How to slow simmer dishes

The key to a great lamb casserole, beef pot-roast or veal braise is simple, choose the right beef, veal or lamb cut and give it some time to slowly cook. The time part may scare you off, don’t let it – the only part that takes time is the cooking, preparing these slow simmer dishes is quick and easy, the oven, the cooktop or the slow cooker takes over from there.

Check that the dish simmers gently during cooking. Stir occasionally and adjust the heat if needed. A simmer is when small amounts of tiny bubbles occasionally rise to the surface of the cooking liquid.

Simple steps that are the basis for all oven slow-simmered dishes

  1. Preheat the oven to 160°C-180°C. Cut the meat into 2-3cm cubes and coat with oil instead of adding oil to the dish.

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  2. Heat a large pan over a moderately-high heat. Brown meat in small batches (about 200 – 250g at a time). Remove each batch and place it in a casserole dish.
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  3. Reduce heat in pan to low and add onions, garlic, spices and cook until onion is transparent. Add flavourings, firm vegetables and liquid, stirring occasionally until it boils. Pour over the meat and stir to combine.
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  4. Cover, place in the oven and simmer for approximately 2 hours or until the beef/lamb is very tender. Stir occasionally and adjust the heat as required to maintain simmer. Add a little water or stock if needed to keep the ingredients just covered.
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Casserole and braise tips

Match the cut to the cooking time you have available. Consider the time you have and pick the appropriate beef cut. A few examples of cuts and timings are:  

Beef cuts (cube beef into 2-3cm cubes)

Approximate cooking time

Guide to cooking temperatures

Chuck or boneless shin/gravy beef

2 to 2 ½ hours

160°C to 180°C

Topside, round, blade

1 to 1.5 hours

160°C to 180°C

  • These temperatures and times can only be a guide, a full list of red meat cuts for slow simmering can be found below. The time it takes a lamb and veal cuts to cook will vary according to size of the meat cut and whether it is a bone in piece or not. As a guide lamb shanks will take about 2 hours while veal osso bucco will take 1½ to 2 hours to become tender.  
  • It’s the less expensive cuts of meat that perform the best. The cuts with a little fat are better for these dishes as the leaner cuts can end up being too dry. Both beef and lamb offer lots of options, and will deliver flavour and tenderness. If you buy a whole piece of meat to cube yourself, take care when you cut it to follow the natural division of the meat. Then cut the meat across the grain. Cut the meat into even sized pieces of about 2-3cm; any smaller and the meat will shrink as it cooks.
  • Don't rush the initial stage of browning the meat. This will make your casserole rich in colour and flavour.
  • Pick of the pans and casserole dishes. The ideal pan is heavy-based. A mid-sized enameled cast-iron saucepan is a good all-round choice, as it is great for the cooktop as well as for use in the oven. A simple casserole dish will work just as well, just brown the meat in your frypan or wok and transfer it to the casserole dish with the other ingredients. Affordable and practical casserole dishes include ceramic stoneware (like CorningWare), glass (like Pyrex) and glazed ceramic/pottery (like Bendigo Pottery casserole pots).
  • Make use of the rich residue left from browning the meat. Brown the meat first and then set it aside. Add the flavourings to the pan after the meat has been browned to make good use of all the flavour from the meat. Scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan to ensure they blend with the liquid, giving the finished dish a deep, rich flavour and colour.
  • The aromatics … onions, carrots and celery. Dice the vegetables using roughly equal quantities of each. Diced turnips can also be added. Herbs are dependent on your choice of red meat; however they should be robust enough to stand up to the long cooking time, slowly giving up their flavour. Rosemary for lamb, and bay leaf and thyme for both beef and lamb are good choices. Crush and leave the herbs on the stalk rather than chop them. You can remove the stalks in the later stage of cooking or just before serving. By then the leaves will have fallen away into the cooking liquid.
  • You can cook the casserole on the cooktop rather than the oven if you like. You’ll just need to pay a little more attention to it. The mixture can sometimes stick to the base of the pan and burn in a regular type saucepan, as it’s difficult to get the temperature of some cooktops as low as needed. Adding more liquid (stock or water) to the casserole mixture at the start of the cooking time and adding a little more as it cooks can offset this. Stir it often. Adjust the heat as the dish cooks.
  • Let it gently simmer…do you know what ‘simmer’ is? The gentle heat of simmering is used to draw the full flavour out of foods. A simmer is when small amounts of tiny bubbles rise to the surface of the cooking liquid. Controlling the heat is important, too low a heat and the casserole will be flavourless, too high a heat and the casserole will boil, and a ‘simmer’ that’s closer to a boil will result in tough, dry meat.
  • Taste it to see if it's ready. When it's done the sauce should be rich in flavour and slightly thickened, the meat should be tender enough to flake or fall apart easily with a fork.
  • Casseroles will taste twice as good if they’re cooked a day or two ahead. A casserole will keep for up to 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator. Casseroles should be refrigerated immediately after the steam from cooking has evaporated. Place the hot casserole into a shallow container in the fridge so it cools quickly. Do not leave it to cool completely on the bench.To serve bring it slowly to the boil over a medium heat, reduce heat and simmer for about 3 minutes, or until the meat and sauce are both thoroughly hot.

Best cuts for slow simmering

Beef

Chuck, shin, blade, brisket, round, silverside (uncorned), skirt, flank, shin bone in/osso bucco, boneless shin/gravy beef, oxtail and beef spare ribs 

Lamb

Diced lamb forequarter, forequarter chops, shanks, frenched shanks, neck chops, lamb topside, bone-in pieces (leg & shoulder), easy carve (leg or shoulder bone out), boned and rolled shoulder or leg, ribs

Veal

Shoulder, forequarter, neck, knuckle

Goat

Diced goat forequarter, forequarter chops, shanks, neck chops, ribs

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