The Musette: beef casserole

With the nights starting to draw in and the mercury dipping, thoughts turn to warming recipes. This is another of my one-pot recipes which happily cooks while I’m out cycling or watching live bike racing. If I’ve the time and/or inclination, I might marinade the beef beforehand in the red wine but I find it works just as well without.

You may notice an absence of herbs and spices in the picture of ingredients. That’s because it’s another dish where I would encourage you to use what you have in your cupboard – experiment.

I’m going to ‘fess up. The bottle of wine has a screw top. You may be shocked since I always say “cook only with wine you’d be prepared to drink”. This was a very acceptable red wine – for drinking and cooking – I found in my local branch of Lidl for €2.19 a bottle. There, my secret’s out. I am not, and never will be, a wine connoisseur.

Ingredients (serves two cyclists)

  • 1 beef cheek cubed (approx 400g/14oz of meat)
  • 1 tbsp of olive oil or beef dripping
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 4 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 2 small turnips, finely chopped
  • 12 small carrots peeled and left whole
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 tbsp of flour
  • 1 tbsp of sweet paprika
  • 1 tbsp of sea salt
  • 1 tsp of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp of dried thyme
  • 6 anchovy fillets preserved in oil
  • 500ml (2 cups) of red wine
  • 500ml (2 cups) of beef stock (home-made, tinned or cubed)
  • 1 bouquet garni (fresh or dried)

Method

1. Mix together in a sealable plastic bag the flour, paprika, salt, pepper and dried thyme. Add the beef chunks, seal the bag and shake to coat. This helps to seal the beef and thicken the sauce slightly while it cooks.

2. Heat your fat of choice in an ovenproof casserole (dutch oven) or saucepan on the stove on a medium-high heat. When the fat is hot add the beef in a single layer. Do not crowd the pan. If necessary cook in several batches. You want to sear the meat to lock in flavour, not boil it!

3. Brown the meat on all sides. It should take around ten minutes. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and put aside.

4. Add the onion and celery to the pan and cook until the celery softens and the onion is translucent – 10-15 minutes. Add the cubed turnip and whole carrots, the crushed garlic and the anchovies. Don’t turn your nose up at the anchovies, they impart a delicious taste and no one will know they were even there. It’ll be our secret! Break the anchovies up with a wooden spoon, stirring until they melt.

5. Add the bouquet garni, red wine and the beef stock, bring the mixture up to a simmer; add the beef and any juices. Cover the ingredients with a damp, scrunched-up piece of greaseproof (cartouche) – which prevents the dish from drying out – add the lid and pop into a pre-heated slow oven on 140°C/120°C fan/gas mark 1 (275°F/250°F fan) and leave to gently cook for anything up to eight hours.

6. Remove from the oven, fish out the bouquet garni, stir, check the seasoning and serve with your side dish of choice. I served mine with mashed celeriac because it cooks quickly. But equally, you could use mashed or baked potatoes to mop up the delicious winey juices.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. This is a very forgiving recipe. As I said above you can use lots of different ingredients with the beef. Just think about things which go well together. You can make the dish go further with the addition of more vegetables. Anything you add to the casserole which is finely chopped tends to mush down into the sauce while large pieces of vegetables soften but remain whole. For example, I might fry pancetta lardons with finely chopped leeks rather than onions, add a packet of frozen button onions to the casserole and a handful of whole button mushrooms. Instead of whole small carrots, I might use parsnips, cut into finger-sized pieces. Or even add small whole potatoes still in their (cleaned) skins.

2. If you use a more gelatinous cut of beef say, the blade (shoulder), I would advise marinading the meat for 12 hours beforehand in the wine.

3. If you don’t use anchovies, add 1 tbsp of soy sauce or more salt. I sometimes add a dash of Worcestershire sauce.

4. You can remove the meat, whiz up the sauce with a hand-held blender and serve it as that Niçois classic daube with small meat-filled ravioli. Personally I find this too heavy but have happily served it with gnocchi or panisse, a sort of Niçois polenta but made with chick pea flour. I make these up in batches, in a square cake tin and freeze the excess.

Ingredients

  • 1 litre (4 cups) of water
  • 2 tsp of olive oil
  • ¾ tsp of sea salt
  • 285g (2¼ cups) finely ground chick pea (garbanzo) flour

Method

1. Lightly oil a 23cm (9 inch) square cake tin and line with cling film (plastic wrap).

2. Bring the water, oil and salt to a simmer in a large saucepan. Don’t let it boil!

3. Whisk in the sieved chick pea flour and continue whisking, to avoid lumps, until it thickens – about three minutes.

4. Switch to a wooden spoon and continue to stir until the mixture becomes very thick. This generally takes around ten minutes and helps you work up a bit more of an appetite.

5. Pile the mixture into the oiled and lined baking tin, smoothing the surface with a pallet knife and leave it to cool.

6. Once cold, tip out onto a chopping board and cut into servings. These can be the size of fat chips or even larger. In Nice they’re shaped a bit like flying saucers because they pour the mixture into saucers to set. They’ll keep for a week in the fridge but I generally freeze any excess for up to three months.

7. Use enough olive oil to coat the pieces and put them into a medium hot oven at 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6 (400°F/350°F fan) on a shallow baking tray for 30 minutes to brown, turning them over after 15.

8. Alternatively, you can shallow fry them in a frying pan of hot olive oil until they’re crisp and nicely browned, approximately five minutes on either side. Drain on kitchen paper before serving.

9. They also make rather nice pre-dinner nibbles if cooked in bite-sized pieces and served warm, on cocktails sticks, with plenty of freshly ground sea salt and black pepper.