Yes, it's that time of year! After a few months of lighter meals, I am ready to put something on the stove and leave it all afternoon, filling the house with that cozy, nurturing smell of a hearty meal. This is all part of my method for making peace with seasons, and I do welcome the colder months for the sake of such rich meals, as much as for the opportunity to slow down. One of my favorite elements of cold-weather eating is root vegetables-- so sweet, earthy and satisfying, especially when they are given ample time to soften in meaty juices. So far, our family can't seem to get enough of a root-y beef stew, and I thought I'd share the way I've been making it lately with you.
1 kilo or 2 lbs. shin of beef or other good stew meat
Bacon grease, beef tallow, or butter
3 onions, sliced
3 carrots, peeled and cut into chunky slices
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into chunky slices
3 cups or 750mL beef stock, red wine, or dry cider
Start by heating up some fat to brown your meat in. I like to use bacon grease or beef tallow.
Put your meat in, fattiest side down (to render some extra fat) and don't crowd it too much. You'll want to keep things nice and hot, so that the meat browns rather than steams. Turn and brown at least the other side of the meat, and all sides if you have the time.
While you're waiting is the perfect time to start chopping vegetables, so it doesn't end up being too time-consuming.
Giving your meat time and space is key when you're browning it-- if you try to turn it or move it too fast, it will stick to the pan. Usually, it lifts easily when it's nicely seared. And you really do want all that brown stuff in the bottom of the pan!
By the time you're ready to pull all of your meat out and set it aside, you should have a nice pile of onions cut into wedges (hopefully some carrots and parsnips, too, but you still have time to do that while the onions cook, anyway.)
Cook those onions, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan-- for about five minutes.
Add the carrots and parsnips, and cook the same way for a few more minutes.
Add your spices: garlic, bay leaves, juniper berries, fenugreek and some pepper and salt.
Tip: Don't wait until the end of your cooking to season with salt and pepper-- do that throughout your cooking, and it will build depth of flavor.
Give the seeds and garlic a minute to get aromatic, and then add the beef stock (or wine.) Give it a good, firm stirring, to get any remaining sticky stuff off the bottom of the pan, and then add the browned beef back in. Add more liquid if you need to, so that the meat is mostly covered.
Add more salt and pepper.
Put the lid on and and turn the heat down to low. Let this simmer for at least an hour. I try to let it go for three, since the longer cooking breaks down all of the sinew and cartilage in the meat into a really velvety sauce and incredibly tender meat. (If you have less time, cut the meat into smaller pieces, and that should help speed things along.)
About halfway through the cooking time, I add vinegar-- for red meat, I usually use red wine vinegar, but apple cider vinegar is good, too. (If you used red wine for your liquid, you won't need as much.) The vinegar not only gives it a nice acidic flavor balance, but it helps to break down the collagen in the meat.
When everything is looking and smelling like it's about ready, you have the option of adding some quick-cooking vegetables, to add a little extra brightness and texture (and stretch the stew!)
At this point, I added some green beans, and let those simmer for five minutes. (Greens cook very quickly, so I save those for the last couple minutes. The flimsier greens, I add after I turn the heat off, and just let them steam.)
Regardless of whether you add more veg, put in your thyme at the end, so the flavors will stay bright.
Usually, the liquid has reduced to a nice, thick sauce-- even without any flour or starch. If it's too watery, take out the meat and veggies, and cook it down at high heat for a few minutes, and stir some butter in at the end.
I served this with a nice green salad and a cauliflower puree-- so warming, nourishing and delicious!