Monday, November 13, 2006

Beef stew and dumplings (part 1)

I shall have to spread this post over two days. That is not because making a stew is particularly complex; but it is something one does in various stages, each of which is worth a few comments.

The quantities below are what I cooked at the weekend. The stew fed three of us, and gave us seconds; with 700 g of beef, it would easily have fed four.

570 g chuck steak, cubed
1 tbsp plain flour
Olive oil, for frying
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
About 500 ml stock (the unusual base of mine was a chicken carcass and the bone from a roasted shoulder of lamb)
1 bay leaf
1 tsp nam pla (fish sauce) or Worcester sauce

100 g self-raising flour
50 g suet

Stage one
Heat a heavy frying pan above a medium flame. In a bowl, toss the meat with the flour until the cubes are coated. Pour in about a tbsp of oil, and toss again. Brown the meat in batches, and transfer to a casserole.

Turn down the heat. Pour in another splash of oil, and immediately -- before the oil has a chance to burn -- add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic, stirring until they are soft and golden. Add them to the casserole, with the bay leaf, fish or Worcester sauce, a pinch or two of salt, and enough stock to cover the meat.

The sauce in a beef stew should be thickened slightly, I think. Browning the flour contributes to the colour of the sauce, and also tempers the floury taste. Apparently, it also diminishes -- but does not disable -- the thickening properties.

If you see a reference to "sealing" meat in a recipe, you know that the writer is either ignorant or a lazy reproducer of hackneyed terminology. Browning meat does not seal it; but it does make it more flavoursome, thanks to processes called Maillard reactions. You need only a little oil to facilitate these reactions. I have come to the conclusion that it is neater to coat the meat with oil rather than to heat a layer of oil in the pan. Brown the meat in batches, so that you do not lower the temperature of the pan; leave the cubes to fry for a minute or less, and turn once to brown a second surface.

Be cautious with the salt at this stage. Fish sauce and Worcester sauce (which add savouriness) are salty; and you may want to reduce the sauce later, increasing the salt concentration. Ground pepper in stews and stocks can become acrid; add it at the table.

Frying the vegetables sweetens them. If they start to brown, all the better for the richness of the sauce.

Tomorrow: simmering the stew and finishing the sauce; and the dumplings.


Susan Hill said...

The only thing I ever cook is stew in the winter. I am famous for my stew for which I have never had a recipe and which varies a bit each time depending on what I throw in but ALWAYS put in mushroom ketchup as well as or instead of the Worcester sauce.. it`s a given.
Oh and NO disgusting garlic, Yukky foreign stuff. No self-respecting English mother ever put garlic in a stew for God`s sake. Any more than in a cottage pie, which I have also been known to make and which has also no recipe but which always includes a grated carrot.

Nicholas Clee said...

I like ketchup in a stew too; it's particularly good in oxtail and in shepherd's or cottage pie (from which I'd also exclude garlic).

Hamish said...

iIt's a small point but coating beef cubes with flour is much easier done by putting flour in a plastic bag, adding all the cubes and jollying them around. And around here no stew is complete without two or three chopped anchovies. (How foreign and yukky is that?)

Alisa said...

Yes! I'm definitely going to cook this tomorrow when my boyfriend comes over tomorrow (I'll have to feed him, myself, my mum, and my sister D=) I've got about 455g of stewing beef in the house right now so it should be alright..Buut, I believe I'll pick up a little extra to be safe, haha.

I like your blog, by the way! I think I'll RSS it. Stick it in my Bookmark toolbar for some later browsing. ^-^

...Foreign and yukky?
English folk are little too narrow minded for my tastes if they think -garlic- is too foreign and yucky to grace their tables.
However, she's probably the minority? I know my UK relatives are perfectly fine with it.

Crazy Brits. ;P

Nicholas Clee said...

I too think Susan goes a bit far, Alisa. But I can see her point about garlic in a stew with dumplings (apart from goulash) or in shepherd's pie: it doesn't seem quite right.