One pot wonders: Mark Hix's warming casseroles are the ultimate comfort food

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Although one-pot cooking is a great traditional way of conjuring up hearty meals, there's a lot more to it than just throwing some ingredients into a casserole and hoping for the best. The preparation is crucial to the end product and the quality of ingredients is, of course, equally essential.

From Middle Eastern tagines to Asian clay pots to the terracotta chicken spike that I often use at home, there are various traditional vessels from across the globe used for one-pot dishes. I've built up quite a collection of pots over the years – from my travels, as well as from various junk and kitchen shops. They look great on the table for dinner parties, or just for a simple family meal. Most of these pots are designed not only to be pleasing to the eye but also to seal in the cooking juices for maximum flavour.

Mekong catfish (Ca Kho)

Serves 4

This is one of my favourite dishes at the Viet Grill on east London's Kingsland Road, a fantastic Vietnamese restaurant which belongs to my friend, Hieu. It has a kind of sweet and sour taste, but unlike many other sweet and sour numbers, it also has a degree of sophistication, which is due in part to the quality of the fish sauce used. Sometimes, you will also find pork belly added to this dish.

This recipe is very popular in Vietnam and is a typical family dish. The Vietnamese also know how to adapt the strength of the caramelised fish sauce to suit the type of fish they are using. If you can't find catfish – which is available from Asian supermarkets – this works well with any firmer-fleshed fish.

500-600g catfish on the bone, cut into 3-4cm chunks
2-3 tbsp vegetable or corn oil
150g palm sugar, or granulated sugar
60-70ml good-quality fish sauce
1 bunch of spring onions, finely shredded
Medium bird's-eye chillies
Coarse ground black pepper
A few sprigs of coriander to serve

First, make the caramel fish sauce: place half of the oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the sugar and cook on a low heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved; continue cooking on a low heat and stirring every so often until the sugar begins to colour, then remove from the heat and stir in the fish sauce and about 150ml water. Transfer to a clay cooking pot or similar.

Clean out the pan and heat the rest of the oil with the spring onion and chilli for about a minute. Drain the oil into the caramel, add the chunks of catfish and leave to marinade for 1-2 hours.

To serve, bring the liquid and fish to the boil, cover with a lid and cook on a medium flame or in a moderately hot oven for about 40 minutes.

Add a good half a tablespoon of ground black pepper and serve with some sprigs of coriander scattered on top.

Game meatballs with shallots and green split peas

Serves 4-6

If you are a serious game cook you may well have some odd bits of game meat knocking around in the deep freeze – and meatballs make a great family or dinner party dish. You can use just venison or a mixture, but it's important to have a bit of pork fat in the mix for flavour and moisture.

6 large shallots, or a small onion, peeled and finely chopped
The leaves from a few sprigs of thyme
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
4 juniper berries, crushed
30g butter
100ml red wine
500g fatty minced pork
500g game meat, minced
200g fresh white breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
20 or so small shallots or button onions, peeled
1tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
A good knob of butter

For the sauce

A couple of good knobs of butter
1tbsp plain flour
1tsp tomato purée
100g green split peas, soaked for 1 hour
100ml red wine
500ml hot beef stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

First make the meatballs: gently cook the 6 shallots, thyme, garlic and juniper in the butter until soft, add the red wine and simmer until reduced by two-thirds, then leave to cool. Mix with the minced pork, game meat and breadcrumbs, then season with salt and pepper. Take a small piece of the mixture and cook gently in a frying pan, then taste it to check the seasoning.

Mould the mixture into small bite-sized meatballs, or bigger if you wish, then place on a tray in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to rest.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Roast the 20 small shallots and the meatballs in a heavy roasting pan with the oil and butter for 20-30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper half way through and stir well so that they colour evenly.

To make the sauce, melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan and stir in the flour; cook on a medium heat for 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste, then slowly stir or whisk in the red wine and hot beef stock to avoid lumps forming. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes, then add the split peas and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Add the shallots and meatballs and continue simmering for another 15-20 minutes before serving.

Partridge tagine

Serves 4

A tagine is a great way to cook all sorts of meat and fish dishes, especially game. You could try adding dried fruits such as apricots and prunes, or blanched almonds, too. You could even add vegetables such as turnips or some small onions or shallots at the beginning of cooking, if you wish.

4 partridges, quartered

1tbsp flour
4tbsp olive oil
3 medium red onions, peeled and thinly sliced
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
30g root ginger, peeled and finely grated
1tsp paprika
tsp ground mace
2tsp ground cumin
1tsp ground cinnamon
tsp ground cardamom
A good pinch of saffron strands
2tsp tomato purée
1.5 litres chicken stock
30 green olives such as Picholine, whole or stoned
2 pickled lemons, quartered

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5. Season and lightly flour the partridge pieces. Heat half of the olive oil in a heavy frying pan and fry the partridge for a couple of minutes on each side until they are nicely browned; then put to one side.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan with a lid, gently cook the onions in the rest of the olive oil with all the spices for about 10 minutes, stirring every so often until they are soft and beginning to colour. You may need to add a little water if they are sticking to the bottom. Add the tomato purée and chicken stock, bring to the boil and season. Simmer for 20 minutes, then add the pieces of partridge and olives. Transfer into a tagine or a covered cooking dish and finish in the oven for 1 hour, or until tender. You may need to add more stock during cooking, although a tagine shouldn't have too much liquid. Taste the sauce and, if necessary, simmer in a clean pan to thicken slightly. Return the partridge pieces and lemons, re-heat for a few minutes and serve with steamed cous cous. Have a pot of harissa on hand to add some extra spice and heat.

Monkfish cheeks with girolles

Serves 4

We are beginning to see great tasting and great-value monkfish cheeks in many fishmongers.

400g monkfish cheeks, trimmed of any sinew and halved if large
2tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
150g girolle mushrooms, cleaned
100ml white wine
100g butter
1tbsp chopped parsley

Heat a large frying pan with the oil, season the monkfish cheeks and fry on a high heat for 3-4 minutes, turning them as they are cooking until they begin to brown. Add the girolles; continue cooking on a high heat for a few minutes, turning them with the cheeks until they are tender. Add the wine, butter and parsley and continue cooking for a minute. The cheeks should be coated in a sauce formed by the wine, butter and cooking juices. Serve in a dish to share or serve individually.