Finally reached the end of the first week back at work post-Christmas. The week seems to have crawled by at a snail's pace and I'm so relieved that the weekend is here. It is snowing again and far from craving the light, salady dishes that seem to be plastered across the pages of every New Year cookery magazine or recipe supplement, I'm after hearty and wholesome dishes. The New Year detox is something I've never understood - it is just too miserable to contemplate at this chilly time of year. At least that's my excuse.
Comfort is what I crave. And what could provide more comfort than flavourful casserole? Meat cooked slowly with onions, vegetables, stock and herbs - simplicity itself both to cook and eat.
Whilst many have been distressed by the disappearance of Woolworths from our high streets. I'm afraid to report that I've secretly been rather delighted. Not that I had anything against Woolies. Just that my local branch has been replaced by a shiny new Waitrose. I can't tell you how happy this up-market supermarket makes me. Everything is just so... nice. Even me. I feel like a nicer person when I'm shopping in Waitrose. Isn't it shameful? The bad news is that my shopping bills have rocketed. Not very credit crunch friendly.
Anyway, amongst the lovely things on sale at Waitrose I found some packs of mixed game ready for casseroling. They contain a mix of pheasant, partridge, mallard and pigeon. I remembered that my mother had mentioned a Waitrose recipe she'd tried last year for a casserole with cider and sage and so decided that a game casserole would be the perfect winter warmer to cook for a friend that came over for supper last night.
I looked the recipe up online and thought it seemed a bit strange as it had no onion/vegetable base. I decided that shallots and a little celery would be good additions and then decided that a few smoked bacon lardons would also add more depth to the dish. The result? A very tasty, hearty dish which really hit the spot on a wintery night. Served simply with jacket potatoes, carrots and peas it was unfussy and easy to prepare - it would be ideal for feeding a crowd of friends, particularly as it can be made in advance and re-heated when required. As with most casseroles, the flavour will improve on keeping!
If you aren't blessed by being within walking distance of a Waitrose (!), most butchers will sell mixed game for casseroles. Alternatively, this would work just as well with diced pheasant.
Game casserole with cider and sage
Based on this recipe from Waitrose
700g mixed game, diced into 1 inch cubes (pheasant/pigeon/partridge/mallard or similar)
3 tbsp plain flour
1 stick celery
100g smoked bacon lardons or pancetta
good handful of fresh sage
250ml good quality chicken stock
250ml good quality cider
2 tablespoons creme fraiche
fresh parsley (optional)
1. Boil the kettle. Place unpeeled shallots in a jug. Pour water over the shallots and leave for a minute. Drain and peel. Chop each shallot in half, along the natural divide. Finely chop the celery.
2. Heat olive oil in a large casserole and add the shallots. Fry for a minute or so on a fairly high heat until starting to colour then add the celery and bacon and turn the heat down a little so that the shallots continue to sweat without colouring further. After 4-5 minutes when the shallots are softening, remove with a slotted spoon and set to one side.
3. Sprinkle flour over the meat and season with pepper and a little salt (go easy on the salt as both stock and bacon will be salty). Brown the meat in batches in the casserole over a high heat. Remove and set to one side with the onions. Once all the meat is browned, return the lot to the pan with the shallots/bacon and celery.
4. Chop the sage and add to pan. Stir and cook for a minute or so.
5. Pour over the cider and stock and bring to the boil. Turn heat down to a simmer, add a lid and cook for around 45 minutes. Alternatively, you could pop this in the oven at 180C for the same time or at a lower heat for longer if you have time.
6. Once cooked, remove casserole from heat and stir in the creme fraiche. Sprinkle with chopped parsley if you have it and serve!