Braising is my favourite cooking method. I just love the way it can transform an inexpensive, tough cut of beef into a tasty tender stew. Toss in the earthy flavours of root vegetables and aromatic red wine, and you are well on your way to a rich flavour base. But the real secret to a truly memorable beef stew is patiently browning the meat.
Yield: 4 - 6 servings
2 pounds stewing beef
a sprinkle or two sea salt and freshly grated pepper
a splash any vegetable oil
a few carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
a few stalks celery, roughly chopped
a few potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
a few parsnips, peeled and roughly chopped
a few onions, peeled and roughly chopped
a 28 ounce can whole tomatoes
1/2 bottle hearty red wine
3 or 4 cups homemade or canned beef broth
a few bay leaves
few sprigs fresh rosemary
1 jar pickled baby white onions, drained
few handfuls frozen peas
another sprinkle or two of salt and pepper
Preheat a large thick-bottomed pot over medium-high heat.
Meanwhile, pat the beef dry with a clean towel and then cut it into large cubes and season it with the salt and pepper.
Add a splash of oil to the pot—enough to cover the bottom in a thin layer—and toss in enough meat to form a single sizzling layer. Sear the meat on every side until it’s evenly browned.
Be patient when you’re browning the meat; it takes a little time but it’s worth every minute. The caramelized flavours are the secret to a rich hearty stew. As the meat browns, remove it from the pan, adding more oil and meat as needed.
Once the meat is done, discard the remaining oil but keep all the browned bits in the pan; they’ll add lots of flavour to the stew.
Add half of the vegetables—reserving the other half—and all the meat back to the pot. Add the tomatoes and enough wine and beef broth to barely cover the works. Add the bay leaves and rosemary and bring the pot to a simmer.
Continue cooking until the meat is almost tender, about 1 hour, then add the remaining vegetables, the baby onions and the frozen peas. Adding the vegetables in 2 batches allows the first batch to dissolve into the stew while the second retains its shape, colour and texture. Continue simmering until the meat and veggies are tender, another 30 minutes or so. When the stew is tender, taste it and season as you like.
You may use any combination of root vegetables you have on hand. You may use any cut of beef that’s labelled for stewing, simmering or braising. Try using fresh thyme instead of rosemary. You can also stir in several sliced green onions at the last second for a burst of colour and flavour. Shredded aged cheddar cheese or tangy blue cheeses are a great topping for each bowl.
In many Italian restaurants the menu term “Tuscan Beef” refers to a particular style of serving beef that is always dramatically finished at the table. An extra thick slab of premium beef—large enough to serve at least four people—is slowly roasted on a grill and presented to the table with a classic group of ingredients: arugula leaves, extra virgin olive oil, lemon zest and juice, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, sea salt and freshly cracked peppercorns. The meat is thinly sliced and draped over a salad of sorts. The results are authentically Italian, spectacularly delicious and a great way to satisfy your primal beef craving and show off at your next dinner party.
Beef stews are a part of cooking all over the world. Cooks everywhere know they can simmer tough, inexpensive cuts of meat in a flavourful liquid then fill their bowls with a rich tender stew. My family loves this “Asian” version ladled over spinach leaves and bean sprouts. It’s a stew and a salad in the same bowl!