Slow cooking is becoming more popular because the method is a convenient way of cooking cheap cuts of meat to create dishes that offer superb depth of flavour.
Here’s a breakdown of which cuts are best, plus tips and a really good, tasty and foolproof recipe.
SHIN and LEG
Inexpensive cuts with bags of flavour, made up of very lean muscle.
CHUCK and BLADE
The best-known type of braising steak, and what most recipes mean when they call for this. A very tasty cut of beef that can be sliced or diced.
When boned and rolled, this is a beautiful joint for pot-roasting. It can also be sliced or diced for use in casseroles.
Because this comes from the belly of the animal it can sometimes be fatty, but this is what adds to the flavour of the stock during cooking. A cylindrical joint that gives nice neat slices when carved.
Traditionally an American cut that is often called ‘oven-busters’ over here, short ribs are becoming quite trendy. Slowly braised in wine or beer with vegetables and lots of aromatics, they become very tender and almost velvety in texture, with a fantastic flavour.
MINCED NECK and FLANK
Mince madefrom the tougher cuts of meat is best used in dishes requiring slow cooking. Mince from a prime cut, such as tail of the fillet, is usually reserved for serving raw in dishes such as steak tartare.
Usually reserved for slow cooking in either steak and kidney pudding or Cornish pasties.
Neat, cylindrical joint, ideally suited to braising or pot-roasting.
Tough off-cut of beef that requires long, slow cooking to become tender. Because it is a cut of meat still on the bone – and also comes with quite a lot of fat, cartilage and marrow – it contains a staggering amount of flavour. The cut to use for osso bucco.
TIPS FOR SLOW COOKING
Brown the beef first – in small batches, if necessary, to maintain a high heat in the pan. As this caramelises some of the juices in the pan – adding to the flavour – you should do it in the pot you will cook in, ideally a cast-iron flameproof casserole with a tight-fitting lid.
If you need to toss the beef in a little flour before browning, make sure it is not overly wet and only a light dusting clings to the outside. This will give your meat a good colour.
When seasoning slow-cooked dishes, do so lightly at the beginning. This method encourages reduction of the liquid, so the sauce can become much more concentrated and easily get too salty. Adjust the seasoning at the end of cooking.
Cook the beef at the correct temperature at the start of cooking. The liquid in the pan should not be allowed to bubble at all vigorously, but just tremble in the centre of the pot. This lets the meat become meltingly tender but not fall apart.
Covering the dish with a tight-fitting lid or foil is also very important, especially with some braised dishes in which the meat is cooked in relatively little liquid. It stops the sauce reducing too much.
Making a slow-cooked dish the day before will improve the flavour immensely. Chill it overnight, then reheat and simmer gently for the briefest time possible before serving.
Provencal Beef Skirt Casserole recipe.
Put this simple French stew on the hob and let your cooker do the rest.
1 large celery stick
2 bay leaves
7 sprigs of fresh thyme and parsley, plus a handful of fresh parsley leaves for the persillade garnish
1kg of lean braising steak, such as chuck or blade
4 tablespoons of olive oil
225g thick-cut rindless streaky bacon, cut into strips
3 onions, halved and thinly sliced
6 fat garlic cloves, thinly sliced, plus 1 fat clove, sliced, for the persillade garnish
600ml of good red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon
200ml of beef stock, preferably home-made, but all supermarkets sell this fresh in tubs
350g carrots, cut into small chunky pieces
400g can of chopped tomatoes
2 salted anchovies, rinsed and chopped
3 large strips of pared orange zest
20g of softened butter
20g of plain flour
100g of small black olives
Sea salt and black pepper to season
Make a bouquet garni by cutting the celery in half and sandwiching the bay and herb sprigs in between. Tie everything into a tight bundle with some string.
Cut the steak into large chunky pieces. Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large casserole dish over a high heat. Brown the beef in batches until well coloured all over. Season. Add the bacon to the pan and fry until golden brown. Set aside with the beef.
Add the remaining oil and the onions to the casserole and fry for 10-12 minutes until richly browned. Add the garlic and fry for 1-2 minutes more. Add the wine and simmer vigorously, scraping the base of the casserole to release the caramelised juices, until the liquid has reduced by half.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 140°C (for fan 120°C).
Stir in the stock, then return the beef and bacon to the casserole with the carrots, tomatoes, anchovies, orange zest, bouquet garni, season.
Cover with foil and a tight-fitting lid and cook in the oven for 4 hours or until meltingly tender.
Shortly before it’s ready, make the persillade garnish by chopping together the extra parsley and garlic. Mash the butter and flour together to make a thickening paste (beurre manié).
Remove the casserole from the oven, uncover and skim off any excess oil. Discard the bouquet garni and orange and bring to a gentle simmer on the stove. Whisk in the beurre manié paste a little at a time until thickened. Stir in the olives.
Simmer for 5 minutes, then sprinkle with the persillade garnish, a little fresh parsley for presentation, and with good hearty creamed mashed potato.