Authentic Home-Cooked Stew
Lehigh Valley Marketplace Magazine
By Jewels Quelly
The act of chopping minimum ingredients results in the great expectation of a substantial meal of hearty zest and aromas that permeate the kitchen for hours. Hearth and home are brought to life with the mere lift of a lid. Producing an ahhh-inducing stew really is as easy as it looks. There are just a few items to consider:
A pot to stew in…Perhaps you already have a treasured Dutch oven, a cast-iron stew pot ideal for capturing moisture and sealing in the flavor of your stew but if you’re in the market for a stew pot, consider a casserole. Le Creuset makes an stew pot (also called a casserole) of brightly colored enamel on cast-iron that can also go from stove top to oven. If you can locate a large earthenware pot, you’ll find the flavor of your stew will reach even higher levels of flavor. Many stew recipes can be easily simmered in a slow cooker, adding further ease to an already wonderful dish.
A cut above…The cut of beef that makes the perfect steak or eventually gets ground into a juicy burger is not the same cut that produces a terrific stew. Here’s where the “tough” part comes in. The meat should have plenty of fat and connective tissue, which will melt during the lengthy stewing process. Without fat and connective tissue, your stew will be tough and bland. Often beef is sold pre-cut in the market. Choose a package of well-marbled cubes that have been cut into a uniform size. Better yet, choose your own cut of beef and trim your own. Optional choices include any piece from the round cut except top round. Traditionally, the best choice for stew in terms of tenderness and flavor comes from the chuck. If the meat case looks a mystery to you, call on the butcher to guide you in the right direction. Count on 2 ½ to 3 (3-ounce) portions of cooked beef per pound of raw meat.
Begin by tossing your beef cubes in flour seasoned with salt, pepper and a few herbs such as oregano or marjoram before sautéing. The flour help seal in flavor and moisture and will also thicken the sauce. This dish does not require fast and furious heat. Medium heat and a small amount of oil will do the job of perfectly searing your beef cubes as long as you don’t crowd them in the pan. Brown the meat in batches and don’t forget to include whatever juice trickles out in your stew. Use just enough liquid to cover your ingredients. Get creative and use broth, wine, beer or vegetable juice in place of water. The stew should be brought to a boil and then quickly lowered to maintain a slow simmer. Keep the pot covered to retain the ever-important tenderizing steam. Simmer gently. Stew can become overcooked and the result is dry, stringy meat. Simmer only until tender. If you don’t want to tend to your stew on the stovetop, an oven preheated to 325 will do the trick.
Homestyle Sicilian Beef Stew (Spezzatino)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 pounds boneless stew beef, trimmed of any large pieces of fat and cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt to taste
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
½ cup dry red wine
1 ½ pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 large garlic cloves, sliced
2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil leaves
1 bay leaf
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a casserole, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook the onion until translucent, stirring, about 6 minutes. Add the beef, season with salt, and brown on all sides, about 6 minutes. Dilute the tomato paste in the wine and stir into the casserole. Cook until the wine is nearly evaporated, about 5 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, water to cover (about ½ cup), the garlic, basil, and bay leaf and season with pepper. Cover, reduce the heat to very low, and simmer until the meat is very tender, about 3 hours. Discard the bay leaf and serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings.
Source: Real Stew by Clifford A. Wright (Harvard Common Press).