Friday, November 9, 2012

Fall into Beef Stew!

Ahhh, Fall! . . . there is a crisp chill in the air . . . it seems that the last leaves finally fell off the trees . . . it's the perfect time to cozy up with someone you love . . . and enjoy a hearty beef stew!  :)


Now that I’m living the life of a “respectable woman of leisure”, as some of my friends say (I retired on 31 July and got married on 4 August!), I, supposedly, have more time in my hands to do all the things I really want, but the truth of the matter is that, sometimes, the day goes by so fast with all the stuff to do at home, that I keep postponing the things I truly want to do, like writing in my blog more often!

When it comes to testing new recipes, I have a few favorite celebrity chefs who I trust almost blindfoldly, and Alton Brown is one of them (I would say it’s a hard toss-up between him and Christopher Kimball, from America’s Test Kitchen/Cook's Country).

What I love about Alton Brown, though—and haven’t seen in any other TV celebrity chef—is his contagious enthusiasm for the science of cooking and food, as well as his humorous approach to it in each and every one of his shows!

Two Saturdays ago—while my hubby left in the wee hours of the morning to play golf with a friend in a chilly 40°F weather (around 4°C)—I was all warm and tucked up in my bed, watching back-to-back reruns of “Good Eats”.  On the first scene of the episode “Stew Romance”, Alton Brown is sitting at the fireplace heart:

Ahh, the stew pot. If there’s a more enduring or endearing symbol of hearth and home, I don’t know what it is. From the dawn of cookery when water simmered in animal hides stretched over campfires through the Ages of Clay, Bronze, Iron, and Steel, cooks have continually fed and fed from their stew pots. A tough hunk of mastodon here, a snaggled bit of taproot there. All rendered edible and nourishing through the combined efforts of time, heat, and water. The problem is, all that time, heat, and water tend to blur the individual notes of the ingredients into a murky monotone. If you ask me, a stew, or a culture for that matter, should be more like, well, a barbershop quartet.”

On the second scene, he offers a glimpse into what his unique cooking method for a stew is all about:

“Suppose I were to ask you to define the word “stew”. You might say, “a shortened version of the Scottish name “Stuart”, or “to dwell on something, negatively”. But you might also offer, “a dish composed of chunks of meat and vegetables, cooked and served together in a flavorful and potentially thickened liquid.” And you know what? You’d be right on all three counts. Of course, you might also say that it is the verb “stew”, the traditional cooking method by which “a stew” is produced. But if you ask me, the key to “a stew” isn’t stewing, it’s braising. And although braising is indeed related to stewing, there’s some significant differences.”

I can’t quite remember how many different recipes I’ve tried along these last years when it comes to stew.  Some have been decent and, some, well . . . just plain bad!  And after watching this episode of “Good Eats”, the science of beef stew became all clear to me! As Alton Brown explains:

“Stewing involves cooking small pieces of food. Braising calls for large pieces, which limits surface area and therefore limits moisture loss from the target food. Unlike stewing, which calls for submersion of the food pieces in liquid, braising calls for a relatively small amount of liquid. That means less chance of producing watered down flavors. Remember, water is a solvent. Stewing, often achieved in an open vessel. Braising calls for a tightly-lidded vessel. That prevents moisture loss via evaporation and helps to tenderize meat through the slight elevation in vessel pressure. And perhaps most importantly, while stewing always calls for cooking ingredients of different natures together, braising applications often call for separation of meats and vegetables. And that makes braising the precision choice, even when the desired dish is a stew.”

Aha!  Braising is the key then!  Why didn’t anyone think of that before?  Well, I guess it takes a genius like Alton Brown to figure it out, right?  :)

After watching the complete stew episode, I got up and came to my computer to look up for the recipe . . . “Yikes!”—I said to myself—“The recipe takes a mere 6.5 hours to prepare!  I better start now!”  :)

Fortunately, I had all (well, almost all) the ingredients I needed but, as usual, I tweaked the recipe a tad.  Since I had Chuck Eye Steak, I used that instead of the short ribs called for in the original recipe. Here is my version (I’ll post a link to the original recipe at the end, together with the link to the corresponding video):

Good Eats Beef Stew (slightly adapted tweaked)

  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup apple cider
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
  • 3 lbs Chuck Eye Steak*, cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 2 teaspoons dried herbs (thyme, oregano and sage)
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 6 medium-size russet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1.5-inch cubes
  • 2 14.5 oz cans of sliced carrots
  • 1 15 oz can of sweet peas (no salt added)
  • 4 oz Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat beer
  • 4 oz chicken stock (low sodium)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme

* The Chuck Eye Steak is cut from the Chuck Eye Roast (Chuck Primal), lower down from the rib primal. This means that this steak is a similar cousin to a Rib-Eye Steak, but isn't as tender or flavorful. This steak is a good low cost alternative but will dry out quicker than a Rib-Eye. The Chuck Eye Steak is best braised to keep it moist, but is also good grilled or broiled, provided care is taken not to over cook it. 


In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the tomato paste, apple cider, apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, paprika and dried herbs. Set aside.

Season the meat chunks with 1 tablespoon of the kosher salt. Place a large non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat with 1 tablespoon of oil and divide your meat chunks into two batches, so that you don’t overcrowd the pan. Sear the meat until browned on all sides. Once browned, remove the meat to the bowl with the apple cider mixture and toss to coat. Set the pan aside without rinsing it, since you'll use it later . . . you know, gotta save all that fond (the crispy little bits left in the pan)! Transfer the meat and juices to a large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil and seal tightly. Place the package into a metal pan and put into a cold oven on the middle rack. Set the oven to 250 degrees F and cook for 2 hours.

Remove the meat from the oven and carefully (it will be hot!) poke a hole in the pack while holding it over a heatproof container. Drain the liquid into the container and set aside.

Grab the frying pan you used to brown the meat. Add one tablespoon of oil and place the pan over medium heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the onion along with the remaining teaspoon of salt and allow to cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the potatoes, carrots and peas along with a pinch of black pepper and the teaspoon of thyme, and stir to combine. Next, add the liquid reserved from the meat together with the beer and the chicken stock and stir. Cover tightly and decrease the heat to low so that no heat is escaping the lid. Cook for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender.

Once the potatoes are tender, uncover and set the meat atop the vegetables. Cover and continue to cook for 10 minutes. Enjoy!

Note:  Because I was using Chuck Eye Steak, I cut down to half the time the meat needed to cook in the oven and skipped refrigerating the liquid, since the meat hardly rendered any fat at all. As you will see, I also added carrots and sweet peas to my stew. The beer and chicken stock were added for extra flavor and because I like a juicy stew, since I serve it with rice!  :)

Link to original recipe:

Link to “Stew Romance” video:

“If great stew, like great music, is a commingling of ingredients to create culinary harmony, why do so many stews taste less like beautiful music and more like a murky dirge?” (Alton Brown)


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