Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Stew me, baby


       If I wasn’t on (permanent) laundry duty, I can’t say I would have left the house at all today.  But since I found myself out in the freezing rain I figured a trip to the Associated across the street was my best option for stocking the empty fridge.  In the produce section the pickings were slimmer than ever, so I decided to make one of my winter favorites to warm me up from the inside out.
Beef stew made a rare appearance in our house growing up- we weren’t vegetarians but meat was more often a side-dish rather than the main event.  But when the plastic thermometer on the kitchen window dropped below 30° F, it was time for my mother to bust out the heavy Le Creuset and start stewing.  For my part I’ve never been a big meat eater and I could easily live as a vegetarian today, if not for my undying love of beef, of all things.  Blame it on centuries of repressed Hindu ancestors, but I could never give up my burgers, my meatballs, and most of all my delicious beef stew.  This recipe is super easy- you just throw it in the oven and it fills the apartment with the most amazing yummy aroma.  I'm drooling already...
            Beef Stew
            2 pounds                    beef chuck*, cubed  
½ cup                        flour for dredging
1-2                             onions
3 stalks                      celery
4 cloves                     garlic
1 handful                   baby carrots 
3 strips                      bacon, chopped
4 boiling potatoes     peeled and diced
2 cups                        mushrooms
1 cup                          blanched or frozen pearl onions
1 bottle                      dry red or white wine (or 2 cans stock)
¼ cup                        tomato paste
To taste                     Fresh parsley, oregano, thyme
2 T                              butter 
            1 T                              Dijon mustard
                                               Worcestershire sauce
                                               Olive oil, kosher salt, pepper
                       * For a leaner stew, I use cubed beef round; the meat doesn’t fall apart quite the same way, but you won’t have to skim an inch of fat off the top later

    Here's a secret about this recipe: there really is no recipe.  Above I have provided rough amounts of what I put into it today because that is what I had on hand.  As with any dish like this, you don’t have to measure exactly.  If you like more garlic, throw in more garlic.  Not a fan of carrots?  Leave them out!  You will always be fine as long as you can execute the basic technique, use salt, and always taste, taste, TASTE!

    I usually use a red wine for this stew, but today I rustled up a bottle of prosecco left over from the holidays.  The resulting stew had a delicate light flavor quite distinct from its deep tannic cousin.

1.  Preheat the oven to 300°F.  Pat the beef cubes dry with paper towels, sprinkle generously with kosher salt and ground pepper.  Coat the cubes in flour, dusting off the excess- I do this in a baggie in a few batches, shake-and-bake style. 
2.  In a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, fry bacon on medium-high heat in a splash of olive oil.  When the bacon bits are crisp, remove them from the pot.

3.  Brown your meat in batches, leaving room around each piece in the pot.  If the meat is overcrowded, it won’t brown and that is where all the yum comes from.  This part takes the longest, but it's worth it.

4.  Once the meat is browned, deglaze the pan with a splash of wine or stock, turn the flame to low and scrape the bits from the bottom of the pan.  Pour the liquid over the reserved meat, and return the pan to the flame.

5.  On low heat, add some butter and sweat the onions, carrots and celery for 10-15 minutes until they are soft.  Add garlic and tomato paste, sauté on medium heat for another 5-10 minutes until the mixture has caramelized and your mouth is watering.  Turn the heat up to high and add the meat and juices back to the pan.  

6.  Now comes the fun part!  Stand back as you pour the wine over, being sure to cover the meat with liquid (use stock or water if you need it).  Bring to a simmer and add the herbs-you can keep them loose or tie them with kitchen string if you want to remove them later.  Cover with a tight lid and place in the bottom rack of the oven.  Cook for 2 hours, checking after an hour to make sure the stew is simmering.

7.  After 2 hours, add potatoes, mushrooms and blanched pearl onions, return to oven for another 40 minutes to 1 hour until the meat is tender and the liquid has reduced and started to thicken.  If necessary, skim the top to remove excess fat. 
8.  Check for salt and pepper, add mustard, Worcestershire sauce to taste. Serve with a dollop of horseradish sour cream and some fresh parsley.


  1. i think this is the same recipe you shared with me! i had so much fun making this dish!

  2. This looks delicious! I've stocked up on ingredients to execute tomorrow when the snow returns :) Thanks for the tying herbs tip; fishing them out with my thongs drives me crazy.

  3. Wow! went out tonight and wanted to share this recipe with a friend when she pointed out that I might try using "tongs" or spellcheck!