Wednesday, October 5, 2011

beef stew

if you live in the maritimes, i'm sure you've noticed that it's raining... like a lot! the house is shaking, the water is sloshing in the toilet & i may start my first fire of the season in the wood stove. 

this sort of icky, nasty, dreary weather makes me want to stay inside & cook some serious comfort food. a hearty beef stew is one of my absolute favourite things to cook. loaded up with root veggies, homemade stock & local beef, it's stick to your ribs goodness that helps make this weather seem a little more palatable.

there is something so therapeutic about cooking such a classic dish, browning the beef, simmering the veggies, taking the time to build the layers of flavour & perfuming the house all the while.

here's a pretty rustic recipe (and by 'rustic recipe', i actually mean just a list of ingredients...) that you can adjust to suit yours & your family's tastes.

beef stew:
 cross rib roast
vegetable oil
beef broth
worchestershire sauce
tomato paste
bay leaves
fresh thyme, rosemary & sage
white turnips
brussel sprouts
frozen peas
salt & pepper

i start off by making a simple beef broth. you can buy bones from getaway farm meat mongers at the market for super cheap. if you ask graeme really nice, he will even cut them down for you - the more surface area the better. then just slap em on a baking sheet at roast at 375-400 until they are dark brown all over. then fire them in a big pot, cover with cold water and simmer until the broth tastes awesome - the longer the better. i always add some bay leaves, woody herbs & tomatoes in some form.

true, it looks pretty gnarly, but it is a big, pot full of delicious & smells so good - the neighbours will be jealous.

next up, trim the roast (also from getaway farm) - remove as much silver skin as possible & as much fat as you choose. then break it down into bite-sized pieces and dust them with flour. when you brown off the meat, the addition of a bit of flour will help it brown up a bit faster and will help to thicken the broth later on.

the cross rib roast is a really flavourful cut of meat & can stand up to the extended cooking time. when making a stew, or any braise for that matter, the key is in developing 'brown' flavour. in cooking, things that are brown & caramelized typically taste better than things that are grey & boiled. take the time to pat the meat dry, dust it with flour & brown it on all sides in a super hot pot.

then remove it to a dish & saute the onions and garlic in the same pot. when the vegetables start to release their juices, they will automatically loosen all of the stuck on brown bits from the bottom of the pot. not only will the veggies pick up all of that 'brown' flavour, but it will also make washing up so much easier.

i have an intense affinity for worchestershire sauce & at this point would add a generous splash, red wine would work nicely as well or even a dark beer like you'd add to an irish stew. another ingredient that i can't live without is tomato paste. 

 for a large pot, i usually add about 2 spoonfuls this size. tomato paste is another ingredient that benefits from a long cooking time - the acidity mellows & it adds great depth and richness.

at this point, i add another heaping spoonful of flour. it's important to stir it in quickly & cook out the raw flour taste. then whisk in the strained stock, add the meat back & start adding the root vegetables. i always cook the firmer vegetables first (turnips, carrots, parsnips...) and wait until the meat is super tender before adding the potatoes. if the potatoes become overcooked, they disintegrate & turn to mush so just hold off until everything else is ready.

the mix of veggies you use is entirely up to you - but in my opinion the star of the show is the celery root (celeriac). it is one of the ugliest vegetables of all time but has such a wonderful mellow taste & once it's peeled it has beautiful white flesh - it'll be that certain 'je ne sais quoi' that sets your cooking apart & will have your guests talking.

sometimes it's a little hard to find - it's not at the market yet but i keep asking at noggins & elmridge every week, but pete's is a pretty reliable source & some sobey's, the superstore not so much. add it to mashed potatoes & scalloped potatoes, or julienne it instead of cabbage for a coleslaw - it's so good.

when the potatoes are almost tender, add in the brussel sprouts. they are a wonderful vegetable but have such a bad wrap. as long as you don't cook them to oblivion, they are so delicious. now that they're in season, i've been eating them a lot - roasted with herbs, steamed with a little butter, salt & pepper, or sauteed with bacon... give them another shot.

last but not least, stir in the frozen peas and some chopped fresh herbs to brighten up the flavour. season to taste with salt & pepper and you're good to go. with a little garlic toast you have the perfect stormy night meal to make you feel all warm & fuzzy inside ;)

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