Spring is upon us, with the waning of chilly nights that promise lazy days of backyard barbecues and fresh lemonade. But while there is still employment for scarves and sweaters, I plan to eke out several more rounds of hearty, stick-to-your-bones pots of stew. I've discovered in this past wintry season, that there is indeed, a sophistication to stewing. No longer do I think of stew as thick meaty soup. Instead, several rendezvous with stout pie, boeuf bourguignon, and lamb and sweet potato pie rendered me completely enamored with the art of stew.
My favorite way to make stew is always the same, regardless of combination:
1. Pick a meat. Cut into chunks. Toss and coat with flour, salt and pepper. 2. Heat some oil in a heavy pot. Brown meat in single layer. Remove from pan, and set aside. 3. Add more oil, and saute garlic, onion, mushrooms, celery, or bacon (if doing Boeuf Bourguignon)...and remove from pan and set aside. 4. Add deglazing liquids of choice (stout for stout stew, wine for bourguignon, etc.), and scape down browned bits in pan. 5. Add tomato paste if using. 6. Add meat and sauteed veggies. Add all other veggies/fruit combinations. 7. Add enough stock, or other deglazing liquid to cover all contents of pot. 8. Bring to boil, then simmer on low until tender--about 3 hours. 9. Taste, and adjust seasonings. 10.The stew is naturally thickened, and ready to serve:
*Try covering pot with mashed potatoes and shredded cheese once stew is done, and heating it up in the oven. *Serve over wide egg noodles. *Serve with crusty bread from this book.
So, for my fellow free-form cooks, here are the main components of a stew and some possible ingredients for each:
- bacon (for boeuf bourguignon!)
- water + tomato paste
- beef stock
- stout, ale, beer, or wine
- sweet potatoes
- butternut squash
- dried apricots
- dried cherries
- bay leaf
...the possibilities are endless!
And, for my recipe-loving readers, here's one to get you started:
Ruth's Boeuf Bourguignon
(I adapted the best from Martha and Julia...and made it Ruth-easy)
- 4 slices bacon (1/4 pound), cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
- 3 1/2 pounds boneless beef chuck roast, large pieces of fat trimmed, cut into 2-inch chunks, patted dry
- Coarse salt and ground pepper
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 lb. quartered mushrooms
- 3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 6 medium carrots, cut into chunks
- 1 bottle dry red wine (3 cups)
- 3 cups beef broth
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1. In a 6-to-8-quart saucepan, cook bacon uncovered over medium-low heat until browned, 10 to 15 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate; set aside. Reserve bacon fat.
2. Season beef generously with salt and pepper. In a large bowl (or zip-loc bag!), dredge beef in flour, shaking off excess. Raise heat to medium. Working in two batches, brown beef in bacon fat on all sides, without crowding, about 10 minutes per batch. Transfer each batch to a bowl.
3. Lightly saute garlic, onions and mushrooms. Remove from pan and reserve.
4. Pour 1/2 cup broth into pan; bring to a boil. Cook, stirring, to loosen browned bits, until liquid has reduced to a few tablespoons, 2 to 3 minutes.
5. Add tomato paste; cook 1 minute.
6. Add carrots, meat (with juices), wine, thyme, and reserved bacon and veggies. Add rest of broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer over low, stirring occasionally, until meat is tender, but not falling apart, 3 to 3 1/2 hours.
7. If the sauce is too thick, add a few tablespoons of stock. If the sauce is too thin, boil it down to reduce to the right consistency. 8. Serve over mashed potatoes!