Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Beef Stew

For comfort food, its doesn't get any better than Beef Stew.  How could you resist tender beef that melts in your mouth, accompanied with sweet carrots and hearty potatoes?  When I'm down and out, tired and upset, or just another cold winter (well summer in norcal) day, this brings me back to life.

Now when you make a beef stew, choosing the correct cut of meet is critical.  The key here is cheaper cuts are the best!  I personally try to use Chuck, and specifically look for Chuck Shoulder, boneless, since it has the proper amount of connective tissues and fat, so when the fibers do breakdown, you're left with great textured meat.  Expensive cuts do not have as much fat, nor flavor, so if you do braise a steak, or filet, it will be dry, and unappealing.

Start by cutting your meat in half.  I do this since half a roast is enough for 2 people and leftovers.  Save other half in freezer for later.  Cut meat into 2" by 2" cubes....get a heavy bottom pan out, like a dutch oven or an extra wide sauté pan, and preheat on med/high.  Use an oil that has a high smoke point like canola. If you use an olive oil, it tends to smoke very quickly, and you'll get a burned flavor on your meat.  I also use canola since it is an oil that doesn't transfer that much flavor, and is heart healthy.  Basically after preheating your pan, put about 1/2 your batch of meat individually into the pan, and let it sear for a good 2-3 min.  DO NOT TOUCH.    If you move your meat, you won't get a good crusty sear.  Repeat with other side of meat.  Take out of pan and do the rest of the meat.  While your meat is searing, work on your aromatics.  This would include a white onion julienned, about 10 garlic cloves peeled and smashed, and a few bay leaves.

Sauté onions for about 5 mins with some s&p, and you'll notice that all those great little bits at the bottom of your pan will lift off.  The moisture in the onions when you salt them are released and helps lift the tasty bits off the pan.  You basically are deglazing the pan.  Add the garlic and dry bay leaves, and sauté another 3 min.  Add about 2 heaping tablespoons of tomato paste, and a heaping tablespoon of ground cumin.  Splash this mixture with some white wine vinegar, and add meat pieces back.

Now braising is the method which you use 2 heat methods to cook your food, like searing your meat on high heat, and finishing it in a liquid.  Add beef broth to your mixture, until the meat is just covered.  Turn your stove to high until it reaches a boil.  Once the mixture boils, put your top on your pot, and turn the heat down to low/mid-low.  Braising requires heat and plenty of time to breakdown the connective tissues in the meat, so you're looking at at least 2hrs, usually more like 2 1/2-3 hrs.  About 30 minutes before stew is ready, cut potatoes and carrots in equal sized pieces.  You do this so they cook at the same times.  30 minutes later, your meat, and vegetables will finish at the same time.  Serve over pasta, rice...or my fav, crusty asrtisan bread rubbed with garlic.

A perfect dish to get you out of a funk!


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