When did you last cook a casserole? Or - put it another way - when did you last use that word to describe a slow-cooked dish? When I first started cooking (longer ago than I care to remember) casseroles were all the rage, their well-trumpeted virtues being that they were economical and ideal to cook ahead for dinner parties.
There were whole books devoted to the subject. I remember having a Marguerite Patten book with some 500 recipes. Even now you can buy books entitled 500 casseroles or Ultimate Casseroles so somebody must be still cooking them even though the rest of us studiously avoid the C word
According to Delia - and what higher authority is there? - casseroles are cooked in the oven, stews on the hob. So maybe we don’t have the actual casserole dishes our parents and grandparents had or we just don’t use our ovens as much. Most TV programmes today feature dishes that can be run up in ten minutes not ‘here’s one I made earlier’ recipes that have been burbling away for the last three hours.
Chicken, cider and apple casserole (photograph by Jason Lowe)
Maybe it’s just that casseroles sound too French and French food isn’t desperately fashionable these days. I remember one of my favourite recipes was called (quite improbably given that it contained a good slug of Worcestershire sauce) liver and bacon provençale. Hard to imagine that catching on now. Or was it the famous ‘cheat’s’ short cuts that did it for casseroles - remember those grisly student specials made with tins of condensed chicken or mushroom soup?
Anyway, I think it’s time for a casserole revival. Casseroles are comforting, warming and thrifty. They include their own veg. Once you’ve made them you can leave them all day, especially if you’ve got an Aga or a slow cooker and if you throw in a few special ingredients, they can be dinner party worthy too.
Here’s a classic which I still make and my family still enjoy. Ironically it’s probably as cheap to make with chicken breasts nowadays as it is with thighs or legs.
Chicken, cider and apple casserole
2 tbsp seasoned flour
4 boneless (but not skinless, ideally) chicken breasts
3 tbsp light olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
1 large carrot, sliced
2 celery stalks, trimmed and sliced
½ tsp finely chopped fresh thyme
175ml/6fl oz chicken or vegetable stock
175ml/6fl oz dry cider
1 large or 2 smaller Blenheim or Cox apples, peeled, sliced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3. Pat the chicken breasts dry with kitchen paper then dip in the flour, shaking off any excess.
Heat a large, deep, lidded frying pan or casserole for a couple of minutes over a moderately high heat. Add one tablespoon of oil then, when that is hot, add half the butter.
Place the chicken breasts in the pan, skin-side down and fry for 2-3 minutes, or until the skin is nicely browned. Turn the breasts over, turn the heat down and fry the other side for 1-2 minutes. Remove the chicken breasts to a plate, discard the fat in the pan and wipe it clean.
Return the pan to a moderate heat and add the remaining oil and butter. Add the onion, carrot and celery, stir well, cover the pan and cook for five minutes, or until the vegetables are beginning to soften.
Stir in the thyme and any leftover flour. Add the chicken stock and cider, bring to the boil and add the sliced apples. Turn the heat down and return the chicken pieces to the pan, spooning the vegetables and apple over them. Replace the lid and put into the oven for about 35-40 minutes, turning the chicken breasts over half way through. Add a little extra cider or chicken stock if needed. Check the seasoning, adding extra salt or pepper to taste.
From Meat and Two Veg by Fiona Beckett. Photograph by Jason Lowe
More great casseroles:
- Venison casserole
- Sausage, pumpkin and sage casserole
- Moroccan-style chicken
- Great sausage casserole
- Chicken casserole
Do you still make - or admit to making - casseroles? Have they never gone away?