Is there anything better or more comforting than a slow-cooked one-pot meal when the temperature drops and days grow shorter? Casseroles, stews, curries and pot roasts – they are good for the soul. The fact that they require little effort and minimal washing up doesn't hurt either. I am currently pretty obsessed with one-pot wonders given that I am cooking in a temporary kitchen set up in our living room while our kitchen is being renovated (newsflash: we now have a floor and skylights in place – so exciting).
Another reason behind my obsession is that Le Creuset send me their Cast Iron Shallow Casserole (I know, I can hardly believe it myself) and it is a thing of real beauty. I did consider putting on display and simply admiring it from afar but that would have been a real waste. Because, apart from its understated good looks, this casserole is an absolute joy to cook in. I am going to be putting that lifetime warranty through its paces let me tell you.
I road-tested my new casserole with a recipe I have been making for years - Vietnamese beef stew. It is such an amazingly fragrant and comforting dish that, like most stews, tastes even better the day after its made. You can use inexpensive cuts of meat (braising steak, or shin) as the long and slow cooking guarantees they will be melt-in-the-mouth tender by time you tuck in. I like to add butternut squash to make this stew stretch further and occasionally throw in sweet potatoes as well. Just add these vegetables towards the end as they will disintegrate too much if added early on. Serve in the casserole (it will keep the food warm plus it looks so good on the table) with plenty of crusty bread - a French baguette preferably - and some red wine.
One–pot Vietnamese Beef Stew
900g (2lb) beef shin, cut into cubes
2 tbsp plain flour
1 tsp Chinese five spice powder
1 tsp ground pepper
2 lemongrass stalks, finely chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp palm sugar (or dark brown sugar)
4 banana shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 green chillies, finely chopped
4 large tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
2 kafir lime leaves
625ml | 2 1/2 cups hot beef stock
450g | 1lb butternut squash, peeled and cubed
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
Basil leaves, chopped to garnish
- Combine the beef, flour, spice, pepper, lemongrass, garlic, soy sauce and sugar in a bowl and mix well. Leave to marinate for an hour.
- Preheat the oven to 160C (325F) and have all your vegetables prepared.
- Put the oil in the casserole and heat over medium high heat. Once the oil is hot, lower the temperature to medium-low and brown the beef cubes.
- Add the shallots and chillies and fry for a couple of minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, carrots, cinnamon stick, star anise, kafir lime leaves and stock and bring slowly to a rolling simmer.
- Cover the casserole and transfer to the oven. Cook for an hour then add the butternut squash (be careful the pot will be very hot) and give the stew a stir.
- Return to the oven and cook for a further 45 minutes to 1 hour until meat is very tender.
- Add some chopped basil leaves, check the seasoning and serve with crusty bread.
Notes: You can make this in any lidded casserole (Dutch oven) and it can be left to slowly simmer on the stove for 2 hours.
Le Creuset have been making their iconic cast iron pots since 1925, and much of the finishing on each pot is done by hand making each one unique. They come with a lifetime warranty and can take the heat of the oven but also used on pretty much any kind of stovetop. Such quality (sadly) doesn't come cheap but bear in mind that with a little care you could be passing your pots down the generations.