A Taste of Winter, A Taste of Spring

Beef Stew and Flaky Biscuit. Sorry about the messy presentation.

Recently I’ve felt hounded by beef stews. They seem to be everywhere! In the past few weeks hearty beef stews have been prominently featured on tv cooking programs and magazines. I couldn’t get away from them so I finally decided to surrender and make some.

As usual I turned to Cooks Illustrated for a recipe. I used their Best Beef Stew recipe as a guideline but since I don’t drink wine or keep anchovies in my pantry I had to do some tweaking.

Best Beef Stew

Serves 6 to 8

Use a good-quality, medium-bodied wine, such as Côtes du Rhône or Pinot Noir, for this stew. Try to find beef that is well marbled with white veins of fat. Meat that is too lean will come out slightly dry. Four pounds of blade steaks, trimmed of gristle and silver skin, can be substituted for the chuck-eye roast. While the blade steak will yield slightly thinner pieces after trimming, it should still be cut into 11/2-inch pieces. Look for salt pork that is roughly 75 percent lean. The stew can be cooled, covered tightly, and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Reheat it gently before serving.

Ingredients

2 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
4 anchovy fillets , finely minced (about 2 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 boneless beef chuck-eye roast (about 4 pounds), trimmed of excess fat, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (see note and step by step below)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion , halved and cut from pole to pole into 1/8-inch-thick slices (about 2 cups)
4 medium carrots , peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups red wine (see note)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 ounces salt pork , rinsed of excess salt (see note)
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes , scrubbed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2cups frozen pearl onions , thawed
2 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin (about 1 packet)
1/2 cup water
1 cup frozen peas , thawed
Table salt and ground black pepper

Instructions

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Combine garlic and anchovies in small bowl; press with back of fork to form paste. Stir in tomato paste and set mixture aside.

2. Pat meat dry with paper towels. Do not season. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over high heat until just starting to smoke. Add half of beef and cook until well browned on all sides, about 8 minutes total, reducing heat if oil begins to smoke or fond begins to burn. Transfer beef to large plate. Repeat with remaining beef and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, leaving second batch of meat in pot after browning.

3. Reduce heat to medium and return first batch of beef to pot. Add onion and carrots to Dutch oven and stir to combine with beef. Cook, scraping bottom of pan to loosen any browned bits, until onion is softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add garlic mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until no dry flour remains, about 30 seconds.

4. Slowly add wine, scraping bottom of pan to loosen any browned bits. Increase heat to high and allow wine to simmer until thickened and slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. Stir in broth, bay leaves, thyme, and salt pork. Bring to simmer, cover, transfer to oven, and cook for 1 1/2 hours.

5. Remove pot from oven; remove and discard bay leaves and salt pork. Stir in potatoes, cover, return to oven, and cook until potatoes are almost tender, about 45 minutes.

6. Using large spoon, skim any excess fat from surface of stew. Stir in pearl onions; cook over medium heat until potatoes and onions are cooked through and meat offers little resistance when poked with fork (meat should not be falling apart), about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, sprinkle gelatin over water in small bowl and allow to soften for 5 minutes.

7. Increase heat to high, stir in softened gelatin mixture and peas; simmer until gelatin is fully dissolved and stew is thickened, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste; serve.

I know some people are sensitive (Eww!) when it comes to anchovies but I’m not. It probably sounds strange to put fish into a beef stew but anchovies are a great way to add “umami” to dishes. Umami’s a savory, depth of flavor that you can’t achieve by using salt alone. You can get it by using monosodium glutamate (MSG) or find it naturally in ingredients such as seafood and mushrooms. I don’t keep anchovies in the house but any Asian food lover always has a bottle of fish sauce lying around so I decided to substitute a couple of teaspoons of that instead. It worked and in the final dish no one was able to say, “oh, there’s fish sauce in this.” The fish sauce blended in perfectly with all of the other seasonings.

I used more beef stock in place of the wine and three slices of chopped up bacon instead of the salt pork. I sliced the bacon into 1/2-inch pieces and cooked it in the same pot (after browning the beef but before cooking the other veggie ingredients). I used the rendered bacon fat to sautee the vegetables and it added another layer of flavor to the stew.

Besides those three minor substitutions (more beef stock for wine, bacon for salt pork, fish sauce for anchovies), I stuck to the original recipe.

If you’re wondering about the gelatin in the recipe, it’s to help mimic the rich, velvety texture you’d get if you used a homemade beef stock made from beef bones. Beef bones contain collagen that turns into gelatin when cooked. Don’t worry, the stew didn’t have a Jell-O consistency. The amount of gelatin required for the recipe is too small compared to the amount of liquid in the stew for that to happen. The flour combined with the gelatin thickened the stew without making it gelatinous.

Beef Stew

Most of the time I have a few tubes of ready-to-bake store bought biscuits in the fridge but I was all out this week. Cooks Illustrated’s Flaky Buttermilk Biscuit recipe to the rescue!

Thankfully, it was a cool day. (I’ve found it nearly impossible to make flaky biscuits on warm days. The butter softens and melts too quickly, especially in a hot kitchen.) The biscuits expanded and layered nicely in the oven. Not too bad for a first try. In the past, I’ve stuck to regular fluffy biscuit or drop biscuit recipes that are less fussy and don’t require all that folding.

Flaky Biscuit

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And like I mentioned in a previous blog entry, Spring is upon us! The crocuses are in full bloom in my yard.

Crocuses

Crocuses

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