The key to a great beef casserole, pot-roast or braise is simple, choose the right beef or lamb cut and give it some time to slowly cook. The time part may scare you off, don’t let it – the only part that takes time is the cooking, preparing these slow simmer dishes is quick and easy, the oven, the cooktop or the slow cooker takes over from there.
The defining techniques for the various slow simmer dishes
What is the difference between a stew and a braise? What about a pot-roast? Where does casserole fit in?
- A braise generally uses cubed meat or small cuts with bone-in such as lamb shanks. A braise uses very little liquid in relation to the quantity of meat. Meat is barely immersed in the liquid (roughly 1 cup of liquid to 1kg of meat). The cooking liquid for a braise is highly concentrated and served as a sauce or gravy. When reheating, a braise may need a little extra liquid – such as stock or wine.
- Pot-roasting uses the same technique as braising, the difference being that it requires a larger whole piece of meat such as a lamb shoulder or piece of chuck.
- A stew uses more liquid and takes less time to cook as the meat is completely submerged. It is cooked on the cooktop and served directly in its cooking liquid.
- A casserole is similar to a stew, but it is traditionally cooked in a casserole dish in the oven rather than on the cooktop. You can cook it on the cooktop though, you’ll simply need to pay a little more attention to it as it cooks – see our tips below.
Simple steps that are the basis for all slow-simmered dishes
Step 1 – Coat the meat with oil rather than adding oil to the pan; it reduces the amount of oil you need and helps the meat brown well.
Step 2 – Brown meat in small batches. Keep the pan at medium high heat, which helps the meat to brown evenly rather than stew or burn in the pan. Remove meat from pan, add the liquid and bring liquid to the boil.
Step 3 – Reduce the heat to low, so the liquid is at simmering point before returning the browned meat to the pan. This ensures the meat’s tenderness.
Step 4 – Check that the dish simmers gently during cooking. Stir occasionally and adjust the heat if needed. A simmer is when small amounts of tiny bubbles occasionally rise to the surface of the cooking liquid.
Casserole and braise tips
- Match the beef or lamb cut to the cooking time you have available. Consider the time you have and pick the appropriate beef cut. A few examples of cuts and timings are:
These temperatures and times can only be a guide, a full list of red meat cuts for slow simmering can be found below. The time it takes a lamb and veal cuts to cook will vary according to size of the meat cut and whether it is a bone in piece or not. As a guide lamb shanks will take about 2 hours while veal osso bucco will take 1½ to 2 hours to become tender.
- Don't rush the initial stage of browning the meat. This will make your casserole rich in colour and flavour. Brown the meat in small batches (about 200g each batch). Keep the pan at medium-high heat as you cook.
- Pick of the pans and casserole dishes. The ideal pan is heavy-based. A mid-sized enameled cast-iron saucepan is a good all-round choice, as it is great for the cooktop as well as for use in the oven. A simple casserole dish will work just as well, just brown the meat in your frypan or wok and transfer it to the casserole dish with the other ingredients. Affordable and practical casserole dishes include ceramic stoneware (like CorningWare) glass (like Pyrex) and glazed ceramic/pottery (like Bendigo Pottery casserole pots).
- You can cook the casserole on the cooktop rather than the oven if you like. You’ll just need to pay a little more attention to it. The mixture can sometimes stick to the base of the pan and burn in a regular type saucepan, as it’s difficult to get the temperature of some cooktops as low as needed. Adding more liquid