I hope everyone has made special memories these last few weeks and enjoyed time with loved ones. The month of December is always a bit of a whirlwind, so sharing with you below a piece I wrote for Delaware Park Stroll Magazine in hopes in might inspire some slow time in your kitchen.
HOLIDAY STEWING for Buffalo Park Stroll Magazine
There is a small gift you can give yourself while also gifting to others this holiday season. Planning, shopping, prepping, and serving a warm meal can help pull you through what can sometimes be a wild blizzard of ‘the best timeof year’ expectations.
I like to time travel to France while never leaving my Buffalo kitchen and spend a day or so preparing a coq au vin or beef bourguignon. Holiday stewing is a beautiful way to escape, and at the end of it all, it provides you and yours with a slow and savory way to celebrate an evening.
Several of the ingredients are pantry staples: onions, carrots, and tomato paste, and if you have a green thumb, your garden thyme might still be around to pull from. For beef bourguignon, you can purchase pre-cut chunks of meat or do what I think provides a better result: buy one or several beef chuck steaks, hand-trim the meat, and cut your 2-inch or better pieces. When cutting the bacon into the suggested 1⁄4 inch strips, I find a sharp pair of kitchen shears does the job nicely.
As you will be simmering the meat in a liquid of wine and stock, each must be good enough to stand on its own, meaning that you should cook with wine you would be happy to drink. It’s fun to buy a few bottles more than the recipe suggests and pour a little for the cook after the all-important mise en place has been laid down. Also, most recipes call for wine and stock, and after years of buying and using pre-made stock, I’m more of a purist now; homemade stock is another fun simmering/stewing activity and can be made ahead and kept at the ready in the freezer. I’ve been known to double up on the wine if there is no homemade stock on hand.
The beauty of cooking is that it can be an art form and needn’t be exact. Give or take the pearl onions in the ingredient list, and feel free to double up on the carrots and the beef quantities to satisfy heartier appetites.
A lovingly made beef bourguignon is excellent to make ahead and then gently reheat. Serve it alongside some mashed potatoes or buttered noodles, and with a green salad and a little sweet afterward, you have a delightful supper that will please all ages of family and friends. If instead you find yourself enjoying your own company, the stew will last for several days and can be enjoyed day or night, whatever your pleasure. The best time of year can be any time at all.
You can find many good beef bourguignon recipes online, and some of my favorites are Julie Child’s from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Melissa Clark’s of The New York Times, and Ina Garten’s of The Barefoot Contessa. My youngest daughter can make a great beef bourguignon, and I love that she gets in there and gives it a go.
This winter is a perfect time to settle in and stew. Here is my current adaptation of classic versions
I’ve tried over the years. My very best wishes to you in finding and making yours. I promise you it’ll be a delicious and gratifying journey.
Adapted from Melissa Clark and New York Times Cooking.
Prep time: pretty much all day long Servings: about 6, give or take
• Approximately 3 pounds of beef chuck, cut from two boneless beef chuck roasts (each about 2 to 2 1/2 pounds) into 2-inch cubes. You can buy pre-cut stewing beef, yet the boneless beef chuck roasts produce a superior stew.
• Kosher salt to taste
• Freshly ground pepper to taste • 1⁄2 pound bacon cut into 1⁄4 inch crosswise strips
• 1 – 2 onions, sliced
• 4 large carrots cut into 3⁄4-inch slices • 2 – 4 garlic cloves to taste, minced
• 1 tablespoon tomato paste (I find the imported tubes have a more concentrated flavor and are easier to use than the small cans.)
• 2 tablespoons flour
• 1 750-milliliter bottle of red wine. Buy a wine that you would drink, and always taste it before adding it to the pot.
• Extra red wine or beef stock as needed • 1 large bay leaf
• 1 large sprig of thyme
• 8 ounces pearl onions peeled if fresh,or frozen and defrosted. Peeling fresh pearl onions is an additional step. Skip the fresh pearl onions if you are time- pressed and head straight to the frozen vegetable section of your grocer.
• One or more tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
• Pinch sugar
• Chopped fresh leaf parsley, for garnish, and bread toasts if desired.
Step 1: Set out beef cubes to come to room temperature and dry with a paper towel—season beef with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
Step 2: In a large Dutch oven, such as Le Creuset or Staub, or a heavy- bottomed pot with a tightfitting
lid, cook bacon over medium-low heat until browned and crisp, about 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a paper towel- lined plate—reserve fat in the pot.
Step 3: Heat oven to 300 degrees. Raise the heat under the pot to medium-high and cook beef cubes
in a single layer in the pot, leaving space between the pieces. You do not want to crowd the beef; it will steam and not brown nicely, so go slow and brown the cubes. Cook until well browned on all sides, and transfer pieces to a plate. Add small amounts of olive oil as needed. Repeat with remaining beef. You may need to do this in 3 to 4 batches.
Step 4: Reduce pot heat, if necessary, to prevent burning. Stir in onion, carrot, and a pinch of salt and cook until soft, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Step 5: Stir in garlic and tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Stir in flour, cook for 1 minute, then add wine, bay leaf, and thyme, scraping up brown bits at the bottom of the pot. Add browned beef with accumulated juices and bacon back to the pot, add wine or beef stock as needed, cover the b almost, and transfer them to oven. Let cook until beef is very tender, about 1 1⁄2 to 2 hours, turning meat halfway through. Watch the liquid, you may need to add just a bit more.
Step 6: Meanwhile, in a large skillet set over high heat, combine pearl onions, mushrooms, 1⁄4 cup water, one tablespoon of olive oil, and a pinch each of salt, pepper, and sugar. Bring to a simmer, then cover and reduce heat to medium, cooking for 15 minutes. Uncover, raise heat to high, and cook, tossing frequently, until vegetables are well browned, 5 to 7 minutes.
Step 7: Scatter onions and mushrooms over stew to serve, then top with parsley.
This pairs nicely with buttered egg noodles or mashed potatoes, and a simple green salad. You can make
the dish a day or two ahead through step 5, refrigerate, and skim the accumulated fat off before reheating. As you make this time and again, your technique will evolve. No two beef chuck roasts are the same, no two onions and carrots are ever the same. It’s fun to buy the best ingredients you can source and learn to use your senses and intuition to cook for those you love. Enjoy.