January: Cold, dark, and wet, but at least we have stew – a dish celebrated worldwide for months such as these.  With the slow cooker out, we have the perfect options for a remarkable stew, with meat or vegetarian and a variety of flavours and textures.

If you are cooking with meat, it’s important to know exactly which cut you are working with, to ensure that you end up with a stew that is tender and full flavoured.  A traditional Beef Stroganoff is made with fillet steak and only takes 30 minutes to cook, but for me, stew needs slow cooking with cheaper cuts giving a rich gravy and melt-in-the-mouth tenderness.  From the butchery side, we have wonderful slow-cooked cuts such as shin of beef, blade, hogget, neck of lamb, with diced venison and beef cheeks all available.  Lee has also prepared mixed game packs (, with diced venison, pheasant and duck, perfect for a game casserole.  Make sure you know exactly which cut you are getting, because leaner meat with taste dry if overcooked, while the tougher cuts need longer to break down.

A good stock, some leftover wine, a mix of veg, herbs and spices all add to that depth of flavour.  Garlic, a slice of orange peel, leftover cheese rind, bacon or chorizo bring different results to the final dish.  You can look at what you have in the fridge and build a dish around it, or pick a recipe and improvise if necessary.

We have some suggestions, with bean stews offering the best value and health.  Vicky’s Bean Stew is spicy and warming, while this butter bean stew is luxurious and simple.

One of our most popular recipes is Wild Venison Stew with Chilli and Chocolate, while more exotic tagines use dried fruits and spices. Hogget or mutton stew is wonderfully rich.

So, make the best of your slow cooker, and don’t forget to make extra, as a good stew always tastes better the second time around.