Friday, October 16, 2009

Food: October 2009: Foliage Stews and Braising

CAUTION: If you are a veggie, or one of those women who doesn't eat red meat because of "health reasons," please stop reading. I feel about red meat how most men feel about sex... and well, red meat. So if you are a veggie, this is about to get gross. If not, read on.

Nothing says comfort food like braised beef short ribs on the side of polenta in front of football game, or Guinness lamb stew over mashed potatoes, in front of a fire, under a blanket. Braising and stew cooking can be time consuming, but they are simple recipes that have high rewards for merely the act of waiting, the perfect compliment for a day when you were not planning on leaving the house anyway.

A delicious stew or braise is dependent on two things. The first, as silly as it sounds, is the oven. As fifties retro-chic as a crock pot may appear, do not be fooled. The convection oven makes a much more consistent heat source (meaning any point in the oven is as hot as any other given point which allows for a perfect slow cook). The intention of a braise or stew is to have the meat fat rendered out of the meat in a slow melt, allowing the meat to tenderize to the point that it falls apart at the touch, and this can be best achieved with the oven.

The second necessary requirement is patience. Every person who first braises makes the classic mistake. After a couple of hours of cooking, they taste the meat, decide it is done, or even over-done, and take it out. Consequently they end up eating really tough stuff. A braise or stew cooks just beyond that point you think it should and suddenly, the meat loosens to perfection. That said, if you possess an oven and patience, these recipes are extremely forgiving.

In the recipes that follow, you will note that the stews require more prep time than the braises, because of the addition of vegetables, but that all the of recipes are remarkably similar, so once you tackle one, the rest will come easy. These are great recipes to start when your kids are in school, playing soccer, or napping, and then let cook in the oven while you play with them in the afternoon. One you do the work on the stove top, you are walking away from the oven for 3-4 hours and doing nothing but enjoying your fall. Keep in mind that these dishes are like lasagna and a great hair cut - they are even better the next day, so if you want to make them the day before and put them in the fridge overnight - GO FOR IT. Last but not least, do not go for low fat meat in these recipes. The fat is a necessary component to creating the flavor. However, the fat is not necessary in keeping the flavor, so if you are health conscious, or want to avoid a tummy ache for you and your guests, make them in advance, refrigerate for at least three hours and them skim the fat that has congealed at the top before reheating and serving.

Finally, though they make great dinners, don't be afraid to throw them in small Pyrex containers and put them in the freezer so that they can be thawed for a great packable lunch for work for mom or dad.

Part 1: The Fall Day Beef Stew: serves 6 or 8 with mashed potatoes
3 lbs. all natural chuck beef cut into 1 inch cubes (or pre-cut "stew" meat)
1/2 package bacon, nitrate free, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups Cabernet Sauvignon or red zin
3 cups beef stock (I could say homemade, but come on)
2 vidalia onions
2 garlic cloves
1 cup flour plus 2 tablespoons
5-6 carrots, medium to large sized, chopped roughly and chunky
4 parsnips, peeled and chopped as above
1 turnip, chopped as above
10 fresh sprigs oregano, leaves only, chopped
5 sprigs sage, leaves only chopped
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons tomato paste
sea salt to taste

Step 1: 15 minutes work time: Wash, dry, and cut up beef pieces. Dice bacon. Chop all onions, crush garlic and set aside. Place the flour in a plate with high edges, or a flat bowl. Put a medium large to large stock pot that is oven safe onto the stove top and medium heat with olive oil until oil is translucent but before it starts to smoke. Add diced bacon. Cook until crispy. Remove the bacon, set aside, and pour out half of the fat in the pan, replacing it on the stove with high heat.
Add the butter to the pan and place on high heat. Take a handful of the beef and dredge it with flour in the bowl, placing it in the hot pan. Carefully watch the beef as it browns about a minute each side. Don't walk away here so you don't burn. Take the meat out and place it on a plate, keeping all the juices in the pan until all the meat is browned. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.
Step 2: 20-25 minutes work time:
Put the onions in the pan, adding more olive oil if necessary, with a pinch of salt and cook on medium low for about 10-12 minutes, allowing the onions to caramelize a bit. While the onions are cooking, chop the carrots, parsnips, turnip and set aside and herbs and set aside separately. When the onions are translucent and sweet, add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, then adding the veggies, two tablespoons flour and a pinch of salt stirring for 5 minutes allowing them to soften. Take all the veggies out of the pot but keeping the oil. Try not to over-salt here as the bacon grease will be naturally high in sodium.
With the pan still on high heat, add the 2 cups of red wine and deglaze the pan. Stir so you get all the juicy bits off the bottom of the pan and let it come to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes, letting the wine reduce and the alcohol to be burned off. Add the beef stock, vegetables, meat, bacon and herbs to the pot and bring to a boil.
Step 3: 2.5 - 3 hours cook time.
Turn off the heat, placing the bay leaf in the stew, cover and put in the preheated oven. Let cook for about 2 and a half to three hours, until the meat falls apart with a fork.
Serve over mashed potatoes or just as is. (You will see I did not put potatoes in the stew as they tend to get starchy and lose their flavor punch in the broth. If you are a potato fan, the mashed potatoes are a great side to this dish).

The Half Day Ticket - Ski Day Lamb Stew:
This is so easy - just follow the above recipe and make the following substitutions: Guinness for Red Wine, Rosemary for Oregano, remove the sage and add two more crushed garlic cloves for a total of 4. I like to make this one on a ski day because not everyone likes the smell of lamb, so you can be out of the house while its cooking! (legal proviso - of course you would never leave the house with the oven on...)

Part 2: The Braised Short Rib - Coming Soon!


  1. Krissy- the stews look amazing! Really hoping I get the chance to try making the beef stew! Thanks.

  2. Krissy!
    I feel like I just cheated on my mom (her recipe that is) and I am so glad I did!! Made your beef stew today and it was absolutely delicious!! The whole family devoured it (hope you got Kyle's message :-)
    I love extra veggies in mine, so added lima beans, corn, and peas, which was great. Served over mashed potatoes, devine!
    Thank you! (and the fam thanks you.) So glad 'cause we'll be eating this the next few days!
    Keep those awesome recipes comin'! (I won't tell my mom.)

  3. Krissy, We just finished our dinner of this amazing beef stew! It is by far the best I have ever made. My family was beginning to think I couldn't make a decent stew, so thank you for this redemption! Served with mashed potatoes, this is the ultimate comfort food. We all loved it!! Thanks for sharing. Now, on to the short ribs...

    :) Kerri