Sunday, September 16, 2007

Provencal Lamb Stew with White Wine

Mmmm, stew. I love a meal like this on a Sunday night, or any night when you have a little time to let a pot of something sit on the stove at a bare simmer.

That's the key to great stew meat--besides browning it well--never let the stew come to a boil. It's too traumatic. The meat will cook immediately and miss the chance to become moist and tender. Just remember the expression, "stew on this." As you would ruminate thoughtfully over an important issue, so you have give this stew the time to arrive, slowly, at its delicious conclusion.

Happily, in this recipe, that slow stewing process only amounts to about an hour of cooking time. And the important stuff--like building the rich, stew-y flavor--happens in a flash before the simmering gets underway. You will brown the meat in two batches, so as not to crowd the pot, saving all the juices as you go. You'll saute aromatics like onion, garlic and dried herbs. You'll add flour before the liquid to cook away it's raw taste and set your stew up for an amazing thick texture. And finally, you'll add a nice glug of wine for complex flavor.

In much of the US (though not here), it's getting cooler. This is the perfect early fall stew--hearty and warming without being a total capitulation to Fall's chilly hands. Bright white wine, lots of aromatics and fava beans (you can find the frozen ones year round!) keep it light. But for Mike and me, eating it in 90-degree Florida heat is not a problem. Stew it up tonight!

Provencal Lamb Stew with White Wine
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Savoring Provence
As you can see, the wine is an important component in this recipe. I used a medium-bodied off-dry blend, and I think it was successful. Avoid 100% chardonnay, and look for blends that have some chardonnay, reisling, sauvignon blanc, or semillon. 100% Sauvignon Blanc should work, but a blend will not be as dry. Don't skip the shallots even though the recipe calls for onions too--although they practically disappear, they add their sharply aromatic taste and work as a thickener.

Serves 4

1 tbs. butter, divided
1 tbs. olive oil, divided
2 1/2 lb. pound piece boneless leg of lamb, trimmed of excess fat, cut into bite-size chunks, and patted dry with paper towel
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
salt and pepper
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. dried rosemary
2 tbs. flour
1 cup off-dry white wine
3 cups chicken broth (I used Whole Foods regular organic or Swanson's low-sodium)
Pinch of sugar
1 1/2 cups chopped carrots (1/2-inch chunks)
3 parsnips, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch chunks
1 or 2 whole shallots, peeled, divided into segments and cut into halves or quarters
1 1/4 cup frozen, shelled fava beans (or use fresh favas, fresh peas, or frozen peas)
fresh thyme leaves, for garnish
fresh chopped parsley, for garnish
Crusty bread, for serving

In a large soup pot with a lid (I used nonstick) or Dutch oven, heat half the butter and half the olive oil to medium-high. Add half the lamb to the pot and sear the chunks of meat, seasoning with salt and pepper, until browned on all sides. Remove the meat and all the juices in the pot to a bowl. Add the remaining butter and oil, and sear the remaining lamb in the same manner. Add the seared lamb to the bowl, but leave some of the juices in the pot. Add the onion to the pot and cook, stirring often, until soft and lightly browned. Season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Return the meat and all the juices to the pot. Add the dried thyme, rosemary and flour. Stir to combine and continue cooking until the flour has coated the meat and browned a bit, about 2 minutes. There should not be any white visible. Add the wine and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring often, to reduce slightly, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Do not let the stew boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and maintain a gentle simmer for 40 minutes.

Add the sugar, carrots, parsnips and shallots. Cover and continue to simmer for 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Add the fava beans and simmer until heated through, about 4 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper as needed. Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with fresh herbs and serve with crusty bread.

Wine Note: You could drink the white wine you used in the stew, but we also like it best with an earthy, medium-bodied red such Cotes du Rhone or a red from Portugal (we really like Prazo de Roriz).

Bonus! Here's another lamb stew I just remembered writing about a while back: Curried Lamb and Lentil Stew.

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