Sunday, January 10, 2010

Week 19: Best Beef Stew

I made this as a "Sunday meal." Around my house, Sunday is a time for comfort food, food that takes a long time to cook, and food that will yield some lunch left-overs.

I had a craving for beef stew and have never really been happy with any recipe I've tried before. None of my favorite cookbooks yielded anything. An Internet search got me nowhere. Lucky for me, there happened to be a recipe in the latest Cook's Illustrated.

With no further ado, I bring you what really is "the best" beef stew.

Best Beef Stew

Taken from Cook's Illustrated, February 2010, p. 8 - 9

Serves 3 to 4
Total time: about 3 hours

2 medium garlic cloves, pressed (about 2 tsp)
2 tsp anchovy paste
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 boneless chuck-eye roast (about 2 pounds)
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion, cut in 1/8" thick slices (about 2 C)
4 medium carrots, peeled and cut in 1" pieces (about 2 C)
1/4 C flour
2 C red wine (I used Malbec)
2 C low-sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
4 spring fresh thyme
4 oz salt pork, rinsed of excess salt
1 lb Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed and cut in 1" pieces
2 tsp (about 1 packet) unflavored powdered gelatin
1/2 C water
1 C frozen peas, thawed
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degree.

Combine garlic and anchovy paste in small bowl; press with back of fork to form paste. Stir in tomato paste and set mixture aside.

Trim excess fat and silver skin. Cut meat into evenly sized 1 1/2" pieces. Pat meat dry. Do not season.

Heat 1 Tbsp oil in large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over high heat until just starting to smoke. Add beef and cook until well browned on all sides, about 8 minutes total.

Reduce heat to medium. Add onion and carrots to Dutch oven and stir to combine with beef. Cook, scraping bottom of pan to loosen any browned bits, until onion is softened, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add garlic mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until no dry flour remains, about 30 seconds.

Slowly add wine, scraping bottom of pan to loosen any browned bits. Increase heat to high and allow wine to simmer until thickened and slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. This step will smell delicious. Put your nose close to the pot and just breath it all in.

Stir in broth, bay leaves, thyme, and salt pork. Bring to a simmer, cover, transfer to oven, and cook for 90 minutes.

Remove pot from oven; remove and discard bay leaves and salt pork. Stir in potatoes, cover, return to oven, and cook until potatoes are almost tender, about 45 minutes.

Cook over medium heat until potatoes are cooked and meat offers little resistance when poked with fork (meat should not be falling apart), about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, sprinkle gelatin over water in small bowl and allow to soften for 5 minutes.

Increase heat to high, stir in softened gelatin mixture and peas; simmer until gelatin is fully dissolved and stew is thickened, about 3 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper to taste; serve.

I made a few modifications from the original recipe. First, the original recipe called for 4 pounds of meat. I only used 2 pounds of meat. The ratio of sauce, potatoes, vegetables, and meat was still perfect; it would have served more people with more meat (obviously), but it also would have been too meaty for my tastes.

Also, the recipe included 1 1/2 C frozen pearl onions. They were added as soon as the stew was removed from the oven and cooked over medium heat for 15 minutes. We picked every single last pearl onion out of the stew. I have serious texture issues, but you can feel free to add them - as long as I'm not joining you for dinner.

There were some things about this recipe that freaked me out. One, the anchovy paste. Two, the salt pork. Three, the gelatin. The recipe raved about how the anchovy paste would add some serious savory-ness to the recipe. So, I used it. The recipe gave the same explanation for the salt pork. So, I dumped it in. The recipe also claimed that the gelatin would make the stew "glossy" and rich. I overcame my fears, added all the ingredients, and was delighted.

I'm going to make this recipe part of my permanent Sunday rotation. It's perfect for a Sunday because once it's in the oven it leaves plenty of time (90 minutes) for a nap. You'll wake up to a house that smells absolutely amazing! It is even something that I would make for some meat-loving dinner guests.

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