There are all sorts of variations for beef casserole but it’s difficult to find a basic casserole recipe which serves the purpose of cheaply feeding hungry athletes (or a ravenous family) without all the fussy trimmings which turn a basic casserole or stew into something appropriate for a dinner party.
Personally I don’t have any idea what the difference is between a casserole or stew (searching on the internet seems to suggest that there isn’t really a difference). It doesn’t really matter. The key is that it is slow-cooking meat in a gravy sauce with some vegetables which means that the whole meal is in the pot ready to serve it up and, because it’s slow-cooked, you can get away with some pretty cheap meat cuts.
I usually keep 500g bags of casseroling steak (cheap beef stewing meat chopped up into inch cubes) in the freezer, buying it when it is on special offer. I was really glad to have this to hand when we were contacted by a couple of touring cyclists through the WarmShowers network (a mutual overnight hosting scheme for touring cyclists). We wanted to welcome them with a decent dinner and concluded that dinner with touring cyclists needed to be a no-frills, simple, filling meal that we could sit round, having as much or as little as we wanted while exchanging stories over numerous glasses of wine. What could be better than a large pot of beef casserole (and some rice to fill in the extra corners for our guests)?
It was the week that I was off work ill (so no wine for me). Going to the shops for extra ingredients was not going to happen in a hurry and several of my usual casserole ingredients (like wholegrain mustard) had recently run out. As a result I discovered, by accident, that you can make very simple casserole in a completely paleo way, without thickening agents and without the extra paraphernalia, and still find that it tastes good.
Ingredients (serves 3-4, depending on hunger levels):
500ml beef stewing steak (casserole/chuck steak), chopped into 1 inch cubes
4 large onions, chopped
6 carrots, roughly chopped into inch wide slices or similar sized pieces
8-10 mushrooms, chopped into large pieces
1 handful fresh oregano, finely chopped
700ml beef stock
100g tomato puree
- Preheat the oven to 170 C.
- Put some oil in a large heavy-based flameproof casserole dish with a lid that can be used on the cooker top as well as in the oven. If you don’t have a pan like this then prepare the casserole in a large wok or frying pan and then transfer it to the casserole dish at the end of step 4.
- Wait until the oil is hot, almost on the verge of smoking, and add the meat. Brown the meat quickly, turning it frequently. For best results don’t let the meat start to stew in the pan, you are just trying to brown it. If the oil isn’t hot enough the meat will start to stew before it is browned.
- Once the meat is browned you have two options. If you are cooking in the casserole dish add the onions to the meat and continue to cook, stirring frequently, to allow the onions to soften. If you are cooking in a separate pan remove the browned meat from the pan (into the casserole dish) and then cook the onions separately.
- When the onions are also cooked through add the mushrooms, carrots, oregano, beef stock and tomato puree to the pot (it is easiest to mix the tomato puree into the beef stock before pouring it over the meat and vegetables). Put the lid on the pot and cook in the oven for 2 hours.
- At the end of cooking time move the casserole back to the top of the cooker. If you aren’t using a casserole dish that can be used on the cooker top, pour the sauce off the meat into a separate pan (it doesn’t matter if the odd bit of veg or meat ends up in the pan too).
- Put the casserole (or pan with sauce) over a high heat and boil vigorously for about 20 minutes (long enough to cook some rice if you have non-paleo friends joining you for dinner). If you are doing this with the whole casserole then stir it round every 5 minutes or so to make sure that none of it burns onto the bottom. Over time the sauce will start to reduce and thicken. Keep an eye on it and stop reducing the sauce when it is the consistency that you want – a good casserole gravy shouldn’t be too thick and gloopy but ultimately you can have it however you like it. It’s your casserole!
I tend to serve it up by putting the casserole pot in the middle of the table with a big ladle in it to serve. It means people can help themselves to as much or as little as they want. It’s good with either green veg or a green salad on the side. Whatever takes your fancy really!