easy stew to make at home, with the peanut butter adding a lovely richness and velvet mouthfeel.The traditional carb served with it is fufu (typically made by pounding cassava and green plantain), but since the ingredients are hard to find unless you’re in, say, Accra, try brown rice.This West African classic has already made an early appearance in MasterChef this season, perhaps confirming that it’s time has come.
Malaysians are obsessed with food to such a degree that Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s weighing into the recent ‘crisp rendang’ controversy to defend one of Malaysia’s national dishes during the recent election campaign could be seen as a play for the popular vote. If so, it certainly worked – he deposed one of the world’s longestserving political parties.
A good rendang should be fragrant, with a thick, cooked-down, sauce that is dry and dense rather than sloppy, and with a slight squeak from the toasted coconut. When choosing a recipe, the picture will tell you so much.Also,be sure to use kaffir lime leaves (they’re sold in supermarkets), both to cook in the sauce and to slice razor-fine and sprinkle over the top for garnish. Buy extra – they keep well in the freezer.
For eight more brilliant braises that are a little off-piste, see Matt’s extended story at delicious.com.au. You’ll also find more than a winter’s worth of warming braise recipes.