Sunday, May 07, 2006

Winter Stews

A long time since my last post, due to technical hitches. In the meantime winter has descended upon us here in South Africa, the long awaited rains have started to transform the countryside from brown to green and freezing cold draughts whistle in through unsuspected holes in the eaves. In a country that doesn't know what central heating is, we light a roaring fire, pile on the blankets and go to bed with a hot water bottle. Now we can bring out all the recipes that call for long, slow cooking. The oven on a low heat gently warming the kitchen and filling it with appetising aromas as astew or casserole simmers gently. As unthinkable in the summer to have the oven on for long periods adding to the already considerable heat in the kitchen as it would be to eat a meal of stew and baked potatoes. Definitely winter fare.

The important thing about a stew is to give it plenty of time to cook slowly - think two or three hours or more, so that the meat is so tender that it is falling off the bones. You can and should use the cheaper cuts of meat, the bones add flavour and density to the stew too. Use plenty of vegetables in with the meat for flavour and goodness to produce a hearty meal at no great expense. I always start with the standard base of onions, carrots and celery, then add sweet potatoes, turnip or potatoes or mushrooms. The herbs could be bay leaves, thyme or rosemary. The vegetables soften first in olive oil, the meat is dipped in seasoned flour and browned seperately then added to the vegetables with a tin of tomatoes or the end of a bottle of red wine, some stock or just water to just cover the meat. Then it can sit, with a tight lid, in a 150C oven for a 2-3 hours with no attention needed other than to cook some potatoes or rice to go with it. This works with beef and lamb, chicken needs less time - maybe 1 1/2 hours.

I have yet to try out the hay box method , where you bring the stew to simmering point in the morning, cover with a tight lid, then put in a well insulated box, so that when you come home from work it has cooked in its own heat, partly because I can't imagine getting it together to put anything on to cook early in the morning. Let me know if you are masters of this though - I'd like to try it.


  1. I love stews also! We are going into our hot summer months and one of the joys of autumn and winter are soups and stews! I have never heard of the hay box method. This sounds intriging, and would love to learn more of this. Your stews sound delicous! I make a beef burgundy wine/mushroom/carrot/onion/ thyme stew that is awesome! I am getting hungry...

  2. I'll see if I can find out more about the hay box. I think it is a WW2 ecomomising on fuel thing, clever idea, must see if the results are delicious also. Yours sounds good - let us have the recipe some time on your blog.


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