Someone's britches got a little too big for her Le Creuset this week. Absorbed in the Top Chef finale and the premise that someone eliminated (!) earlier, could come back and claim the title, I missed all the classic signs of a braise running out of liquid. Rather I was congratulating myself that the next night's dinner was already in the oven before the current night's dishes were done dish washing. Idiot! To shorten the story and end the irony, I pulled said stew from the oven, added beef stock and rescued the son of a gun. Kicked myself in my over-confident pants while I was at it.
Two lessons learned – one, I should have run my oven no higher than 325 to simmer. Two, if making a small scale stew (2 lbs of meat) it is possible to cook thoroughly and almost reduce the liquid to nothing in two hours. For the life of me I have no idea why I didn't make 3 pounds of meat to double down and get two meals for the effort of one!
This week's beef stew, patterned after my mom's, was supposed to be the piece de resistance of hosting my son's friend for the week.
Start with beef chuck. If you buy lean stew meat the deck's already stacked against you. And stew is supposed to be the lazy man's (gal's) great dinner. Plus this is not a fish, it's red meat, anti-vegetarian, vegan-offensive. If you're going to have meat, enjoy it, once in a while, as guilt free as possible. I'm Jewish and from the birthplace of the lean brisket, I feel your pain. Get over it.
2 lbs. beef chuck, cubed about an inch/inch and a half
2 large or 3 medium onions, half chopped, half sliced
2 chopped carrots, 2 sliced carrots
or half a bag whittled carrots, chopped and half a bag left whole
2-3 cloves of garlic if desired, chopped
4-5 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed about an inch, inch and half
1 tablespoon veg oil (maybe more)
2 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups wine
1- 2 cups beef stock (or water)
1 bay leaf
Preheat oven to 325. Heat Dutch oven or heavy pot on medium heat. You will need a lid. Add oil, heat! Season beef with salt & pepper. Sear in 2-3 batches to get deep color on as many sides as you can. Color = flavor!
Lower heat when meat comes out. Add oil if necessary, adding chopped onions carrots. Soften, than add garlic if desired. Salt/pepper. Add tomato paste, stir and cook a minute. Add wine, bring to modest boil and scrape up the bits in the pan. Return meat and all the juices and enough stock to cover. Add bay leaf. Pop in oven for 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours, check for liquid. Add potatoes and big carrots for last 45 minutes of cooking.
Alternatively, cook all but the potatoes and extra carrots the day before serving. Reheat and add potatoes and carrots day of. May require extra stock.
Alternatively again, skip the potatoes – make polenta or mashed potatoes.
Last alternative, shred the meat, toss with pasta like cavatelli. Parmesan. OMG, it's good!
Btw – stew is about benchmarks, like soup. No one cares what size the beef cubes are, or the size of the veggies, or what type of onion. It helps for even cooking if veggies are uniform. Same goes for proteins.
Good with fork or spoon – B