This was probably the first type of dish I ever cooked. I would like to say that I learned how to do it from my mother, but that's not the case. Looking back on it, I think I make casseroles the way I do mostly because it is NOT the way my Mum made them. Arrogantly, I thought "I can do better than that"! I don't think she ever browned the meat, and simply cooked it from cold. I think this misses something. Browning the meat adds a certain savouriness to it (technically known as the Maillard reaction). Also, I dust the meat in seasoned flour before browning it, which my Mum never did. This tends to seal in some of the juices, making the meat that much more tender, and it also thickens the gravy.
I know that many of my readers are experienced cooks and will know all about cooking casseroles, but then again many of them are not, and many of them live in foreign lands and may therefore be unfamiliar with this style of cookery. This is why I am today offering MY recipe for a beef casserole. Obviously some of you will say "Mine is better than Mark's", but I accept that - it's definitely in the spirit of the game!
Beef casserole with herby dumplings (serves 2)
For the casserole:
Approx 350g beef - "stewing steak" or "braising steak" - cut into 3cm cubes
2 onions, peeled and roughly sliced
2 carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces
150g mushrooms, roughly sliced
2 cloves garlic
2 Bay leaves
A few sprigs of fresh Thyme (leaves only)
1 litre beef stock
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon plain flour
Salt and pepper
For the dumplings:
100g self-raising flour (NOT plain flour)
50g beef suet
Approx 1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs (I used Parsley)
Pinch of salt
Small quantity of water
- Put the plain flour into a large plastic bag and add a generous quantity of black pepper and some salt
- Put the meat into the plastic bag and shake it around to thoroughly coat it in flour
- Brown the meat in a frying-pan, using the vegetable oil
- Remove meat from pan; add onions to pan; cook for a few minutes until soft but not brown
- Crush the cloves of garlic and add them to the onions; cook for a further 2 minutes
- Put meat and onions into a deep oven-proof dish (a casserole?)
- Add carrots, stock, herbs and seasoning
- Cook (with pan covered) in the oven for approx two hours at 160C, checking once or twice to ensure that there is sufficient moisture in the pan (you are looking for tender meat in a nice thick gravy), adding water/stock if necessary
- After one hour or so (timing not critical) add the mushrooms. [I find that if you add them at the start they can go very mushy.]
- Put all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well
- Add some water and knead the mixture gently with your hands to form a soft dough
- Add water in small quantities to ensure the mixture doesn't go too sloppy
- Form the mixture into small balls - about the size of a golf ball
- Place the dumplings in the casserole pan, pushing them into the gravy so that they are about half-submerged
- Return the pan to the oven and cook for a futher 30 mins, uncovered
- When cooked, the dumplings will be slightly crispy and brown on top, but soft underneath where they have been in contact with the gravy.
The best thing about this dish is that timings are not critical. You could cook it more quickly if you wish (though the meat would probably not be so tender) by turning up the oven temperature a little. But you could also spin it out if you need to - e.g. if wife/husband/partner calls to say they will be late home from work! Another half an hour or 45 minutes would certainly not be a problem.
When it comes to vegetables to serve with this dish, I strongly recommend mashed Potato (maybe even a 60/40 mixture of Potato and Celeriac?). For added colour, I suggest something green, such as Savoy Cabbage, or Broccoli.
OK, there you are the - Mark's version of beef casserole. Enjoy!