Trish Deseine slow-cooks a full-bodied casserole…
Growing up in Co Antrim, a beef farmer’s daughter, at times it felt that every day had to include beef on the menu. My father was a stickler for the most carefully cooked rare steaks and roasts, and there was often palpable tension in the air come Sunday lunch, when my mother endured Betty Draper levels of pressure to get it all right, and all on the table, hot, at the same time.
One Christmas day, my father even managed to persuade the family to swap the traditional turkey for a rib roast and Christmas was almost cancelled during the ensuing rebellion. Once in a blue moon, or so it seemed, my food heaven would appear instead of the usual bovine hunk. A large roast chicken, stuffed with bread, onion and parsley, and accompanied, I guess to my father’s relief, by beef-flavoured Bisto-enhanced gravy. (There were no fancy chicken or vegetable versions in those days.) Undoubtedly it is this childhood deprivation that means that nowadays my dimanche simply cannot be Sunday without a poulet rôti, although the gravy is now much improved, and the flavouring is mostly garlic and thyme.
An even rarer occurrence was the appearance of the dish I loved most, pot roast beef. The cut was topside, silverside or rolled brisket and the meat was sticky, melting and intense. The forefather of the ubiquitous “pulled” everything on today’s menus, there was almost no need for gravy. The cooking juices were a dark caramel, with the most intensely meaty flavour, better even than the sticky bits in the chicken’s roasting pan. It was a forgiving dish, most often served on Saturdays in our house when we would all trickle in at odd times from hockey, rugby and the farm.
It’s no wonder, then, that when the first Staub cocotte or Dutch oven, came into my life in France in my early 40s, it was a real love match. I had somehow completely bypassed Le Creuset (nope, not even on our Printemps wedding list) and slow-roasting or casseroling on the stove top or in the oven in a closed pot were simply not in my repertoire. (The only large pot I owned was a cocotte minute, or pressure cooker, given to me, alongside a stout cookery book, by my then future mother-in-law. She was doubtlessly worried that the irlandaise moving in with her son would starve or poison him.)
Those were the days of gastropubs, of gooey slow-cooked lamb shanks, whole pot roast chickens, caramelised pork belly and the re-emergence of sticky toffee pudding, and my Staub pot – a gift from the inventor himself, flâneur-entrepreneur Francis Staub, now the owner of Bourdain’s Les Halles restaurant in New York – had come into my life to deliver them all at the perfect time.
To add to the appeal, the black cast iron makes for a beautifully photogenic background for all that it cooks and is more than chic enough to be brought to the table. The lid is so heavy it feels like you are sealing an ancient tomb when you slide it into place, encasing the ingredients perfectly to cook in their own juices and flavours. These days, I will more than often slow-cook and braise ratatouille vegetables, or a whole cauliflower rather than beef, although it is still my favourite way to roast a chicken, alongside at least 40 garlic cloves and thyme from the garden.
And as I change kitchens again, my trusty Staub will of course be making the journey. But I at last have a hankering for some Le Creuset, not a closed pot, but a beautiful, 28cm wide, open braising dish with handles, in their creamy beige “meringue” colour. It looks so good, and suits the quicker, more visible way of cooking I’m interested in these days, allowing me to brown nice chunks of fish or meat on the hob before finishing them off in the oven. Then a quick deglaze with some wine, Marsala or decent organic stock, a few steamed vegetables on the side, and not a pinch of Bisto in sight. @trishdeseineencore
RICH LAMB CASSEROLE IN RED WINE WITH CARROTS AND PARSNIPS
This is my go-to way to cook lamb in autumn and winter. Use a nice Cahors or Châteauneuf du Pape for an even richer flavour.
10 minutes preparation
1 hours cooking
1.5 kg lamb neck cut into pieces
400g potatoes, peeled, chopped
2 carrots, peeled, chopped
2 parsnips, peeled, chopped
2 medium onions, peeled, chopped
50cl red wine
1 tbsp oil
1 bouquet garni (fresh thyme, bay leaf, flat leaf parsley)
Salt and pepper
Heat the oil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed casserole dish. Heat the oven to 150°C.
Cook the onions for 3 minutes or so, stirring from time to time.
Add the pieces of lamb neck and let them colour for 5 minutes, turning them as they brown.
Add the carrots and parsnips and stir again.
Pour the wine into the casserole and top up with water so that the liquid just covers the meat.
Add the bouquet garni, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Close the casserole and let simmer for 1 hour 30 minutes.
Add the sliced potatoes to the casserole after an hour and continue cooking for another 30 minutes.
Check the seasoning and serve.
To see more autumnal recipes from Trish Deseine follow this link.
Photography by @franckschmitt_photographe