Slow cooking is a hallmark of traditional English cuisine, much in the way that fast cooking is a hallmark of Chinese. The aim of slow cooking is to produce really tender and succulent meat and so the style is particularly good for tougher, cheaper cuts. There are a number of styles of slow cooking and whilst they do have differences between them, there is a great deal of overlap. Stews tend to involve smaller cuts of meat, are cooked over the hob and traditionally have a thin stock rather than a gravy. Casseroles are cooked in the oven, can involve a larger cut of meat and typically have a thicker gravy or more ‘exotic’ sauce. Then there are a number of dishes which don’t really fit either category.
Stews are amongst the oldest forms of English cuisine as the Anglo Saxons favoured ‘one pot’ cooking. There is no absolute recipe for most stews, although they do tend to contain a mix of meat and mainly root vegetables in a light stock or gravy. Whilst it is common these days to add herbs as well as beer and wine to the stew, the traditional version is fairly plain and often the better for it.
For this, I tend to use onion/leek, carrots, swede, celery and braising or stewing steak which are then stewed in a beef stock. You can add some gravy granules to get a darker, richer stew. Beef stew is traditionally accompanied by dumplings which are added into the sauce towards the end of cooking. However, as this dish is most often cooked in an oven, it is technically a casserole! In any event, serve with mashed potatoes and maybe some extra greens or peas if you wish. You can also use a slice of fresh bread to mop up the gravy as you finish it!
An English Lamb Stew can be similar to an Irish Stew (lamb, potatoes and onion) or it can have more vegetables, especially celery, swede, turnip and carrots. You can accompany it with dumplings, either dunked in the stew or baked separately.
A variation on lamb stew is to add Pearl Barley (picture on the right). Again serve with mashed potatoes.
This dish is similar to traditional lamb or beef stews, but was originally thickened with Ship’s biscuit. It is also either cooked with or served with pickled red cabbage or beetroot. Whilst popular in seaports, it has become the regional dish of Liverpool and has given that City their nickname. I find this interesting, as coming from a seaport on the other side of England, I had never heard of this stew!
Ever wondered why rabbits are often called ‘Stewart’!
Similar to the filling for Rabbit Pie, this stew consists of rabbit, a little bacon, carrot, stock and a little seasoning. Less is more with this dish!
Casseroles are slow cooked in the oven and tend to have richer a richer gravy or sauce than stews. For this reason, they are more often embellished and influenced by foreign cuisine. Even relatively traditional casseroles can be made with beer, stout, red wine, cider, paprika, cream and so on in a way that would leave a ‘stew’ no longer a ‘stew’.
Braising steak can be tough if fried or roasted normally because it has quite a lot of sinews in it. But slow cook it and the sinews turn to jelly to produce one of the best ways of eating beef. Rolled brisket is another popular cut for braising.
Braised Beef with Pepper Sauce
Add mushrooms, a little cream, black pepper and mustard powder to the juices from the braising meat to create a nice alternative to a gravy sauce.
Did the English invent curry – no. Is there such a thing as an English (or British) curry – yes.
This is a fusion dish and so can vary. It is also rarely eaten these days having been discarded for the more ‘Indian’ Anglo-Indian curries and for more authentic Indian food. It is often looked down on by curry lovers as a pale English imitation of what a good curry should be.
It is certainly true that it is more English than Indian. In fact, it is little more than a casserole with added madras curry powder (itself Anglo-Indian), sultanas and a little mango chutney, eaten on a round ring of rice and with mango chutney and grated coconut on the side. Simplistic – but very nice! A similar curry can be made with chicken or mince.
Similar to a lamb stew, but with a bit more body.
Lancashire Hot Pot is similar to a Lamb Stew, but has slices of potato on top rather than within it.
Probably the best known form of braised lamb is lamb shanks which are taken from the lower leg and absolutely wonderful when slow cooked. However, just about any cut could be used with shoulder and ‘scrag end’ (probably the cheapest cut) being common options. As with the normal roast, they would be accompanied by red jelly and mint sauce.
Pork with apple and cider
This is a lovely combination. A little cream and maybe sage dumplings can also be added. The cider and apple sauce also goes well with chicken, rabbit and pork chops.
Pork With Red Cabbage
Slow cooked pork on a bed of red cabbage is a fantastic combination. I put a little red wine vinegar and brown sugar into the red cabbage, but tend not to include apple as I’d have this as an accompaniment. Probably advisable to cook the cabbage in a pan for a while first as it can be tough even when cooked for several hours.
What to do with left over turkey from Christmas dinner? Well, this is one of my family favourites. Strip the Turkey and place both white and dark meat into a casserole dish – I’d say about two-thirds dark meat. Include the ‘gunk’. Gunk is an English word meaning ‘mess’. By this I mean the jelly, bacon, sausage meat and stuffing that tends to lie at the bottom of a roast turkey that has rested. Not too much – but it adds flavour. Also add a little cranberry jelly to sweeten and gravy granules to thicken. Add water and bring to the boil on the hob, then into the oven for an hour or so of slow cooking. We tend to eat with a baked potato and veg. This truly is one of my favourite meals of the year, though we tend to cut the meat into larger chunks and have more gravy than shown on the picture.
A deliciously rich casserole that can be made with any other game bird. It is typically accompanied by braised red cabbage.
Chicken or Turkey in a Cream Sauce
There are many, many variations on this dish and many names it goes by. It could be a supreme, a fricassee, which was certainly eaten in Medieval England, or an ‘a la King’, the precise origins of which are disputed. It could be just ‘in a white sauce’ or a white wine sauce’. In England, these dishes are usually eaten on a bed of plain rice.
This is a style of cooking in which a whole hare, cut into pieces, together with vegetables, is placed inside a sealed dish (or jug) and immersed into water and gently simmered. It is probably a direct descent of cooking in a cauldron! Hare’s are bigger than rabbits and have a stronger flavour. The dish tends therefore to be richer with the use of juniper berries, red wine and even port wine.
Liver and onion
Despite the attempts of trendy chef’s to breathe new life into offal, most of these dishes remain unpopular. One exception is liver, although even this is less popular these days than it used to be. As a child I ate this dish fairly regularly, usually braised with onion and bacon. Lamb’s liver is the best in my view. Liver is also nice simply grilled.