Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Best Beef Stew Tips
I made my best beef stew last weekend. I've made a lot of good ones, but this was just perfect. The meat was incredibly tender, I got deep flavor from the spices, and the braising liquid was thick and glossy (no weird thickening tricks required).
I don't exactly have a recipe for you. Since I've posted other stew recipes and wasn't planning anything novel for this one, I didn't think I'd use it on the blog. But it was so great I have to write about it. I didn't follow a recipe or keep strict track of ingredient quantities, so I'm going to set out a few guidelines and tips that I think made the difference.
First, this stew actually came about because I preserved (like this; maybe I used more salt than I should have...who knows.) some Meyer lemons a few weeks ago. I decided to do a stew with Moroccan flavors and serve the undoubtedly wondrous lemons as garnish. However, even after extensive rinsing, they were so salty and lacking in lemon flavor, that I considered them unfit to eat.
So much for that. It was no big deal. I had a fresh Meyer lemon in the fridge, so I sliced it into half moons and added it to a tray of spiced roast cauliflower with about 10 minutes of cooking time remaining (the cauliflower roasts at 425 F for 20 to 25 minutes total) . I LOVE Meyer lemons this way.
Now, here's what I did for the stew:
1) Brown the meat: dry it completely with paper towels and make sure it's at room temperature. Toss it in well-seasoned flour and add it to a pan that has been filmed with oil and preheated to just about high. I was determined not to crowd the pan (this impedes browning and the meat steams instead--in other words, you've wasted your time.), so I browned 1 1/2 pounds of meat in 3 batches using my Dutch oven and a large cast iron skillet. Also, sprinkle the meat with salt when you get it in the pan, even if you've salted the flour. This is your big chance to get some flavor in there.
2) Deglaze: Some of the meat stuck to my enamel-coated Dutch oven, and I had a lot of BLACK bits stuck to the pan. It needed to be washed out before I proceeded with the stew. My cast iron skillet, however, has a sort of nonstick quality. The 2 batches of meat I browned in the skillet left behind nice, tasty brown bits that could be added back to the stew. I deglazed the skillet with a little red wine, scraped them up and added this flavorful liquid to the stew when I added the broth. I also added a couple glugs of wine to the pot to deglaze the spiced onion/carrot/garlic/ginger mixture and let it reduce before adding the broth.
3) Season early, season often: Season each component of your dish. Any dish. Of course, you're staying mindful of added salt from the chicken broth or other salty ingredients. And always tasting as you go. When it comes to spices, I'm heavy handed. In the case of this stew, I may have jumbled up my Moroccan flavor profile a little, but it worked out great. I used freshly ground cumin and coriander, which I added to the vegetable saute at the beginning, AND again near the end of cooking to brighten up the flavor. I also used ground turmeric, ground ginger, ground cinnamon, mild chile powder, saffron threads and cayenne pepper.
4) Braise right: After you saute and deglaze the veggies, it's time to add your braising liquid. You want enough to just cover the meat. In this case, I needed 3 cups of broth (I'm really liking Kitchen Basics chicken stock. The flavor is good, it's low in sodium, and it's higher in protein due to the stock-like quality.). Once I added the meat to the simmering liquid, I went out of my way to keep it at a bare simmer. For my stove, that meant the burner was at the next-to-lowest setting and the Dutch oven was partially covered with its lid. A bare simmer means a few slow bubbles here and there. It took about 2 hours and 15 minutes of cooking to get the meat to the point where you could cut it with your soup spoon, but not going so far that the texture became grainy and overcooked. Near the end of cooking, I added 1 cup of unsalted diced tomatoes in their liquid. At this point, I did a final seasoning check and added the rest of my ground spices, plus the juice of half a lemon.
If you've made a few stews in your time, I'm hoping that made sense. If you have no idea what I was talking about, start by following one of these great stew recipes (and here are more helpful tips from thekitchn). The basic steps of cooking a stew are simple, but I'm hoping that my notes help enhance your already great technique.
Trying to stay a bit Moroccan, I garnished the stew with sliced green olives, fresh mint and fresh parsley. I served it with cous cous that I made as follows: In olive oil, saute finely chopped onion, garlic and ginger; season it. Stir in cous cous and stir it around constantly for 1 to 2 minutes. Add a handful of dried currants and season the cous cous (salt, pepper, cinnamon). Add your liquid (I used 2 parts broth and 1 part water), bring it to a boil, stirring often. Stir and cook over medium-low heat until absorbed, cover pot, turn OFF heat and steam 10 minutes.
Anyone still with me? If so, you must love stew as much as I do! Have any good recipes or tips to share? I'd love to hear them in the comments.