Winter is absolutely the right time for a stew. Not school dinner stew. Dismiss thoughts of watery gristle with inexplicably uncooked pieces of carrot. We’re thinking of meltingly tender meat slowly cooked in unctuous meaty gravy. When it has been dark since 4 o’clock in the afternoon and wind is threatening the structural integrity of your house, a pot of savoury goodness fits the bill.
Whether your stew takes the form of a curry, a tagine or a bourguignon, the cut of meat you choose can make a surprisingly big difference to your dish. If you’re planning a slow-cooked meat dish, you might already know to look for a cut of meat from the front of the animal. Generally, the muscles at the front do more hard work and need longer, slower cooking to tenderise them. These cuts are much less expensive than premium steaks and can reward you with a huge depth of flavour.
That sounds straightforward enough, but when you’re standing in front of the butcher’s counter faced with stewing steak, braising steak, chuck steak, beef skirt, beef shin and countless others, it can feel like a minefield. So we’ve put together a handy guide to a few of the best cuts to look for.
While your dish will be fine with stewing beef, you can take it up to the next level by using beef shin. The connective tissue in the shin will melt over a couple of hours, making your sauce thick and rich.
For even slower cooking, try a whole brisket joint or beef short ribs (basically brisket on the bone). Brisket will happily cook all day at a very low heat. 4 hours is pretty much the minimum but 7 or 8 hours at 100ºC isn’t unusual. Cook until the meat is falling off the bone.
Pork shoulder is readily available and fantastic for slowly cooked curries or for slow-roasting. It gives the perfect combination of crackling and meat you can cut with a spoon.
For something a bit different, try asking your butcher for hand of pork or pork cheeks. Pork cheeks braised for 3 hours with wine and root veg is a blissful thing to come home to. Hand of pork will reward 5 hours of slow roasting with moist tender delicious meat. A far cry from the dried out stringy stuff often proffered as roast pork.
If you fancy making curry goat this weekend, ask your butcher to cut some goat shoulder on the bone into chunks. After 4 or 5 hours simmering with herbs and spices you’ll definitely be going back for more.
We don’t tend to associate slow cooking with chicken but try choosing chicken thighs instead of chicken breasts. Thighs are much cheaper and are perfect when cooked long and slow until the meat melts from the bone. They will give you a deeper flavour and moist meat that will make chicken breast seem almost chalklike in comparison.
Lamb should either be seared on scarily hot coals, or slowly cooked for hours, and nothing in between in our view. Lamb shoulder is definitely at the slow cooked end and is one of our favourite cuts of all.
If you’re making something like a tagine, try lamb neck. Cut into chunks and simmered gently for a couple of hours, it becomes rich and flavourful, and it is brilliantly economical.
Slow-cooked Shoulder of Lamb
You will need:
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 1 whole lamb shoulder
- 2 tbsp paprika
- 8 onions, peeled but left whole
- 2 x 400g tins of chickpeas
- Pre-heat the oven to 220ºC/Gas 8. Mix the paprika with the oil along with a generous seasoning of salt and pepper. Rub most of it all over the lamb, and mix the remainder with the onions.
- Stand the onions in a roasting tin and place the lamb on top, skin side up. Pour 400ml of boiling water into the tray and cook at 220ºC/Gas 8 for 30 minutes.
- Carefully cover the tray with foil, trying to avoid the foil touching the lamb as much as possible so it doesn’t stick. Return the tray to the oven and reduce the heat 150ºC/Gas 2. Cook for 2 1/2 hours, then remove the foil.
- Stir a couple of tins of chickpeas into the juices in the tray and cook uncovered for another 30 minutes. Serve with herby couscous, salad and minty yoghurt.