Monday, January 12, 2015

Blustery Day Beef Stew

I started writing this in November, saved it, and promptly forgot about it. Until now...
This was actually the next day, because I had it for dinner again!
Notice the semolina bread in the background..

Today was a perfect stew day. It was cold and overcast, with the feel of snow in the air. You know that feeling? Plus, my parents were coming home tonight from their well-deserved vacation in Florida, and I wanted to have something for them on the stove, that was not too time dependent. You never know how flights are going to go, so it needed to be something that would not dry out.

I started by looking at several beef stew recipes and then doing my own thing, as usual.  It is cooked in one pot, but there are a few steps involved. I prefer to use my cast iron faux Le Creuset, but that is in storage, so I just used a heavy-bottomed stock pot. Make sure your pot is one that will conduct heat evenly, because this stays on the stove for awhile.

Blustery Day Beef Stew

1 ½ pounds of stew meat
Several glugs of olive oil
2 Tablespoons butter
2-3 Tablespoons flour (for dredging)
Sea salt
Fresh ground pepper
2-3 sprigs fresh Thyme
2 cups of good dry red wine
1-2 boxes beef broth
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
Couple glugs Worcestershire sauce (optional)
3-4 garlic cloves, smashed
1 -2 medium onions, cut in chunks
3 celery ribs, cut into 1-inch pieces
3-4 carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces (I always wish I had more carrots!)
2 cups baby potatoes or 2-3 large potatoes peeled and chunked
(I don’t peel the baby potatoes, but will sometimes cut them in half)
½ bag frozen peas
Fresh parsley, for garnish

The Process
Either cut your beef into 1-inch cubes, unless like me, you bought it pre-cut at the Whole Foods butcher counter.  Start preheating some olive oil and the butter in the bottom of your pot on medium. Do not let it overheat/burn! The reason I do a butter/oil combo is because the butter helps the olive oil not to burn. In a shallow bowl or on a plate, mix a few tablespoons of flour with several turns of fresh ground pepper and a sprinkle of sea salt. I mix it with a fork, but however you do it, mix it altogether. Dredge each piece of meat in the flour...all sides. Then, and this is important, shake off the excess flour before popping the meat into the hot oil. If you don't, it will burn which = yuck.

Here's the thing about browning meat. Until I knew how to do it correctly, I fucked it up every time. AND I read about doing it correctly for years, but I did not believe what I read. I didn't believe the experts, people. Something is seriously wrong with me. But I digress. The key to browning meat is to leave it alone. Don't touch it. Don't try to pick it up if it is not ready to be picked up. When it's ready, it just slides right off the pan. I promise. The next part of that equation is to not crowd the pot. I don't know why that is, and I am sure someone does, but it’s true. Cook your meat in batches. As each batch is finished, take the meat out and put it in a bowl. You are not cooking this meat through, just browning, so it will be full of juices.  Do not lose these juices!

Now that you are finished browning the meat, deglaze the pot. That means you take a liquid and pour it into the hot pot and using a wooden spoon, scrape all the good bits off the bottom. If you are using red wine (yes, please) then now would be the time to use it. I take about approximately 2 cups of good dry red wine and pour it in, and then I add one of those boxes of beef broth.  The flour that you used to dredge the meat will help thicken this broth. Into this I stirred a couple tablespoons of tomato paste, 2 bay leaves, 3-4 smashed garlic cloves, a teaspoon of sea salt, several cracks of freshly ground pepper, and a few sprigs of fresh thyme. If you don't have fresh thyme, use 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme. If I have Worcestershire sauce on hand, I throw in a few glugs of that.  The last time I made this, I didn't, so NBD. I let that come to a boil, and then turn it to simmer. Add in the chopped veggies and the beef (and its juices!) and make sure it is all submerged in liquid. If it is not, add more broth until it is. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and let this simmer for at least an hour. 

Alternatively, you can pop the pot into the oven on 325 for 1-2 hours. Check in on it, whether in the oven or on the stove, to give it a stir and make sure that there is enough liquid in the pot. You want it to reduce down a bit, but not enough that you run out. If it is getting low, add some water or more broth. Taste the broth for a seasoning check and adjust, as necessary. I like to add frozen peas in the last 10-15 minutes. They add a nice pop of color and textural contrast.

**Slow cooker Option**
Brown the meat, but then throw everything, but the peas, into the slow cooker on low for 6-8 hours. If you want to do it on high, I am not sure...maybe Some people say to not add herbs until the end because the flavor will get intense, but I have found it to be fine with something like stew. And frankly, I am using my slow cooker for convenience and because I am generally not going to be home while it is on. 

If you want to make it pretty, sprinkle some fresh, chopped parsley on top of each bowl of stew.  The almost cruel fact about beef stew is that, as much time and effort as it takes to make, it actually tastes even better the next day. The flavors have had a chance to meld and deepen. But, this will still be delicious, and it makes so much that you will be able to take some to work the next day and make all your co-workers drool over your lunch.