Sunday, December 26, 2010

Winter Beef Stew

When the weather outside is frightful, it's time to make a big pot of winter beef stew. What I wanted to make was Irish Beef Stew because I absolutely loved the way it turned out last time I made it. But I want to constantly stretch my culinary skills and repertoire so I searched my epicurious iPhone app for a new Beef Stew recipe.

The recipe I settled upon was definitely a different preparation that I am used to. Chunks of beef are braised with red wine, balsamic vinegar, fresh herbs and large chunks of carrots and celery. After 2.5 hours in the oven, you pour everything through a colander and reserve the liquid and beef. This sounded ridiculous to me that you would braise the vegetables and then throw them away.
I went along with the recipe, word for word...and I'm so glad I did. This beef stew is far superior to any beef stew I have ever had. I wouldn't change a thing with the recipe. 
For braised beef:

5 pounds boneless beef chuck (not lean), cut into 2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil (I used butter)
3 carrots, quartered
3 celery ribs, quartered (leaves and all)
2 medium onions, quartered
1 head garlic, halved crosswise (I used minced garlic)
3 tablespoons tomato paste (I used slightly more tomato paste, basically an entire small can)
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar (peculiar ingredient, but it worked well)
1 (750-ml) bottle dry red wine (about 3 3/4 cups, please use the good stuff!)
2 Turkish bay leaves or 1 California
2 thyme sprigs
3 cups reduced-sodium beef broth
3 cups water (after I added the wine and beef broth, there was not any room left for water)

For potatoes and carrots:
2 1/2 pounds small white boiling potatoes
1 1/2 pounds carrots

Equipment: a wide 6-to 8-quart heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid


Braise beef:
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

Pat beef dry and season with 2 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper.
(I prepared the pieces of beef as I would a roast. I first seasoned with salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder, then dusted in flour.)

Heat oil butter in pot over medium-high heat until it shimmers melts, then brown meat, without crowding, in 3 batches, turning, about 8 minutes per batch. Transfer to a platter.

Reduce heat to medium, then add the large chunks of carrots, celery, onions, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until well browned, about 12 minutes.
(Because I was using minced garlic, I withheld the garlic for the last three minutes so it would not burn.)

Push vegetables to one side of pot. Add tomato paste to cleared area and cook paste, stirring, 2 minutes, then stir into vegetables.
(This is an odd step, but reminded me of a an Anne Burrell Short Ribs recipe where she did something similar.)

Add vinegar and cook, stirring, 2 minutes.
(I felt the addition of vinegar was another odd step, and as soon as I added the balsamic vinegar I thought I had messed up, the vinegar thickened and bubbled violently. No fear, you add the wine next!)

Stir in wine, bay leaves, and thyme and boil until wine is reduced by about two thirds, 10 to 12 minutes.
(Please please please use good wine here, something you would actually drink on it's own.)

Add beef broth to pot along with water, beef, and any juices from platter and bring to a simmer. Cover and braise in oven until meat is very tender, about 2 1/2 hours.

Set a large colander in a large bowl. Pour stew into colander. Return pieces of meat to pot, then discard remaining solids. Let cooking liquid stand 10 minutes.
(I had to read this step about 10 times before I realized that they were asking me to strain all the meat and veggies, then toss the veggies and herbs, and return the meat to the cooking liquid.)

Cook potatoes and carrots:
While beef braises, peel potatoes and cut into 1/2-inch-wide wedges. Slice carrots diagonally (1-inch).

Add potatoes and carrots to stew (make sure they are submerged) and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until potatoes and carrots are tender, about 40 minutes.
(I cooked these for at least an hour, and then let the mixture cool and put it in the refrigerator for the next night. I read many reviews that said the stew is better the next day and they were RIGHT!)

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