What is the difference between a casserole and a stew?
Delia Smith, a best-selling cookery author in the UK, explains that, “Stews, casseroles, ragouts, hotpots, carbonnades, navarins… they are names for what is essentially the same method of cooking meat. All of them spring from that momentous (though unrecorded) moment in history when someone discovered that they could protect their meat from the fierce direct heat of a fire by insulating it in a clay pot.”
In the strictest sense though, the difference between a Stew and a Casserole lies in the style of cooking. Stews are cooked over naked heat, while the Casseroles are oven-cooked.
A casserole is a large, deep dish that can be used to bake food, and also pass as a serving dish. Casseroles usually consist of pieces of meat (or fish), chopped vegetables, and potato, pasta or flour, which binds the ingredients. Often, the topping is crunchy or cheesy.
In some cases, there is no need to add extra liquid to casseroles since the meat and vegetables release enough during cooking. However if you feel the need to speed up the cooking, you can add stock, wine, beer, cider, or vegetable juice once you prepare the dish.
Mix the ingredients in a Casserole and then cook under low heat in the oven, uncovered. Usually taken as a main meal or as a heavy side dish, the beauty about a Casserole is that it isn’t a fussy dish – simply remove it from the oven and serve it.
There are many regional variations of the Casserole: ragout (Italian), hotpot (North American), cassoulet (French), tajine (Moroccan), moussaka (Greek), lasagne (Italian), shepherd’s pie (British), gratin (French), rice or macaroni timballo, and carbonnade.
A stew is a combination of different food ingredients cooked together and served in their own gravy. Typical ingredients in a stew are vegetables and meat.
The vegetables are usually hard, such as carrots, potatoes, beans, peppers and tomatoes. The meat is usually the tougher kind that’s suitable for slow-cooking, such as beef.
White meat such as poultry, fish or seafood and red meat products such as sausages may also be used in stews, but cooked for a shorter time. You can use water to assist in the ‘stewing’, although to add more flavour to the stew, it is preferable to use wine, stock, or beer.
Seasoning and flavouring, in the form of stock cubes, herbs and spices, may also be added. Stews are typically cooked at a relatively low temperature (simmered, not boiled), allowing flavours time to mingle.
Stewing is suitable for the tough cuts of meat. These become tender and juicy when cooked using the slow, moist heat method. Cuts that have a certain amount of marbling and gelatinous connective tissue give moist, juicy stews, while lean meat easily gets dry.
Stews may be thickened with flour. You can either coat pieces of meat with flour before searing, or use a roux or beurre manié, dough made from similar quantities of butter and flour. Thickeners like cornstarch or arrowroot may also be used.
Next week: Casserole and stew recipes