Stew, casserole, braise - you name it, I love it. When it's cold out, miserable and wet, there's nothing that pleases me more than some meat and vegies simmering away on the stove or in the oven. My all-time favourite is osso bucco, followed closely by a boeuf bourguignon. I'm also partial to some lovely coq au vin, and while I've never tried a cassoulet, I know we'd hit it off instantly.
But no matter what fancy name you give it, most stews follow a set of simple principles and can be as easy or as frou-frou as you want to make it. Having given it some thought, I reckon you could write the recipe as follows.
Some herby tidbits
Some more vegetables
Brown meat. Saute vegetables in meaty pan juices. Add grog, then stock. Throw in some herby tidbits. Cook for about two hours over low heat, adding some more vegetables towards the end. Knit by the fire whilst listening to the rain falling outside, enjoying aromas coming from kitchen. Eat.
That's really all there is to it.
For my everyday, easy, budget-friendly, foolproof Stew for Dummies, I use:
1kg good quality chuck steak, or oyster blade, cut into large cubes, about 3cm
1 brown onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 stick celery, diced
1 tablespoon plain flour
1/2 bottle cheap red wine
A few stalks of thyme and rosemary and a couple of bay leaves, tied with kitchen string
500ml, or thereabouts, beef stock (chicken or veg stock would suffice)
Lots of button mushrooms, halved
In a large casserole dish or saucepan with a lid (I always use Old Blue, my trusty cast-iron pot) brown the meat very well in some olive oil. Do it in three or four batches, removing it to a bowl once it's done. Season well with salt and pepper.
Add a little more oil if necessary and saute the onion, garlic, carrot and celery. Return the beef to the pot and add the flour, stirring to cook. Pour in wine and allow it to bubble up so the alcohol cooks off. Pour in enough stock to cover the lot. Tie the bundle of herbiness to the saucepan handle, ensuring the herbs are submerged in the liquid.
Bring to the boil, then reduce to simmer over low heat, with the lid on, for about two hours or until the meat is tender and falling apart. Alternatively, put it into a low oven, say, 160 degrees. Check occasionally to make sure it isn't drying out, and top up with extra stock or water if required. You can also pop a cartouche - a circle of baking paper - on top of the liquid to help keep the wonderfulness in. Add the mushrooms for the last 20 minutes of cooking time.
Discard the herby bundle and serve your stew with mashed potatoes and something green, on a cold rainy evening, preferably in July.
Those are the basics. The variations are endless.
- Add bacon or pancetta with the onion and put a slice of orange peel in with the herbs to make it a bit bourguignon-y.
- Use lamb shanks instead of beef and throw in a cup of half-cooked puy lentils.
- Add barley, beans or potatoes for extra heartiness.
- Use stout instead of wine.
- Throw in a tin of diced tomatoes to freshen things up.
- Pump up the vegetable volume by adding fennel, zucchini, sweet potato, pumpkin, silverbeet, green beans or whatever you have lying around.
- Get zingy and serve it with some gremolata - chopped parsley, garlic and lemon zest - sprinkled on top.
- Add more stock or water and call it soup.
The extras are up to you - just make sure you cook enough so you can have leftovers for lunch the next day. Chances are it'll still be raining, and everyone knows stew tastes better after a quiet night's rest in the fridge.
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