Casseroles: the right equipment
Delia explains what to use for the most successful casseroles, and weighs up the pros and cons of pressure cookers and slow cookers.
Cooking pots and casseroles
I’ve found the most useful type of casserole is the heavy cast-iron kind with enamelled lining. It isn’t the cheapest but it does conduct the heat evenly and has the advantage of being suitable for cooking on top of the stove and inside the oven. It is also attractive enough to take to the table. If you’re buying saucepans it is useful to get the double-handled variety that can also serve as casseroles.
A 4½ pint (2.5 litre) capacity casserole is the average family size, but you might also find a smaller size (3 pint or 1.75 litre) useful at times and a larger one (6½ pint or 4 litre) for entertaining. What one’s aiming for is a pot that contains the ingredients comfortably without leaving masses of empty space. Well-fitting lids are very important, because they minimise the loss of liquid by evaporation during the cooking. If you happen to have a lid that doesn’t fit too well, cover the casserole with foil first to make it fit more snugly. And it follows that you should leave it be: too many peeps and stirs will let some of the flavour out as effectively as an ill-fitting lid.
Electric slow cookers
These are self-contained cooking pots which are sometimes called crockpots, with their own electric element which is geared to producing the slow continuous heat needed for casseroles. It uses very little electricity, and is useful for those who are out at work all day since it can be left unattended quite safely. On a high setting, a casserole will take around 5 hours; on a low one it will take an average of 8 hours, and won’t come to any harm if left for 10!
If you’re not at home all day, to use one of these effectively you must of course prepare everything before you go and allow 20 minutes or so for the casserole to pre-heat. If you’re considering buying one, ask yourself if you are the sort of person who is organised enough to see to all this before you go out.
Pressure cooking can cut down the time needed for casseroles to about one-third of normal. So speed, and the consequent saving in fuel costs, are self-evident advantages of this method. It has also been pointed out that because everything is locked away from the air, and cooked for a shorter time, losses of vitamins and minerals are reduced to a minimum. Pressure cookers can be transported easily and used on any sort of cooker, so they’re ideal to take on self-catering or camping holidays.
Those are the pluses, but there are also disadvantages: (i) as I have explained, the flavour of the cheaper cuts develops with long slow cooking – so a certain amount can be lost with speedier cooking under pressure; (ii) the liquid content in pressure cookers has to be a minimum of 15 fl oz (425 ml), and I often find I want to use less than this. Also no thickening can be added till after the pressure cooking, so this has to be a separate process at the end.
In my experience, many busy people swear by their pressure cookers and use them whenever possible: others (like myself) use them very rarely. In the end it’s a matter of personal preference, so if you are wondering whether or not to invest in one yourself, do get a book on pressure cooking from the library and study the facts for yourself first.
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