Woo-hoo Beef Stew!

my boyfriend Udi nuzzling our new kitten

* I assure you no kittens were harmed in the making of this stew.

We got a kitten!  For those who know me, I really don’t like cats – but I love kittens in the same way that I love puppies.  They are so cute and small and full of life and love. They are playful and sleepy at the same time, they have tiny noses and tiny paws. What is there not to love? So they grow up and become tired of us humans and they roam the house like they built it with their own four paws.  I will deal with that reality when I come to it. For now… for the moment….for the time being, we have a kitten! We are still deciding on a name,  I will let you know when she has one for certain. This has little to do with the making of a delicious beef stew but it took place on the same day and so in my personal narrative the whole thing makes sense. Onto the beef…

The Beef!!

It rained most of last week so on the first sunny afternoon in awhile I left work, coffee in hand and walked with a friend to my favorite butcher, Basar Neto or ‘Just Meat’ in English.  They are situated almost at the northern edge of the city and a good hearty walk from my house, so when I go there I expect to yield wonderful results.   This visit proved no different. I ordered a couple kilos of stewing meat and watched as he carefully cut pieces of shoulder and top round, trimming and sculpting to perfection.  He broke down some more cuts but I didn’t ask what they were – I just watched, payed and placed an order for some aged flank steaks that I was told they would have ready for me next week. What a dream.

candy colored speck

The excitement of buying the meat was matched by a friend having brought us a hunk of candycolored speck while on a layover in Vienna.  My people know what they are responsible to get when they travel abroad: cured meat, cheese, chocolate – these are priorities one, two & three (in that exact order).  It was a sign from the meaty-gods that it was time to make my rendition of a Beef Bourguignon.

sizzling speck
meat browning

Classic dishes like Beef Bourguignon are pretty specific in their execution, and those eating a dish like it will come to the table with a certain level of expectation.  It’s an expectation of how it should look, how it should taste, even how it should feel to eat it.  Perhaps they have already experienced  the beefy//wine that dribbles into the pile of mashed potatoes, or the soft chunks of meat that break apart easily and impart a kind of medieval relationship between you and your food. This is the type of classic cooking I find so interesting to do these days – to take something that exists perfectly as is and try to get there myself.  The expectation is set – I know what I intend to achieve, it’s ingrained in the dish, I just have to find a way to get there.

carrots and onions
fire! purposeful, don't worry...
mushrooms sautéing
nom nom nom
what a dish

As with most things I cook I don’t really measure things per se. The recipe has some truly rough estimates. If you are a stickler for exactness in cooking you could consult the Julia Child’s recipe. There is an incredible 28 minute long video of her cooking this on youtube.

The Beef Bourguignon (as interpreted by me)
* serves 5 people generously as long as you are making mashed potatoes to tuck underneath, not that you have to, but it is HIGHLY recommended by me and most people on the planet.

1 1/2″ wide chunk of speck or bacon diced
1 kilo of meat, some mixture of stewing meat. ask your butcher. cut into 2″ chunks
4 carrots sliced
2 onions sliced
4 cloves garlic smashed
1/2 cup brandy
2/3 bottle of red wine (or when you get to this step, enough to just cover the meat)
2-3 cups stock; beef stock preferred (again, when you get to this step you want the stock and wine in combination to just cover everything) sidenote:  I didn’t have beef stock and while I really wanted to make some I got lazy and used some chicken stock I had in the freezer and added a little beef bouillon flavor – i’m a cheat but it was yummy!
2 tablespoons ketchup
handful of thyme
some sage leaves
1 bay leaf
salt & pepper to taste

to thicken:
chunk of butter (about 4 tablespoons)
equal amount of flour

cook separately and add only after the stew is stewed:
3 handfuls of mushrooms chopped in half
2 tablespoon butter
thyme
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper

Heat oven to 120F.  In a heavy, oven safe pot or dutch oven heat a splash of olive oil over medium and cook the speck until browned, stirring to keep from burning. Remove and set aside.

Dry your meat with paper towels, it will brown nicely this way.  Sprinkle meat generously with salt and pepper.  Add your meat to the same pot and sear it on all sides for a few minutes (4 or 5 total).  Remove the meat and plop on top of your speck which is waiting patiently. I like to set meat aside in a shallow bowl, a lot of liquid comes out and I always want that liquid to go back in when I’m ready.

Toss your carrots and onions into the same pot and let them hang out until they are good and soft (8 minutes or so). They are picking up all the good bits of meaty flavor  from the bottom of the pot. Add your garlic and give the pot another stir or two.  If you are feeling brave its time to flambe.

Add the brandy to the pot and light with a match. *please only do this if you are comfortable with such a thing.  If not you can always add the brandy and just wait for the alcohol to cook off a bit.  Stir for a few more minutes, then add back in your meat and speck and all the juices that collected in their bowl.

Add enough red wine and stock (according to the rough ratios above) to ALMOST cover the meat.  Add in ketchup, thyme, sage, and a bay leaf. Cover and place in the oven for 1 1/2-2 hours. You are looking for that point in which the meat is soft and falls apart when you fork it and the vegetables are tender too.  Remove from the oven and set on the stovetop.

Combine the butter and flour into a past and add to the stew, stirring to combine.

In another pan heat olive oil and butter until foam subsides, add in mushrooms and saute until nicely browned. Add thyme, salt and pepper taste.

Finally, add the mushrooms to the stew and bring the whole thing to a boil, drop the heat and simmer for about 15 so that sauce has a few minutes to thicken and reduce.

Serve with creamy chunky garlic mash potatoes and a glass of red wine.  The key to eating this dish is to imagine yourself in a small, dimly lit restaurant tucked into a charming alleyway somewhere in Paris.  You should probably turn down the lights in your kitchen and light a few candles.

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