Thursday 20 December 2012

Braised beef - the ultimate comfort food

Last week I wrote that it is too easy to get stuck in the routine of eating typical British comfort food - stews and casseroles. I didn't mean to imply that our traditional stews and casseroles are boring and never worth cooking. Far from it. I think that at this time of the year they are particularly appropriate. Last Sunday I cooked us a good example of the genre - Braised Beef with Sweet Potato mash and boiled Cabbage.

This dish is one that cooks very slowly (3 hours +), and it is important not to rush it. I started by purchasing a good quality piece of meat from our local Linkway Butchers, on whom I know I can always rely for good meat and good advice. Supermarket meat often ends up being tough, so we prefer to buy from a "proper" butcher whenever we can. This time I came away with just over 400g of "braising steak". I don't know what piece of the cow this comes from, but I suspect it might be Shin.

Cooking it couldn't be easier. I coated the meat in some seasoned plain flour and then browned it in a pan with some hot vegetable oil. Meanwhile I was cooking two large onions over a low heat, just enough to make them translucent. When both meat and onions were ready I put the two together (onions on the bottom, meat on the top). I added about a litre of beef stock (from bottled concentrate), a good sprinkling of dried Thyme and some salt and pepper. Then into the oven at 160C for about 3 hours, checking the consistency every now and then. I had to add a little more water to keep the dish at the correct level of moisture, but that was it: there was really nothing else to do.

Towards the end of the cooking time I prepared the veg. Firstly some Sweet Potatoes which we had received in our weekly veg box. These ones were the orange-fleshed variety which I particularly like because of their stunning visual appeal. They don't look particularly special to begin with - dull and brown on the outside, much like any other type of potato really:

But when you peel, cook and mash the potatoes they are transformed into things of beauty! Just look at the colour in this panful:-

I was very happy with the beef too. The meat went really soft and tender without falling apart, and the onions had more-or-less completely deliquessed, melting into the meaty gravy to make a beautifully sweet yet savoury brew full of "umami" flavours. Perfect!

There's not a lot I can say about the final element of the meal - the cabbage. "Boiled Cabbage" has an ominous ring to it if (like me) you went to an old-fashioned boarding school, but let me assure you, this was not the sulphurous, slimy, cooked-to-death cabbage of my childhood days. This was a crisp, crinkly, tasty little number, cooked very briefly (about three minutes) in lots of fast-boiling salted water, rapidly drained and served, bringing added texture and colour to the dish, ably complementing the vibrant orange of the Sweet Potato mash:

Not a sophisticated meal, I grant you, but a hearty, satisfying one. And if this is important to you, one which doesn't need a huge amount of culinary skill - just good ingredients sensitively used.

If you like this sort of food, why not visit my wife Jane's blog Onions and Paper. She is a crafter and an accomplished cook - hence the name of the blog, which recognises the most basic ingredients of those two areas of interest. She often writes about the food we eat, such as Steak Pudding, Pickled Pears, and Spicy Lamb Bake. You really should check it out!


  1. We're having sweet potato wedges for dinner today. Believe it or not we've never had them believe! One of the minus points of only eating to veg we grow!

    1. Sue; you'll probably disagree, but I think sweet potato wedges are nice with a dusting of paprika!

  2. Your meal looks delicious. Sweet potatoes are a favorite of mine...I serve them baked more than any other way, but they are delicious either sweet or savory. At Christmas I have added orange juice and a bit of brown sugar and butter, mashed them, stuffed them in halved orange peels and broiled and they are delicious. Also have added crushed pineapple to mashed sweet potatoes, topped with brown sugar, cinnamon and butter and baked. So good!

  3. Love a good braise! This looks wonderful and appropriate for the chilly weather we're about to get!

  4. Yum. We need some good hearty food in this sort of weather.

  5. That looks so good. I love cabbage and sweet potatoes together, especially since they are storage crops and I still have a lot of them. Though mine are usually done as coleslaw and steamed sweet potatoes. I've never had boiled cabbage.


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