hob·by: an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation and not as a main occupation.
Several days ago I told Hubby that I wanted to really cook. Not bake, cook.
I didn’t want to throw together a 20-minute dinner or something that used 3-4 ingredients. I wanted to make a dish that required forethought, skill and a good amount of time in the kitchen.
Because cooking is my hobby.
I adore making stew. It’s one of the most versatile, forgiving dishes to make. You know how I always talk about building levels of flavor? This is the mother of all levels-of-flavor out there. I promise, the results will directly reflect the time you’re willing to put into making this.
Cooking Without Recipes is my second favorite section of Fine Cooking Magazine. The stew feature that’s highlighted this month covers eight pages.
Each page takes on a step in the stew process, from browning the meat to stirring in the final finishing ingredients that add that little, ‘wow, what is that?’. Each page also includes good advice and guidelines to follow.
For instance, when author Molly Stevens (the author) suggests that the meat shouldn’t be crowded during the browning process and even includes a photo, it’s a good idea to follow her advice so the beef picks up that gorgeous sear and brown color.
Within the step-by-step pages are suggestions. For the meat, beef, pork, lamb and veal are offered as options. Looking for inspiration on flavor accents? There are fifteen to choose from if you’re stumped for ideas.
Because of how well this section is laid out, I think it would benefit the experienced cook as a guideline as well as offering up options they hadn’t thought of before. I also think it’s the perfect place for the novice cook to get their feet wet in the stew arena since the instructions are so clear and easy to follow.
For my stew, I used beef (flank steak that was on sale) as my meat, garlic, cinnamon and bay leaf as my flavor accents, red wine for deglazing, beef broth for stewing, parsnips, potatoes, carrots and mushrooms as the vegetables, and prepared horseradish and coarse-grained mustard to finish.
One final note. The vegetables will be added at various times during the braising process. That means dealing with a very hot pot straight out of the oven. That never bodes well for me. I kept count. I grabbed the lid or handle six times without using a hot pad.
Please try not to do that, ok?
It’s not even possible to say something bad about this stew. First, it was my creation (yeah, there’s a little smugness here). Second, all you have to do is look at it to know it was uber-delicious.
It was fantastic for dinner the same night I made it and it was even fantasticer the day after. All three of us thought so, though Dudette disdained the carrots. She had to eat them, but she made it clear that she wasn’t happy about it.
What I’d Do Different Next Time
Even though I used the cinnamon, it wasn’t what I really wanted. There was a flavor I wanted in there, but no matter how long I stared at my spice drawer, I couldn’t come up with it. Until after dinner. Star anise. Next time I make this variety I’ll replace the cinnamon with star anise.
- 3 lb bonless beef (shoulder roast, chuck roast, or top blade), trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1½ - 2-inch pieces
- 2 oz. thick-cut bacon or pancetta, cut into ½-inch pieces (optional)
- 1-3 tablespoons grapeseed or vegetable oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Grapeseed or vegetable oil, as needed
- 1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
- 2 medium celery stalks, coarsely chopped (about ½ cup)
- 1 medium carrot, coarsely chopped (about ½ cup)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 1 3-inch cinnamon stick
- 1 cup red wine
- 2½ cups beef broth
- 1½ cups water
- 1 cup parsnips, halved lengthwise, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 cups white potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 cups carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 cup mushrooms, trimmed and halved if large
- 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish, drained
- 2 tablespoons coarse-grained mustard
- Position a rack in the bottom third of the oven and heat the oven to 325.
- Spread the meat on paper towels to dry for 10-20 minutes before browning. (You can use this time to prepare the aromatics.) If the meat is very wet, pat it dry.
- In a 6-quart Dutch oven or other heavy-duty pot, cook the bacon or pancetta, if using, in 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until browned but not crisp, 6-8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Do not wipe out the pan.
- If you haven't used bacon or pancetta, heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium to medium-high heat until shimmering hot.
- Otherwise, use the bacon fat. Season about one-third of the meat with salt and pepper and arrange it in a single layer in the pot (there should be at least ½ inch of space between the pieces).
- Brown well on at least 4 sides, adjusting the heat as necessary; each batch should take about 10 minutes to brown.
- Transfer the meat to a large bowl or rimmed baking sheet as it browns and repeat with the rest of the meat, seasoning with salt and pepper before browning. Once all of the meat is browned, remove the pot from the heat to let it cool for a few minutes.
- Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pot. If there is not enough, add oil to equal 2 tablespoons. Return the pot to medium heat, then add the onion, celery and carrot. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often and scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spatula, until the vegetables begin to soften, 5-6 minutes.
- Stir in the flavor accents and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, 1-2 minutes.
- If using bacon or pancetta, return it to the pot.
- Add the red wine, stirring with the wooden spatula to dissolve any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Raise the heat to medium high and boil to reduce by about half, 5-8 minutes.
- Add the stewing liquid, and unless you plan to add canned tomatoes in step 5, also add 1½ cups water (even if you used water for your deglazing). Bring to a boil.
- Return the meat to the pot along with any accumulated juice. Lower the heat to maintain a simmer.
- Crumple a 12x16-inch piece of parchment, then flatten it out. Place the parchment directly on the surface of the stew, allowing the ends to come up the sides of the pot.
- Cover and cook in the oven until it's time to add the vegetables.
- Add the parsnips, potatoes and carrots after one hour of stewing. Add the mushrooms after 1½ hours of stewing. Cover with the parchment and lid after each addition and cook until the meat is fork tender, approximately 2-3 hours.
- Stir in the horseradish and mustard. Degrease the stew if you like and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Serve or let cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
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