In frantic times like these, it is all too easy to look to convenience foods, or take-aways, to get a quick meal on the table. Although I champion real food and real cooking, I am not a fanatic, and have been known to grab a pizza, or whatever, along with the rest of the world. A better solution is to make more than you need of some meals when you do have time to cook, and to freeze portions down, ready to be reheated for just such an occasion.
Of course, there are many meals that you can knock together in twenty minutes or so: a quick pasta dish, or a stir fry, for example. I love these kinds of meals, and will give many recipes for fast, tasty grub that can be put together almost at the drop of a hat.
There is another way, though, to feed yourself on a busy day, and that is to make something that needs very little time in the preparation, but will take care of itself in a long slow cooking, filling the house with wonderful aromas, while you get on with the rest of your chores; at this time of year maybe wrapping presents, decorating the tree, shovelling snow off the path, trying to find a plumber to deal with your burst pipe…
So, let me introduce you to this lovely braised steak recipe: not only is it wonderfully tasty, but it is also very economical. It even makes its own gravy for you.
You will need a piece of braising steak per person: six to eight ounces depending on your appetite. Buy chuck, skirt, leg or flank, or just ask your butcher for a suggestion. You can do this recipe with cubes or chunks of meat, but try to get each portion in a piece if you can.
You will also need, per every two people:
A small carrot, a small onion, a stick of celery, and a clove of garlic, all peeled and diced.
Some fresh or dried herbs such as thyme and/or bay
A dollop of mustard (any kind) or horseradish sauce
A splash of Worcestershire sauce
A glass of red wine
Some stock (you could get away with a stock cube or two here, if you don’t have any fresh beef stock), heated.
A little plain flour
Some boiling water to top up the stock if necessary
A little oil for cooking, or you could use lard or dripping
Salt and pepper.
Equipment: an oven tray, or saucepan/frying pan/skillet that can be used both on the hob and in the oven, either with a tight lid, or with kitchen foil to cover.
Method. Peel and dice all the vegetables. Season the flour heavily with salt and pepper, and liberally dust the steaks with it. Heat the oil/fat, and gently fry the vegetables until they begin to take a little colour. Remove from the pan, and brown the meat on both sides.
Return the veg to the pan, pour in the stock and red wine, adding some boiling water if necessary to cover the meat. Add all the other ingredients, stirring well. Cover with a tight fitting lid and/or kitchen foil, and put into a low to medium oven (190 C/375 F/gas mark 5). After an hour or two, carefully remove the lid, and turn the meat so that the top doesn’t dry out, and give the whole thing a gentle stir. Replace the lid, and pop it back into the oven.
And that’s it. Your prep time was maybe twenty minutes. Total cooking time is about three hours, but you can turn the oven down and leave it to its own devices for as long as you want, while you get on with your other tasks.
The result will be beautifully tender, almost falling apart: any tough sinew and connective tissue will have melted away. When ready, lift out the meat and as much of the veg as you can (use a slotted spoon), give the gravy a thorough stir, and pass through a sieve to get rid of any lumps.
Serve with a simple steamed veg of your choice, and maybe mashed potato or noodles. Or you could just serve with chunks of crusty bread.