I will begin this post by saying that regretfully, there are no pictures of the fabulous meal that I concocted after my run on Saturday. My only excuse is that beef stew, no matter how delicious, is not the most photogenic of foodstuffs. However, stew may be the greatest cold weather food possible. It’s hot, it’s
hearty, and it manages to cram a variety of vegetables into one meal. Given that the weather was beyond bitter this weekend, how could I resist?
Here’s the recipe, adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. Keep in mind that these are just my preferences and that I got great results simply by using the ingredients I had on hand. I’m sure you will too!
2 tbsp neutral oil
2-3 lbs stew meat
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 large onions, roughly chopped
3 tbsps flour
1 cup dry red wine
2 cups homemade chicken stock
Thyme to taste
4 large carrots cut into 1 inch chunks
4 large potatoes cut into 1 inch chunks
1 can French cut green beans
1 tbsp minced garlic
The first thing you’re going to do is brown the meat. Yes, it’s an extra step, and yes, it’s a little messy (watch out for spitting oil when you do this!) but it’s totally worth it. Your stew meat will be flavorful and tender instead of flabby boiled chunks. So heat up your stew pot on medium-high for 2-3 minutes, then put in the oil and the garlic clove. Let the garlic flavor pervade the oil for about 1 minute, then take it out or you‘ll have a little garlic charcoal at the bottom of your pan, which isn’t so tasty.
Next, throw in the meat. You might have to do this in batches to avoid overcrowding the pot – I did. Brown the meat on all sides, then take it out of the pan with a slotted spoon, setting it aside for the moment. If you’ve created a lot of extra grease at the bottom of your pot, remove it, although I honestly don’t seem to have this problem. You’ll need to leave a couple of tablespoons for the next step. Lower the heat to medium and toss in your onions, cooking them until they’re softened.
Add the flour and cook for about 2 minutes, fully incorporating it with your onions. Once that’s done, add your liquids. We had about one cup of a fairly nice bottle of wine leftover, and I do think the quality made a bit of a difference. I’m not saying you should drop $15 on a bottle just to use it in a stew, but if you happen to have some to spare it seems to be worth doing. I can also not stress enough that your stock should be homemade, but you’ve all heard that lecture before. If I haven’t indoctrinated you into my stock cult by now, it’s not happening. I used chicken stock because that’s what I generally make. I always have the parts for it on hand, since we eat a fair amount of chicken. Since most of our beef is sans bone, making beef stock is a project that, while worth doing, requires forethought. One of these days I’m sure I’ll get around to it, but in the meantime the chicken is utterly acceptable, because the stew meat will impart the appropriate beefiness. Toss in the beef and herbs, lower the heat and cover the pot. Simmer for half an hour.
Now toss in your veggies – the carrots, potatoes, and any other hard winter produce you think would be good in your stew – perhaps some turnips or parsnips? I’d probably skip beets unless you don’t mind a rather funky color. Let all of that simmer together for another half hour to an hour, or until the meat and vegetables have reached the desired tenderness. Once that’s been reached it’s time to add the minced garlic and the green beans or whatever soft vegetable strikes your fancy. Simmer for five more minutes to heat these additions through, and you’re done!
Now, obviously this stew will taste better the next day, when the flavors have had a bit more time to get comfortable with one another. But let’s not fool ourselves. I didn’t wait, and you shouldn’t either. Ladle up a bowlful with some good crusty bread and have at it – it still tastes pretty great, and only whets your appetite for how great it’s going to be. Best served with a glass of dry red wine and someone with whom to toast the fact that you are warm, secure, and full of stew.