The standard way to cook a stew – apart from a pale one, such as a blanquette – is to brown the meat, and then to submerge it in barely simmering liquid. The browning adds flavour, and the submerging ensures that the meat is not subjected to an overly aggressive heat.
If the liquid does not cover the meat, the exposed surfaces will brown while the stew cooks. In theory, this method should be less satisfactory, because a temperature that is high enough to brown meat will eventually dry it out. But you may find, particularly with cuts that have plenty of lubricating fat and connective tissue, that the result is perfectly tender anyway.
Serves 2 to 4
Sunflower or olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 onions, chopped
500g stewing steak
250ml red wine (I had a small bottle of Marks & Spencer Claret that I had received in a goody bag)
1 bay leaf
1/2 star anise
1 bay leaf
Salt to taste
1 carrot, diced
In a heavy casserole over a gentle heat, soften the garlic and onions in a couple of tbsps of oil, adding more oil if the vegetables threaten to stick. When the onions are soft, add the rest of the ingredients, apart from the carrot. Bring the contents of the dish just to simmering point, cover it, and put it in the oven at gas mark 2/150C. Turn down the heat to gas mark S/130C once the contents are simmering again. Stir from time to time. A cooking time of two and a half to three hours is usually about right.
In most stew recipes, you would soften the carrot with the onions. But I think that you get the best flavour from carrots if they are not overcooked. Throw in the dice half an hour before the end.
The next bit is slightly tedious. Tip the contents of the casserole into a sieve over a saucepan. Pick out the meat, return it to the casserole, cover, and return the casserole to the oven.
Press down on the vegetables in the sieve, and scrape the thick juice that adheres to the underside of the sieve into the saucepan. Discard the vegetables.
Put the pan on the hob on a medium to high flame, and boil until the sauce thickens slightly, has a rich flavour, and seems to be of the right volume to satisfy two or three people. Take the casserole out of the oven, pour the sauce over the meat, and serve.