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Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Understanding Casseroles; Comfort Food at its Best!

Casserole pots

Casserole is a cooking dish made out of metal or other types of oven-proof material. A casserole is usually fitted with a lid, but there are some no-cover casseroles too. These dishes are designed to endure long slow cooking in the oven, and many are pretty enough to be used as serving dishes. Casseroles are very stylish nowadays, especially that the rustic and country looks are very fashionable in the food scene these days. For that not only will you be serving an irresistible, real good comfort food option to your guests when cooking casseroles, you will also be keeping with the latest food fashion scene as well!
The name Casserole is also used to refer to the foods cooked in a casserole dish. Examples are: chicken casserole, casseroled duck breasts with mandarin and blueberries, Slow cooked leg of lamb casserole...etc

Casserole dishes are also great when used to prepare bakes like pastas, rise bakes or vegetable bakes. Also perfect for making and serving Lasagne, gratins, ragouts...etc.

In classic French cookery a casserole is a dish generally made with cooked rice moulded into the casserole shape and is usually filled with mousses, minced meats, game purees...etc

Casseroles are really your busy day's best friend, as they can be prepped real quick - as well as ahead of time if desired- and then put in the oven for a long slow cooking. This slow cooking process produces the most tender, melt-in-your-mouth type of meats. As gentle cooking in a moderate oven will cook taugh meat fibers making them tender. the vegetables will also be tender and the whole product will be drenched with the flavours and aromas of all the ingredients used, as they have had ample time to mingle and give their essences throughout the cooking process.

Saute Onions & Garlic
The Principles
In general a quick saute, or browning of the main ingredients will be responsible for a browner sauce base. Which in turn produces a depth in the flavour and a denser feel on the palate. If you put the ingredients as they are without browning them, the sauce tends to be lighter both in colour and flavour.

The idea is to add chopped vegetables, meats (if using), a sauce of some sourt (liquid), Flavourings (spices, herbs and seasoning)...etc. Cover all and leave to cook in a moderate oven for 3-5 hours sometimes longer, depending what you are cooking.

Browning Chicken
The combinations are endless. You can use any combination of vegetables, fruits, meats, carbs, sauce bases...etc. You can even base your choice on what items you have available at home! This is convenient home-cooking that is the essence of goodness. Your choices can also be healthy and you will be doing your family a favour.
Take my word for it, Casserole cooking can never go wrong and it always turn out fabulous, so give it a try.

My Take on Casseoles
My first introduction to slow cooking comes from back in the day. My Grandmother was the famous slow cooker! Whatever she cooked always stayed on the burner or oven for no less than the whole morning!! She would prepare everything early in the morning, then cook on low heat (the lowest heat literally), till it was time for lunch. Her philosophy is: "Bring to a boil, reduce heat and leave to cook till totally done". Every recipe I ever took from her and many of my mum's follow the same simple rule! I have to say that these slow cooked recipes are by the far for the best ever food you will ever have! Whenever I cook my food that way, it turns out Fabulous. Now I have many recipes that I would not cook any other way. Amongst my friends and family these recipes are throned "The Best Ever". I now strongly believe that some food should not be cooked any other way.

Here is the thing with cooking. I always tell my trainees that Patience is one of the most important ingredients of cooking. You cannot rush food, when you do, you will end up with an undercooked or no-flavour product. You need to give food its time to give you its goodness, qualities and characteristics. Taking the food out early, or cooking it very fast will not change the results to better.
In that way, slow cooking is a live demonstration of the results of patience in cooking. The product is always better when slow cooked. The toughness melts, the meat tenderised, the goodness gets developed, concentrated and distributed better and the overall result is melt-in-your-mouth symphony of flavours.
To finish up on a casserole you can either serve it with mash, various artisan breads, rice or even baked or roasted potatoes. The result is a comforting, nutritious, serving of home-cooked goodness that everyone will appreciate.

As is my philosophy with all cooking: "Home-made is best". I totally recommend you get in the habit of making your own stock. Do not rely on ready made, supermarket bought stocks. And please do not go for bought stock cubes! Not only does home-made stock make all the difference in flavour, it is way healthier than all that ready made stuff, which is full of sodium and preservatives! Relying on ready stocks and stock cubes, says nothing about your skills as a cook! It is very simple to make stock and so much better.

There are several ways to make stocks. But in short you need bones (meat, birds, or fish...). Roast those and brown them. Meanwhile prepare your mirpoix (small diced vegetables: onions, celery, carrots...etc). Brown mirpoix in some fat (the choice is yours depending the overall flavour you are after). Add roasted bones, herbs, seasoning and cold water. Bring to boil, then simmer for about 1 hour (except fish bones, simmer for only 20 minutes as the stock will become bitter if simmered longer). You need to skim off the scum throughout the simmering process. Strain and skim stock before using or refrigerating. You can refrigerate stock for up to 1 week (just label and include date of production so that you can keep track of stocks...) Learn more about stocks and broths in Dima's post about stocks | broths.

You will also like:
Coq Au Vin Blanc,
Braised Lamb Shanks

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