Trying to fight off the cold this winter? Follow these 6 tips to ensure your slow-cooked stews are simple, tasty and heart-warming every time.
Winter is upon us so it's time to bring out the slow cookers and find your grandma’s old crock pot dish and make some comfort food for you, your family and friends. Stews are the number one time-saving meal and are hugely versatile - just load up your cooker with a variety of vegetables, herbs, spices, meat and liquid, and leave it alone until you are ready to ladle it into your bowls and your mouths.
Here are 6 top tips for the perfect slow-cooked stew.
1. Herbs and spices
Fresh, dried or a combination of both types of herbs should be used to help flavour your stews. If using fresh, add these within the last 20 minutes of cooking or sprinkle on top once served. This makes sure the flavour of the herbs is not lost in the cooking process. Dried herbs on the other hand can be added early on to make sure their flavour is infused through the dish. Herbs like rosemary, thyme, sage and bay leaves are perfectly matched for a beef and red wine stew.
2. Root vegetables
Root vegetables are essential in a one-pot-wonder stew to add flavour and boost the flu-fighting qualities of the dish. Vegetables like carrots, potatoes, parsnips, turnips and beets will absorb the rich flavours from the liquid, herbs and meat, and you will be left with chunks of soft vegetables that break down and immerse themselves in the stew.
Try coating the meat in flour before browning it off in a pan. Later on in the cooking process this flour will help to thicken the stew because no one wants a runny stew! If you don’t have any flour or are gluten intolerant, take the lid off the pot or slow cooker about 30 minutes before serving and leave it to simmer, which should allow some of the liquid to evaporate and for it to thicken slowly.
4. Red wine and good quality stock
It's essential to have a good quality liquid base to immerse your vegetables and meat in. Red wine makes the stew deliciously rich but if it isn’t good enough to eat, you probably shouldn’t cook with it! Pair a decent red wine with some good quality beef or vegetable stock to stew your ingredients in. Stick to the ratio of 1:4 when adding wine and stock respectively. Try this Beef, Mushroom and Red Wine Stew.
5. Cheap cuts
Stews are not only time-savers they should be money-savers as well! Stewing meat usually contains a lot of muscle and stronger parts of the animal but during the cooking process, stewing tenderises these tough components and you should be left with soft cubes that melt in your mouth. If you are finding that it's still not tender enough, try cooking for longer or reduce the temperature. It should not be boiling; rather it should be braised or simmered.
6. Keep the lid on
Unless you are trying to thicken the stew by taking the lid off and allowing liquid to evaporate, keep the lid on! This ensures the crock pot, casserole dish or slow cooker can work its magic and create a succulent stew.