Friday, December 17, 2010

Beef Stew with Cabernet

A cold, snowy day calls for some comfort food. As I was doing my shopping earlier today, I ran into one of my parishioners who was in search of beef stew meat. Call it a light bulb, a "Eureka!", or my stomach's articulating what it wanted, but beef stew sounded just perfect, and the store had stew meat! I quickly grabbed carrots, onion, celery, beef broth, and some wine so that I, too, could enjoy this cold-weather favorite. Jackie was going to use her slow-cooker, but I knew I wanted to first brown the beef and then cook it in my dutch oven, mainly because I lack patience for these sorts of things.

So here it is: Beef Stew with Cabernet. It's pretty free-form, with a few basics. the longer you cook it, the thicker it will get. If you're impatient like I am, cornstarch comes in really handy. I dried the cubes of beef with a paper towel and then rolled them in a mixture of flour-black pepper-garlic powder-kosher salt, shaking off the excess. I browned the meat before adding the remaining ingredients, but you don't have to, although it adds flavor.

Beef Stew with Cabernet
- 1.5 pounds of beef stew meat
- 3 ribs of celery, diced
- 1 onion the size of your fist, roughly chopped
-1/2 bag of baby Yukon Gold potatoes, or whatever small potatoes you'd like, cut into quarters (about 2 cups' worth)
- about half a small bag of baby carrots, each carrot cut into thirds
- 1-32 oz carton low sodium beef broth
- roughly 4 tbsp olive oil (enough to coat the dutch oven to brown the meat and then saute celery, onion, and carrot-- aka mirepoix)
- about 1/2 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, depending upon your taste and how much liquid you'll need
- flour for dredging (about 1/2 cup or so), plus whatever you want to use to season it
- salt and pepper to taste (and please use kosher salt as it is harder to oversalt as the grains are larger)
- 2 bay leaves
- cornstarch if you know you're short on time or impatient (about 3 heaping tsp)

Wash your veggies. Chop the onion and carrots, and dice the celery, placing them into a small bowl. Get them as close to the same size as possible. Quarter your potatoes.

Combine the flour and seasonings on a plate so that you can dredge the beef. Dry the beef cubes with a paper towel, then dredge them in the flour mixture. Place the dredged cubes on a plate or wire rack as you add olive oil to your dutch oven. Make sure to really get the excess flour mixture off as too much can lead to burning in the pan!

Add about 2 tbsp of olive oil to your dutch oven to begin over a medium-low (if you're using cast iron) or medium burner. Once it is hot, add several cubes of beef at a time to the dutch oven to brown, turning them with tongs after about 2 minutes. **Do not crowd the beef into the pan!!!** This will make the beef steam instead of brown, and that is not what you want. Patience will ensure some good-looking beef cubes. Make sure to keep an eye on the beef so that there is no burning, wiping the dutch oven with a paper towel to remove the excess flour if needed. When the cubes are browned, place them onto a plate.

Add the onion, carrots, and celery to the pan, adding a bit of olive oil beforehand to make sure they have enough to saute. Once they are colorful and the onions translucent, add about a cup of the wine and deglaze the pan, using your tongs to scrape up all of the good bits.

Add the beef and potatoes to the dutch oven along with the beef broth, salt, and pepper. The liquid should cover the beef and veggies, but if it doesn't, add some water. Add about another cup of the wine, then cover the dutch oven and bring to a boil for about 10 minutes.

Stir the mixture, then reduce the heat to low. Cover and let the stew simmer for about 30 minutes. Check to see how it is thickening and check the seasonings. Adjust accordingly, then set your timer for another 30 minutes. Follow this procedure until the meat is fork-tender, the stew is seasoned as you want it, and it is as thick as you'd like.

I find the meat is as tender as I like it after about 2 hours of cooking, but I thicken the stew with cornstarch. The way to do this is to add a teaspoon (or a heaping teaspoon in my case) to some cold liquid, mix well, then gradually add it to your hot stew. Bring it to a boil, then let it cook for a bit. I did two heaping teaspoons of cornstarch in water (making a slurry) after about an hour and a half of cooking, then let it cook for a half hour longer. At that point, I mixed another heaping teaspoon of cornstarch with a cup of wine, adding it as I had the previous cornstarch slurry. Let it cook for about 10 more minutes, and then you should be good to go!

Adjust the seasonings per your preference. Enjoy!