Thursday, October 10, 2013

Mad Cow Stew

We lived in England for about 3 1/2 years from 1999 until 2001.  For the first four weeks, we lived in a lower-ground floor apartment (the English make everything fancy--it was a basement) near Kensington Gardens.  The owners were antique dealers, so their home was a delight and a bit of a worry, since Brendan and Damon were still little.  The great thing was that they had everything we could want--including an amazingly stocked kitchen and tons of cookbooks.  One of my favorites was this one (I later bought my own copy in a charity shop/thrift store).

It is a great cookbook--very British.  By far the best recipe to emerge from this cookbook is my stewy version of their "Beef Casserole," which I of course dubbed "Mad Cow Stew."  If you prefer more of a stewpy consistency, just add more broth, or use fewer root veggies, which soak up the broth like crazy.

Mad Cow Stew

2 1/2 pounds beef, cut into 1" by 1" chunks (I just use whatever's cheapest--stewing it means it'll be tender no matter what--and a fattier cut of meat ends up being tastier than a lean one)
1/4 cup flour
4-5 large pats butter
4-ish Tablespoons of olive oil
3 carrots, washed and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
3 parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
3 large potatoes, washed and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
Optional veggies: celery root, a cup or so of green beans, a turnip, etc.
3 stalks celery--washed, trimmed and chopped
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 cup grape juice + a splash of vinegar
3-4 cups of beef broth, or that amount of water with the requisite amount of bouillon or beef base
Juice of one orange
Orange peel--two 1" by 2" strips
Bay leaf
4-5 drops Tabasco sauce

Cut up the onion.  Melt a large-ish pat of butter with about a Tablespoon of olive oil in a large stock pot over medium (or slightly less than medium) heat.  Stir the onions occasionally while you start cutting the other veggies.  I try to get away with not peeling as much as possible, so I don't peel the carrots and potatoes--only scrub and rinse them.  You have to peel the parsnips, turnips or celery root.  Cut up the potatoes or celery root (if using) into about 1-inch or smaller chunks.  Cut the parsnips and carrots (or turnips) into 1/2 inch chunks.  Mainly, I like to have perfectly balanced bites with some beef and a small assortment of veggies in one spoonful, so you don't want your veggies to be too big.  When the onions are starting to get a little translucent, add the garlic.  Cook for a few more minutes, stirring often, then add the other veggies.  Cook until the veggies start to get a little brown and caramelized around the edges (they will not be cooked through).  Dump all the veggies out into a big bowl.

Put another pat of butter and teaspoon or so of olive oil in the pan.  While the butter melts, dredge your meat in the flour/salt/pepper mixture until all the pieces are evenly coated.  Put them in the pan and brown, about half in at a time.  Make sure to cook both sides.  Put the browned meat on top of your veggies.  You will probably want to add more butter and oil before browning the second batch of meat.  As soon as all the meat is browned and on top of the veggies, immediately pour the grape juice and vinegar and the orange juice in to deglaze the pan.  You can, of course, use wine for the grape juice.  We don't drink, so we don't really have wine on hand, but if you do, it'll taste fantastic in this :).   Whisk all the lovely browned bits off the sides and bottom of the pan and into your broth.  When the deglazing liquid is bubbling, stir in the beef broth, the orange peel, the bay leaf and 4-5 drops Tabasco sauce.

After that has come to a slight boil, put all your veggies and meat in the pot.  The broth should just about cover the top of the veggie/meat mixture.  If it doesn't, top it up with more beef stock.

Turn up the heat to a little past medium.  When it starts to bubble around the edges of the pan, turn it down to low--as low as you can go.  Cover, and let it do its business for at least 2 hours, but probably no more than 4, tops.  My foolproof method is to take a piece of meat out at around 2 hours.  If it is melt-in-your-mouth tender and you feel the sudden urge to grab a bowl and start eating, it is ready.  If not, cook the stew a little more. You can add more salt and pepper at this stage if desired.

If you want to cook it in a crock pot, you can just put all your veggies and meat in the crock pot after you've browned them.  After the broth/deglazing liquid starts to bubble, pour that over the meat/veggies.  Then cook on low for 7 or so hours, or on high for about 4 hours (Note: use less broth if you go the crock pot route, unless you don't mind stewp).

As this cooks, your whole house will be infused with a stewy aroma that makes grown men weep.  We serve it with biscuits and salad, but it's great with crusty bread, too.  This is definitely peasant vs. five-star fare, but it is great.  If you manage any leftovers, like most stews and soups, it's even better the next day.  Enjoy!