Here's my new favorite beef stew recipe. It comes, of course, from Cooking Know-How (2009, Wiley), the just-released 15th cookbook by Mark Scarbrough and Bruce Weinstein, whom I interviewed for yesterday's post.
I don't eat much red meat, so if a beef stew is going to grace my table it's got to do more than pass muster -- it's got to shine.
And this one does.
As Bruce said, the secret is in taking your time to brown the meat properly. You want a nice sear on each piece of beef, which creates a caramelized crust and ramps up the flavors significantly. If you're in a hurry, make yourself an omelet instead.
But ah, if you're patient, you'll be immensely proud of yourself when you sit down to eat. You'll also have phenomenal leftovers, so lunch the next day will require nothing more than a microwave and an extra-large napkin.
N.B. When shopping for the meat, I saw 2 options at my local grocer: pristine looking beef stew meat, beautifully cubed and a nice, uniform pink color, and boneless chuck, messier-looking with threads of creamy fat. Believe me when I say that in a former life, I would have bought the more attractive, cleaner-looking pre-cut meat. But for flavor, you need fat, and the butcher expressed his proud approval when I went for the chuck.
Remember, the prettiest girl isn't always the best date.
Recipe for Carbonnades Flamandes, or Belgian Beef Stew
Adapted from Cooking Know-How by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough (2009, Wiley)
If you've never added beer to beef stew, you've missed out. Please note that I omitted the parsnips and mushrooms, but only because I forgot to buy them. Take your time searing the meat. The payoff will be worth the extra minutes and attention. Finally, I'm giving you the down and dirty version of this recipe. To get the full benefit of the authors' experience and wisdom, you'll want to get their book. They explain why each ingredient and step is important, which is useful not only in producing a great meal, but in creating variations on the theme.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 ounces chopped bacon
2-1/2 pounds boneless chuck or bottom round (I used the former), cubed
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4 medium carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
3 parsnips, peeled and roughly chopped
8 ounces thickly-sliced mushrooms, sauteéd in 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, optional
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup beef broth
One 12-ounce bottle of beer
2 teaspoons thyme
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 tablespoon coarse-ground mustard
Salt and pepper, to taste
Heat the butter in a large soup pot or heavy Dutch oven over medium heat. Sauté the bacon until crispy, then transfer to a very large bowl.
Brown the beef in batches. As each batch is seared, transfer the meat to the bowl with the bacon and continue with the next batch. (Take your time and do not crowd the pan or the meat will steam rather than sear.) The meat should all be out of the pot and in the large bowl before proceeding.
Turn the heat down slightly and add the onions, carrots, and parsnips to the Dutch oven. Cook, stirring often, until the onion has softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms, if using.
Whisk the flour into the beef broth. Whisk this mixture into the pot along with the beer, thyme and caraway seeds. Bring the heat up to a simmer. Stir the beef, bacon, and all accumulated juices back into the pot. Cover, and reduce the heat to the lowest possible simmer. Cook until fork-tender, about 2 hours.
Stir in the mustard, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.