February 6, 2009 Print/Save recipe PDF
Unfortunately for Boyfriend, my work schedule no-longer affords us the luxury of eating dinner together every evening, let alone making home-cooked meals. He’s no whiz in the kitchen, and the options for take-out in our neighborhood are really limited. So a couple times a week, I try to prepare some homemade “TV dinners” for us. The tricky thing of it is, they have to be things that taste just as good, if not better, after sitting in the fridge and being re-heated later.
Stews are obvious winners for heat-and-eat meals. In culinary school we were taught to make Boeuf Bourgignon, Lamb Navarin and Coq au Vin – all essentially braised stews. While their ingredients differ, they are all prepared using similar techniques. I love making stews. It’s always a good exercise in layering flavors and textures, and incorporates several essential cooking techniques. At home, one of our favorite stews is this beef stew braised in a nice mellow brown ale.
Ingredients, Serves 4-6:
for the braise:
1-1/2 lbs. beef shoulder steak, trimmed and cut into 1″ – 1-1/2″ pieces
salt & freshly ground pepper
1 large onion peeled and diced (approx. 10 oz.)
1 4″ length carrot, quartered lengthwise (approx. 5 oz.)
1 stalk of celery cut into 4″ lengths (approx. 2 oz.)
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 Tbsp. all purpose flour
1 12oz. bottle of brown ale, such as Newcastle or Smithwicks
1 generous bunch of fresh thyme
2 – 3 bay leaves
for the vegetable garnish:
2 cups yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced (approx. 3 medium potatoes)
2 cups carrots, peeled and large diced (approx. 10 oz. or 1-1/2 large carrots)
1 cup celery, large diced (approx. 2 stalks)
Step 1 – Braise the meat
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Generously season the meat with salt and pepper. Heat enough oil in a dutch oven or large saucepan to coat the bottom. It should be hot but not smoking.
2. Working in batches so that you don’t crowd the pan, brown the meat on all sides. If you crowd the pan, the meat will steam instead of brown. If you leave too much space the oil and brown bits (known as “sucs”) stuck on the bottom of the pan will burn.
3. After removing the last batch of meat from the pan, add a tablespoon of fresh oil, if needed, and cook carrot sticks until they are slightly browned. Lower the heat, then add the onions and celery sticks. Season with a pinch of salt and sweat the vegetables until the onions are soft and not quite translucent.
4. Add the tomato paste and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring to coat the vegetables.
5. Return the meat to the pan and sprinkle the mixture with flour. Stir everything together and cook for about 2-3 minutes more. This method is referred to as “singer” (pronounced SAN-jay). The flour acts as a thickener, and cooking it before adding the liquid removes any raw flour taste.
6. Add enough of the ale to almost cover the meat and vegetables, scraping up the brown bits (“sucs”) from the bottom of the pan. Raise the heat to bring the liquid to a simmer. Simmer on low for about 5 minutes to cook off some of the alcohol.
7. Add the thyme and bay leaf and give the pot a stir just to make sure there is nothing sticking to the bottom of the pan. Cover and put it into the oven for 60-90 minutes, checking periodically to make sure the stew is not boiling to rapidly, but maintaining a bare simmer.
Meanwhile prepare the vegetable garnishes.
Here is where you may say, “What? Don’t you just cook the vegetables in the pot with the meat? Why go to all the trouble of cooking the vegetables separately?” Well, here’s the thing. I used to use a recipe that said, oh, cook the meat for such and such a time, and add the vegetables during the last half hour of cooking. Well, cooking the vegetables slowly for a half hour means that all their flavor (not to mention their color) gets lost into the liquid and while they may absorb some of the flavor of the meat, in the end all the components of the stew just taste the same. Also, you want to be able to cook your meat until it’s melt-in-your-mouth tender. If you add the vegetables too early and the meat is not done, then the vegetables just turn to mush. Personally, I like my vegetables to have a little bite and to preserve some their flavor and color. So I add the large chunks of carrot and celery in the beginning to flavor the braise, then remove them later (the onions just disintegrate into the stew anyway) and add diced carrots, potatoes, and celery that have been cooked separately. This way I can make sure each component is perfectly cooked and seasoned before bringing them together for their final hurrah. By the way, in school they made us cut all our vegetable garnishes into “cocottes” or little football shapes, which I think is wasteful phooey. At home I just cut my veg into bite size pieces, about the same size so they cook evenly.
1. To cook the potatoes, put the diced potatoes in a saucepan and cover with cold salted water. Make sure to use a good amount of salt, and if you wish, you can add some sliced onions and garlic, and a few sprigs of thyme for additional flavor. Bring the water to a rapid boil, them immediately remove from the heat. Let the potatoes sit in the water until they cool to room temperature. As they cool, they should continue to cook, so DO NOT put them on ice. By the time they cool, they should be cooked through.
2. To blanch the carrots and celery, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. And I mean salted – the water should taste like sea-water. Add the carrots, and cook until al dente. For me after the water returned to a boil, it took about 3 minutes. Remove the carrots from the boiling water, and place them immediately in a bowl of ice water to stop them from cooking further. As a general rule, the amount of time it took the carrots to cook, will be the same as the amount of time it will take for them to cool fully in the ice water. Repeat with the celery. The celery took a little longer, probably 5-6 minutes after the water came back to a boil. A blanching basket comes in really handy for this, but I don’t have a blanching basket at home, so I use a steamer basket. I simply put the steamer basket in the bottom of the pot, dump the carrots in, and when they were done, I use a pair of tongs to grab the handle of the basket and lift everything out.
Assemble the stew:
1. Once the meat is tender, remove the bundle of herbs, and large chunks of carrot and celery.
2. Transfer the pot to medium heat on the stove top. Check your potatoes. If they are still underdone, drain them and add them to the stew first and simmer until they are cooked through.
3. Add the cooked carrots and celery and adjust the seasoning. If you are saving the stew for later, simply divide it into portion sized containers and refrigerate. If you are serving the stew right away, simmer for about 15 minutes more until the vegetables are hot and have absorbed some of liquid. You will notice that there is not a lot of liquid – just enough to coat all the ingredients and form a puddle at the bottom of the bowl to soak up with a nice crusty piece of sourdough bread.