Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Best Beef Stew, ala Cook's magazine, part deux!

Ok, ok, so the first one was really about how I got a new camera. And how it takes good pictures. You got me.

But this one will be about beef stew AND pictures. It'll be great.
So, the article in Cook's Illustrated begins with the premise that after simmering for hours, beef stew smells amazing- complex and rich and beefy- but doesn't really live up to it on the spoon. I could recall times when I felt the very same, but until I read the article, I hadn't paid much attention. So I can't say that in my heart of hearts was the longing for beefier beef stew...but I had run out of interesting meal ideas, and beef stew is always a nice winter option.

Apparently, after trying many many recipes, the article's author experienced beef stew nirvana with Thomas Keller's recipe, which as she put it "took four days, a dozen dirty pots and pans, and nearly fifty ingredients to make. Sure, it was fit for royalty..." (page 8 of the #102 issue of Cook's Illustrated.)

So what we end up with is a brilliant breakdown of why certain ingredients work well, and the best ways to adapt such a gorgeous professional recipe into something that can be done in four hours as opposed to four days.

My personal favorite was the addition of anchovies to the stew. Why? Well, Glutamate ( G in MSG) occurs naturally in certain foods. These foods serve to boost the beefiness of your beefy flavors, thereby deepening your stew's flavors. One of these is anchovies, but they have even more going for them than glutamate- they have the compound inosinate, which apparently is to glutamate what gas is to an open flame.

The other wacky ingredient is gelatin. Unflavored gelatin. Why? Well, Keller (the amazing) starts his stew out with homemade veal stock, which is rich in collagen that breaks down as the stew cooks, "giving the final stew a luxurious, mouth-coating texture." Something that flour or corn starch just ain't gonna give you. So the author rightly surmised that by adding unflavored gelatin, you could get the right texture without the labor intensive veal stock. ( I have a feeling that the biggest part of the four days is the making of the stock.)

Depending on the pot you have, the beef will take a bunch of batches. I did four batches? Five? I dunno, but my stove got DIIIIIRRRTY.
Begin with 4-5 pounds of chuck steak. It's cheap, it's beefy. What more could you want?
Cut this up into 1.5 inch cubes. I eyeball it, and sometimes I make rhombuses. I am not, nor have I ever been this guy.


2 teaspoons minced garlic
4 anchovy fillets, finely minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 boneless chuck-eye roast, trimmed of fat and cubed. squared? no, cubed. ( about 4 lbs)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, sliced.
4 medium carrots, sliced as well.
1/4 cup flour
2 cups red wine
2 cups chicken broth
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 ounces salt pork, rinsed.
1 lb Yukon Gold potatoes cut into 1 inch pieces (I used Russet, and they were fine)
1.5 cups frozen pearl onions
2 teaspoons (1 packet) unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup water
1 cup frozen peas.

These are the ingredients in the paste that is going to punch up your beef stew so it will no longer be a girly-man stew. And if you are somehow self-identifying as a girly-man and reading this, that's fine, but you don't want your stew to be wimpy, do you? Do you?

After chopping and mincing and mashing, I realized I probably could have used my food processor ( my little one) for this, but it was kind of fun to mince garlic mired in fish mash. And then pound it all into tomato paste.

My fingers smelled funny, though.
But my apartment smelled AMAZINGLY delicious, and all I did was make that paste!

Like I said before, it took a couple of batches, but eventually all my beef went from this,

to this:

From here it gets a bit more complex. After the beef is browned, the sliced onions and carrots hit the pot, and once the onions are softened, you're supposed to throw the rest of the beef in with it, but my Dutch oven wasn't that big.

Then, you're supposed to stir the flavorful paste in, and then the flour, and stir like mad. If you have a small pot like me, this will be alot of work.

And THEN you add the wine, and scrape at the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. I've always done the de-glazing right after the meat, but whatever.

After the wine has settled down, you add the bay leaves, thyme, broth and salt pork.

This is the stuff that Ma and Pa in the Little House on the Prairie Series always cooked stuff up in. Seriously, like thick slabs of pig fat.

I sliced it like thick bacon, trimmed off most of the fat, and then sliced that into bits.

After you add the ssalt pork, you stir it all in, and put your pot into the oven, at 300 degrees for and hour and a half.

After that, you add the potatoes ( my pot wasn't big enough to hold the whole pound, so I just added what would fit.)

Another 45 minutes, and you take it out, remove the thyme and bay. The directions told me to remove the salt pork, but I didn't. I left those porky bits in there, and enjoyed the textures present.

THEN, you soften the gelatin in a half a cup of water, and when that's ready, keep the stew simmering on the stove top and add the gelatin. Simmer for another three minutes while stirring, and what you end up with is this:It's thick and smooth, and sooo beefy. Almost too beefy, to be honest. In my opinion, the texture is the very best thing I got from this whole experiment. That, and the time in the oven. The oven cooking was wonderful, because of the well distributed heat.

We ate this with a slice of crusty white bread each. Ok, like four slices of bread. It was utterly delicious on the first night, and I think I haven't quite got the hang of reheating. The microwave just wasn't the way to do it. The sweet meaty complexity became garish upon reheating, and I just don't want to eat it anymore. But Kevin is satisfied, so hey.

Maybe scale it down, or maybe reheat it in the oven. Either way, the thing I'm going to definitely do from here on out is use fresh thyme, add mushrooms, bake it in the oven, and add gelatin.

And you know what? That makes this experiment a success.

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