Buying a small-sized cast iron casserole dish is very extravagant. If you're going to spaff £100 on a pot, you may as well make it a big one, right? More pan for your buck, make stew for days. Herein lies the problem. Unless you regularly feed a crowd, your pricey pot probably won't get much air time. It'll stoutly occupy a magnificent quota of cupboard space, patiently waiting for bonfire night or a wintry dinner party.
What you need, is a Chinese* clay pot. Chinese clay pots are great for 2-4 person braises, go straight from hob to oven (hurrah) and, importantly, are cheap as chips to buy - I have three including this one, which is available for under a tenner delivered right to your door, and is perfect for 500-700g of meat plus veggies and stock.
*or Thai, or Vietnamese...many cuisines have a form of claypot cooking, as evidenced in this Wikipedia entry. The Moroccan tagine is probably the one with which we're most familiar, but the pointy lid is a bit of a pain to store.
Anyway, here's a recipe, which is delicious - meat, heat, sweet, sour, salty and savoury. On the off chance you don't have any dried porcini mushrooms hanging around, substitute another dried mushroom or use a stock cube (beef or mushroom). Serve with rice, crispy shallots and pickled vegetables - pictured below is one of Eaten Alive's fantastic new sauerkrauts, which launch in the next couple of months. If you want to try their gear in the meantime, their exceptional kimchi is served at Chick 'n' Sours and is available from a handful of retailers too (Mother Earth, Earth Natural Foods, HG Walter, De Beauvoir Deli, Palm 2, Portobello Wholefoods).
Disclaimer bit: no, I'm not being paid by Big Kimchi, yes, they are mates, yes, their products are great - give them a whirl if you come across them. I haven't been paid to say anything about clay pots either, I just like mine and the shop linked above is where my mum did Chinese cookery lessons back in the 80s.
This recipe serves 3-4 with aforementioned sides.
650g boneless beef shin
1tsp fine salt
1 white onion
3 spring onions
1tsp dried chilli flakes
20g dried porcini mushrooms
1tbsp miso paste, around 35g
6 slices of ginger
1 star anise
4tsp Demerara sugar
2tbsp rice or white wine vinegar
1. Heat the oven to 150°C. Cut the beef shin into large (4-5cm) chunks. Mix the cornflour with the salt and coat the beef. Sear in oil over a high heat until browned, set to one side.
2. Finely slice the white onion and cut the spring onions into 3cm batons. Heat a little oil in your claypot (or a medium-sized casserole) over a gentle heat and fry both kinds of onions and dried chilli flakes for ten minutes. Rehydrate the porcini mushrooms in 500ml boiling water (or make 500ml stock from a cube).
3. Add the beef shin, mushrooms and their liquor, miso paste, ginger and star anise to the pot. Top up with water (if required) to ensure that everything is well covered, add the lid, and bake in the oven for two hours.
4. When the two hours is up, remove the pot from the oven, add the sugar and vinegar and stir well. The meat probably won't be super tender yet, but don't panic. Replace the lid, return the pot to the oven and cook for the further 90 minutes.
5. When the cook time is up, remove the pot from the oven and allow to stand for 20 minutes - this is when the meat will yield. Shred the beef, and taste the stew for seasoning, adding a little more salt, sugar or vinegar as you like. Serve.