TOM PARKER-BOWLES SHARES HIS FAVOURITE CHICKEN CASSEROLE

PUBLISHED: 13:48 12 May 2015 | UPDATED: 13:05 30 August 2017

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A recipe for chicken casserole from Cornwall Life sometimes columnist Tom Parker-Bowles

Cornwall Life's guest food writer Tom Parker Bowles invites you to rediscover a classic winter warmer

Chicken casserole. Two dread childhood words, a dish to wipe the smile clean off our faces. It wasn't that my mother was a bad cook. Far from it, she had winning ways with roasts and fish and salads and the rest. And the casserole itself was far from, ahem, foul. Chicken from the local farm, cooked slowly in stock, alongside a few carrots and onions, and served with buttery mashed potato. But for my sister and me, it was dreary school food, a beige mess that neither thrilled nor inspired. Fodder and fuel, rather than grub to adore.

Still, it was delectable high art when compared to my prep school beef stew. That really was a thing of disgusting depravity. Take a few gristle packed scraps of the cheapest possible beef, smother in flour, sweat until grey, then cover with water and an excess of salt. Cook until slimy and stringy, then serve with undercooked, black specked, boiled potatoes. In a kitchen where appalling food was an art form, this gross concoction took some beating.

But as I grew older, if not wiser, the stew tuned from pariah to passion. What other cooking technique is so simple, so forgiving and so perfectly suited to those tough cuts of meat? It's a one-pot wonder, pure culinary magic, and the sort of comfort food that offers succour and joy on long, cold winter nights.

As to the ingredients, you want cuts of meat that have actually done some work in life. Breast, best end, shin, tail, shank and the rest. All those tough connective tissues are broken down, under low heat, and turn into luscious, melting gelatine. You should be able to cut the meat with a spoon.

Browning is not essential, and many recipes just demand you throw the meat directly into the liquid (be it water, stock, beer, cider, tomatoes or wine) and simply leave it alone. One is not superior, just different. But the advantage of using one pot means you lose none of the flavour. Rare is the stew without onions, carrots and celery too. They add sweetness, and something more, something elusive but essential.

And a great bone, or split pig's trotter never goes awry too, adding still more layers of flavour, as well as a wonderful viscosity too. Just discard at the end. Pretty much every culture has their own take on this most basic of techniques. But although stews are simple, and cheap too, they should never be mean. Classic comfort food, they rarely let you down, and can be devoured with little more than a spoon, and a great hunk of bread. So treat a stew with love, garland it with dumplings and shower it with parsley. It might not be the must pulchritudinous of dishes. But what it lacks in looks, it sure makes up for in pure, unfettered edible delight.

Recipe

Braised Ox Cheeks

(from Let's Eat)

Like oxtail, this was a cheap, dowdy, resolutely unglamorous cut that how now ascended to the A-list. And I can see why. Cooked slowly, these cheeks, with all that hard-working connective fibre, breaks down into the most luscious strands. It has a sublime richness (and the better the pig, the better the cheeks) and should be eaten with a spoon, from a bowl.

Ingredients

* 2 Ox cheeks, about 300-400g each (ask your butcher to prepare these by removing the skin and fat)

plain flour, for dusting

* 1 tbsp vegetable oil

* 200 ml stout

* 2 Stick celery, cut into chunky matchstick lengths

* 1 Leek, halved and sliced

* 2 Carrots, roughly chopped

* 1 Litres chicken stock

* Large glug Worcestershire sauce

* Buttery mashed potato,to serve

Method

1 Chop the ox cheeks into 4-6 pieces then dust them with flour. Heat the oi=l in a frying pan and brown the meat.

2 Transfer the meat to a large saucepan or casserole dish. Deglaze the frying pan with a splash of the beer and pour it over the meat.

3 Add the celery, leek and carrot to the pan and cover with stock. Pour in the Worcestershire sauce and the rest of the beer. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for about 1 hour and a half, or until the meat is tender and falling apart.

4 Remove the ox cheeks from the pan and boil the remaining liquid until it has thickened slightly, about 20 minutes. Return the ox cheeks to the gravy to warm them through, then serve with mashed potato in a bowl with the gravy.

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