Eight secrets to cooking up the most flavourful winter stew
1. PICK THE RIGHT POT
For success use a heavy-based pot with a tight-fitting lid; ideally this should be ovenproof (see point seven). It’s the heavy base that helps to prevent burning or the stew catching on the bottom of the pan.
2. CHOOSE THE BEST CUTS
The tougher forequarter cuts of beef, lamb and pork are best to use for long slow methods of cooking because they offer greater flavour as the collagen and gelatin melts into the stew. Remember to trim off the excess fat from the meat before cooking.
Chicken portions on the bone are great for stewing too, and will cook quicker than cuts of meat.
3. BUILD UP FLAVOUR FROM THE START
Onions, garlic and carrots are the foundation blocks of a good stew. Use two onions, one large carrot and two to three cloves of garlic for the base of a stew to feed four to six people.
The first step is to sauté these ingredients in preheated oil over a low heat till softened and the onions are just starting to change colour.
Using a slotted spoon remove the onion mixture and set aside before continuing with the next steps: coating and browning the meat. Don’t clean the pot in between.
4. COAT THE MEAT
I believe that coating the meat lightly in seasoned flour before browning helps to seal in the juices; it also thickens the sauce. The easiest way to do this is to place some seasoned flour in a plastic bag, add the meat, seal the bag and shake it to coat the meat. I use a mixture of 45ml (3 tbsp) flour, 5ml (1 tsp) each of paprika and mixed herbs, plus salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
5. BROWN THE MEAT IN BATCHES
Preheat the pot used to fry the onion mixture, adding an extra 15-30ml (1-2 tbsp) oil if necessary, and brown the meat in batches over a high heat. The purpose is not to cook the meat, just to seal in the juices.
Don’t overcrowd the pan as this will cause the meat to stew rather than brown. Allow ample room around each piece of meat, as Chef Arnold Tanzer puts it “think of it as social distancing for your ingredients.” Be patient and allow the pan to come back up to temperature between each batch.
Once your meat is browned return it and the onion mixture to the pot and pour in the stock.
6. PICK YOUR STOCK WISELY
The whole essence of a stew is to develop maximum flavour and the stock you use is central to achieving that goal. In choosing the stock, match the flavour to the meat being stewed. If you don’t have or can’t find lamb stock, replace it with chicken or vegetable stock.
Don’t forget to season your stew, but taste it before adding salt as stock tends to be quite salty.
7. FINISH IT OFF IN THE OVEN
The secret to a good stew is slow cooking which can be done from start to finish on top of the stove, but I find the dish needs less ‘babysitting’ if you finish it in the oven.
Cover the pot with a tightfitting lid, transfer it to preheated 160°C oven and cook for at least 2-3 hours, checking the stock levels every half an hour and, if necessary, topping them up.
8. ADD OTHER VEG LATER
As the meat takes longer to cook than other vegetables you’d likely be adding such as potatoes, give it head start. Adding the veg after one hour of cooking will help to ensure these don’t lose all their texture and become pulpy.
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