Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Beef, Red Wine and Mushroom Casserole

Brrr! It's bloody chilly, isn't it? And just at the time when we're all getting excited about spring flowers, pastel colours and maybe even leaving work while it's still light (yes, I'm using "we" to mean "me"). It's as though Nature held herself back, frantically trying to suppress her giggles while she watched us marvelling at the unusual mildness. Then she got a big, dead, icy fish out of the freezer and smacked us round the chops with it. While blowing in our faces at the same time. Sorry, that simile got away from me a bit, but you get my drift. It's a bit nippy.

We haven't yet found the thermostat in our new house so it's time to huddle round the fireplace and eat something hot and gravied. This particular casserole is a perfect example of the genre. Tender, rich, fragrant and robust, it's just what you need to keep the icy winds at bay. It's actually my mother-in-law's recipe and when I first started going out with he-who-is-now-my-husband, it acquired quite an intimidating reputation. His favourite meal? This casserole. His birthday treat? This casserole. His ultimate evocation of home which you'll want to live up to? This casserole.

When I first went round to meet his family - nervous, eager to please, trying to look like good son's-girlfriend-material - what was on the menu? This casserole. And after all that build-up, everyone stared at me as I tried my first forkful....and then laughed at me mercilessly when I weakly tried to say "mm, it's lovely". Well, it was lovely! But I was also in an impossible situation because of course I was going to say it was great, there was no other option. So I laughed along, cleared my plate, then nicked the recipe. Now I make the casserole. Ha!


Beef, Red Wine and Mushroom Casserole
Serves 4

- 800g of braising steak, diced
- butter, oil, salt and pepper
- 200g pack of bacon lardons
- 350g onions, roughly chopped (this is normally about 5 onions)
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed or finely chopped
- 350g carrots, cut into chunks
- a tablespoon of tomato puree
- 1 1/2 tablespoons of plain flour
- 250ml red wine
- 300ml beef stock
- a bouquet garni
- 2 strips of orange rind (because of the time of year when I make this, I always use clementine peel)
- 12 juniper berries, crushed or chopped
- 250g mushrooms, roughly chopped - ideally shitake or chestnut

Preheat the oven to 150C. In a large frying pan, or a flameproof casserole dish, heat up a largeish knob of butter and a splash of oil over a high heat until the butter is foaming. 

Brown the beef on all sides, in batches if there's too much to put in the pan without crowding, and set aside when done. Add the bacon into the hot pan and fry it until it begins to brown. Then add the onions, garlic, carrots and tomato puree, turn the heat down to moderate and cook, stirring every few minutes, until lightly browned. Sprinkle in the flour and stir well for a couple of minutes, then pour in the red wine. Mix, bring to the boil and let it bubble for 3 minutes. Then chuck the beef back in, add enough stock to barely cover, tuck in the bouquet garni , orange peel, juniper berries, salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, cover and cook in the oven for an hour to an hour and a half, or until the meat is tender.

At the end of this time, fry the mushrooms in a little oil until just cooked and stir into the casserole, removing the bouquet garni and orange peel as you go. Like all casseroles, this is best made in advance and reheated so that the flavours have a chance to mingle and get to know each other.

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