My mates Tom and Sam, well actually Tom I think, made a casserole around at theirs one night for a few friends that was so hearty and down to earth that I instantly wanted to make it. It also had a lot of potatoes cooked with it, making it an ideal dish in my book, as you didn’t have to make anything else to go with it. Tom gave me the recipe, and said he got it from Jamie Oliver (not directly, obviously). Before this, the only beef casserole I had ever made was Boeuf Bourguignon, which is fantastic but not a straightforward dish. This recipe is wonderfully simple, and while I’ve slightly adapted it from the JO recipe Tom gave me, its still easy to make.
The most important thing is to get the right cut of meat. I used to make a beef casserole with topside steak, but my favourite butcher, Sardes at Queen Vic Market, recoiled in horror when I told him I was making casserole with topside, and set me straight. Gravy beef is the best for this – it’s sinewy, and when slow cooked in a casserole for a few hours, the sinew melts and becomes gelatinous, softening the meat to the perfect texture.
This takes 2 hours to cook, and about half an hour to prepare, so don’t try and make this in a rush! The good news is it makes a great big pot full of casserole for about 6 people, and it can be frozen.
1 kilo gravy beef, sliced into chunks (ask your butcher to do this, it will save you some time)
3 tablespoons plain flour
About 800g peeled winter vegetables cut into thick chunks – I like to use potatoes, carrots, parsnip, and if they are in season, jerusalem artichokes (don’t be intimidated by these, they are wonderful and add a delicious, unique flavour). Don’t use pumpkin because it will melt too much.
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, diced
Small handful of fresh sage leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 400 g tin diced organic tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1/2 bottle red wine
300 grams of water or stock (any stock will do, except fish)
Handful of chopped parsley
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
Place the meat in a plastic bag, add the flour, seal and shake until all of the meat is well coated. In a heavy, flameproof casserole dish, saute the onion in some olive oil until soft. Add the garlic and herbs and stir around for a minute. Add the meat, coat with the onion mixture, then add the wine, tomatoes, water or stock, bay leaf, and vegetables. Bring to the boil on the stove and immediately remove from the heat, put the lid on and place in the oven for 2 hours, checking around three times to ensure its not burning or sticking.
Note: If you have a very high quality cast iron casserole dish as I do, such as Le Creuset (thanks girls!), then drop the heat to 160 after 1 hour. The cast iron surface conducts heat so well, it will cook at a cooler temperature, and will almost burn the casserole at 180.
Allow to cool down a little with the lid on before serving. Sprinkle with chopped parsley, and serve with some crusty bread if you wish.