I’m very happy that things are opening up in my region, as I can visit with fam and friends again, after more than a year apart, My excitement for these events usually leads to inspiration in the kitchen; for one, I’ve become used to making my own more than buying pre-made over these last several months, and for two, I show my love by making food. This weekend has been no exception.
My guest/visitor/beloved family member and I committed to make dinner for us all upon our return from a daytrip to a cool, semi-rural Farmer’s Market in Mennonite country; to that end, we wanted to decide what dinner would be once we saw what was available at the market. The fresh fruits and veggies are always gorgeous and often well-priced at this Market, as are the breads, meats and cheeses from the vendor stalls. Hence, the idea for beef casserole.
There are a myriad of ways to make a beef casserole, and it can be an astonishingly pricy or incredibly economical dish. Considering our meal was coming primarily from the market with some ingredients from my own stores as well, and knowing my frugal roots, I estimate our entire cost for two casseroles (I made a meatless one for myself) to be in the neighbourhood of $12, or $2 per serving. With a side salad and fresh boiled corn on the cob, each serving was no more than $3.
We didn’t have the time to both make this casserole in time for dinner but also make sure we had tender stewing beef, which is naturally tough in order to survive a long, slow cooking process. So, we came up with a shortcut: the InstantPot! There are many recipes available using the the oven or the IP as the main receptacle for this casserole, and I’m sure my recipe isn’t frantically different from others, but I wondered if people have considered using the IP as a supporting cast member in concert with the oven? I needed the beef to be as tender as if it had been cooking for hours, yet be ready within a short period of time. Well, let me tell you, 1 pound of stewing beef seared and pressure-cooked in the IP for under 30 minutes makes the meat taste as if it has been slow-braised for 2+ hours. Using the IP again to make the gravy for the casserole is a double efficiency that 1) helps reduce the number of pots you need to clean, and 2) uses up all the delicious fond (see below) that’s developed from sautéing the beef; I highly recommend it!
Fond is one of the important parts of making a tasty pan sauce … By definition, a fond refers to those little browned bits of food that are often stuck to the bottom of the pan, skillet or baking dish, especially after searing meat or poultry.– Detroit Free Press
As nearly always with my savoury recipes, the vegetables are absolutely substitutable with what you have handy, available to you, and can afford. Fresh of course is best, and second best is frozen, but this can be made with canned vegetables no problem. If you decide to do so, I would skip the pan sauté, as they are already fully cooked and will likely disintegrate. Best rules of thumb are to a) stick to mainly hearty veggies that can handle some heat and work well together, and b) cut all of your vegetables to the same size where you can so they cook evenly. Some excellent veggie substitutions would be: green or wax beans, parsnips, peas, bell peppers, corn, lima beans, turnips, or mushrooms. You can also add a glug or two of red wine, or a spoonful of tomato paste for a different flavour profile.
YIELD: 6 svgs | PREP: 15 mins | BAKE: 45 mins | COOL: 10 mins
- 1 tbsp/15mL vegetable oil
- 500g/1lb. stew beef, cut into 2″ pieces
- 1 tsp. Montreal Steak Spice (or salt, granulated garlic and pepper to taste)
- 1 tbsp/15mL olive or vegetable oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 4 red potatoes, unpeeled and diced into 1″ pieces (can use yellow flesh instead)
- 8 garlic scapes or green beans, trimmed and cut into 1″ pieces
- ¼ head cauliflower, cut into small florets
- 2 carrots, peeled, trimmed, and diced into 1″ pieces
- 1 tsp/3g granulated garlic
- 1 tsp/3g minced onion
- 1 tsp/2.5g sweet paprika
- 1 tsp/1.5g dried thyme
- 1 tsp/1g dried basil
- 1 tsp/0.5g dried parsley
- 1 tsp/2g lemon pepper (optional; can use salt and pepper to taste)
- ¼ tsp/0.5g cayenne pepper (optional)
- 2 cups/475mL beef stock or 1 cube beef bouillon plus 2 cups/475mL boiling water, divided
- 2 tbsp/16g cornstarch
- 1 cup/237mL milk or table cream, warmed
- 1 cup/136g panko breadcrumbs
- ½ sleeve salted-top saltine crackers
- ¼ cup/57g unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing casserole dish
- Heat IP on Sauté-High; add vegetable oil and heat to shimmering.
- Add beef cubes and distribute Montreal Steak Spice (or alternative) evenly across beef. Brown beef quickly in the oil; allow any liquid to evaporate until beef browns, 5-7 minutes. You are not fully cooking the beef at this point.
- Turn off IP and immediately reset for pressure cook on high. Pour in 1 cup of the beef broth and quickly deglaze/scrape the bottom to pull up the browned bits. Set for 20 minutes on high, then do a quick release at the end of the time. Leave beef and broth in pot until later.
- Meanwhile, prep your vegetables; heat a large frying pan on medium-high, add olive oil and quickly sauté all veggies with the herbs and spices, stirring frequently, about 6-8 minutes. You are looking for a little colour, not to fully cook them at this point.
- In a small bowl, combine the melted butter, the crushed saltines and the breadcrumbs; set aside.
- Butter the bottom and sides of a casserole dish and place on a baking pan in case of overspill; preheat oven to 375°F/190°C and set rack in middle of oven.
- Add sautéed vegetables to casserole dish and mix in drained, browned stewing beef; retain beef juices in IP. Set aside momentarily.
- Turn IP back onto Sauté-High to heat up the beef broth; add cornstarch mixed into 1 tbsp cold water (to avoid clumping), and add remaining cup of beef broth. Using a wire whisk, stir broth vigorously until thickened, then add warmed milk or cream and stir well until thickened and heated through. Pour over casserole and top with the buttered breadcrumbs. Cover and pop into preheated oven for 30 minutes; remove cover and bake for another 15 minutes.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving. Serve hot.