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How to Master the Basics of Stews, Braises, and Casseroles

How to Master the Basics of Stews, Braises, and Casseroles

There's a reason they never go out of style...

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Stews, casseroles, and braises have been made for thousands of years, and most everyone has their own personal connection with at least one recipe. For a long time, stew was made because it was a cheap and easy way to feed a whole family. The fact that it could be quickly thrown together and then left to simmer gently for long periods also didn’t hurt. But there’s more to why these home-cooked staples get passed down through generations—you see, something magical happens when simple ingredients are given the time to slowly come alive into a hearty, warming dish.

Unfussy, reliable recipes like stews are well worth mastering: Not only do they crop up in cuisines from across the world, but once you understand the sequence and the golden rule of going low and slow, you’ll have the perfect foundation to build your own recipes on.

How to cook a basic stew

When choosing a pot to cook the stew in, choose a heavy-bottomed pot with a lid. If you’re planning on finishing your stew in the oven, use an oven-proof pot, and choose a pot that’s big enough to contain all of the ingredients and has some extra room to spare.

1. Chop the ingredients

Cutting the meat and/or main vegetables to roughly the same size will help them to cook evenly.

2. Fry your base ingredients

Sauté the meat until browned, remove, then add the the base vegetables , e.g., onions, celery, carrots, to the same pot and sauté until slightly golden. For vegetable stews, just start with the base vegetables. Next, add garlic, herbs and spices and lightly fry them with the base vegetables for a couple of minutes to release their flavor, before moving onto the next step.

3. Add the remaining ingredients

Add the main vegetables, and return the browned meat to the pot, if using. Give everything a gentle mix so it’s all well combined.

4. Add your liquid of choice

Deglaze the pan with the chosen liquid to create the base for the sauce. Give it a good stir, not and gently scrape any brown bits from the bottom of the pot—this is where extra flavor lies. You can use water, stock, canned tomatoes, wine, cider, stout or beer, or a combination of a couple of those liquids, say, wine and stock, to deglaze and create a sauce base.

5. Let it simmer

Gently bring everything to a boil, turn down the heat, cover it, and let it simmer very gently on the stove or in a preheated oven until all of the ingredients are fork tender—at which point you can slip a sharp knife into the center of each ingredient and encounter hardly any or no resistance at all.

6. Season to taste

Finally, check the seasoning before serving. It helps to not add too much salt at the start. Season the meat a little before it’s browned and add a good pinch when browning the base vegetables. Leave the final seasoning to the end once everything is cooked.

Tips and tricks on cooking and storing stew

How to cook a low-carb stew

There was a time when a stew without carbohydrates would have been laughed out of the kitchen, but that’s no longer the case. Low-carb veggies can work just as well, and you can also omit alcohol from the recipe. Use your veggies, a good stock, quality meat, and lots of onions, garlic, herbs, and spices to ramp up the flavor.

How to store, freeze and reheat stews, casseroles, and braises

Before attempting to refrigerate or freeze your stew, allow it to thoroughly cool to room temperature. It can be stored in the fridge for 3 – 4 days in an airtight container.

Freezing: If freezing your stew, use a plastic or foil container that can be properly sealed. Be sure to leave an inch of free space at the top so that there’s enough room for the water to expand as it freezes.

Defrosting: When defrosting your stew, it’s best to let it thaw out overnight in the fridge. Remember, the bigger the portion in a container, the longer it will take for the stew to defrost, so allow for extra defrosting time if you have a really big container.

Reheating: Reheat your stew slowly and thoroughly on the stove or in the oven and leave the lid on while it’s reheating so that it doesn’t dry out. It should be piping hot before being served. Alternatively, you can reheat it in the microwave on full power. Stop the microwave every 2 minutes to give the stew a little stir and make sure that it’s reheating evenly.

Our favorite vegetarian stew recipes

Hearty vegetarian and vegan stews make use of vegetables that add flavor and hold up well to slow cooking, like potatoes, leeks, celery, carrots, and cabbage, and beans and pulses like white beans or lentils. Since meat takes longer to soften, vegetarian stews tend not to need as much cooking time.

The vast array of vegan ingredients makes it all the easier to achieve a tasty stew without compromising. It’s now possible to get vegan wines and beers; and vegetable stock, canned tomatoes, water, or fruit and vegetable juices can be used instead of meat stocks.

If you’re looking for a little inspiration, try out these vegetarian or vegan stews:

Hearty vegetarian stew

Hearty vegetarian stew

This hearty vegetarian stew recipe ticks all the boxes for a scrumptious bowl of winter warmth. To make it vegan, simply use oil instead of butter.

Lentil and sausage stew is a winner for us, and it’s also easy to adapt. Use oil instead of butter, and swap the sausage and bacon for smoky tofu, or non-meat sausages. Our sauerkraut and mushroom stew recipe is delicious as it is, but vegetable stock and potatoes could be used instead of the beef elements.

Our favorite meat stew recipes

Cheap cuts of red meat, e.g., chuck, are tougher to break down, so stewing or braising in the oven are both ideal ways to cook them; the long, gentle process allows the meat to become deliciously tender. You can use different cuts of beef, rabbit, pork, chicken—any meat you like really—just avoid extra lean cuts like chicken breast which tend to dry out. Using a combination of different meats will add a whole new dimension to a stew experience, think traditional cassoulet.

Extra tip: Buy your meat directly from your butcher. Pre-cut and packaged stewing meat is often made up of different meat cuts, which means they’ll be difficult to cook evenly. Butchers might cut the meat into cubes and remove excess fat for you, if asked nicely.

Here’s a classic beef stew recipe to get you started:

Hearty beef stew

Hearty beef stew

A pot goes around the world: International stews

From hot pot to chowder, our recipes will be your ticket to a whole new world of deliciousness. Enjoy!

New England clam chowder

New England clam chowder

Shrimp and sausage gumbo

Shrimp and sausage gumbo

Moroccan-inspired chickpea stew

Moroccan-inspired chickpea stew

Sukiyaki (Japanese Hot Pot)

Sukiyaki (Japanese Hot Pot)

Published on November 16, 2018

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