We’re THISCLOSE to being over all the comfort food of winter. (Noticed I said almost!) We had another late season snow this past weekend, and something comforting was calling our name. This time we pulled one of our favorite beef stew recipes from one of my go-to cookbooks by Ted Allen. Usually, if I make beef stew, the recipe uses red wine, tomato paste and lots of other aromatics, but this recipe is a unique variation because it calls for Belgian beer instead of wine, and bread is used as the thickening agent instead of flour. It’s easy to assemble, and it is DIVINE.
As usual, any time I cook with a hunk of meat (in this case 2.5 lbs of chuck roast) I salt the heck out of it and let it rest in the fridge.
My handy sous-chef (aka, the husband) trimmed the roast and cut it into larger-than-bite-sized pieces.
After letting it rest in the fridge for a few hours salted, I pulled it out to come up to room temp while I prepped the other steps in the recipe.
As any great recipe does, this one starts by rendering bacon. I’m definitely of the school that bacon fat is the best cooking fat for stews and soups and other one-pot wonders.
I rendered all the goodness and pulled the bacon bits to rest (and for snacks because no one keeps their hands off cooked bacon. No one.)
The pan has all the rendered fat remaining, and some of the caramelized sugars and protein from the bacon. Perfect for browning the stew meat.
As always, I batch-brown the meat. Too much crowding leaves gray and steamed meat. Not great. There’s much debate in the food community about whether pre-browning the meat adds flavor or improves the texture of the meat (for stews, that is), and many say no, it does not. The only reason I really like to do this step is because the meat adds another layer of caramelization on the bottom of the pan, and that’s where I believe the flavor and magic happens. So I do it. If you don’t want to, or don’t have time, skip straight to adding your onions into the bacon fat. I’m told the result is the same.
One batch out, one batch in.
Once again, that brown layer is nothing but flavor and goodness. It’s bacon-y, it’s beefy, and when the onions go in, the smell is divine.
I saute these until they are soft and starting to caramelize. This process always takes longer than recipes say they will. Especially as I leave my onions in a large dice because they cook for so long. They will need almost 10 minutes to get to where I’m happy with them.
Add garlic and stir for a minute or two.
Once the onions and garlic are done, I pull them from the pan (mostly) and turn off the heat. Now the stew building begins. I add the beef and bacon bits (or the few that remain by this point) in the bottom, then- this is where the stew starts to become unique to other red-wine stews- I place slices of bread on the meat that are heavily slathered in Dijon mustard. The bread breaks down and thickens the stew, and the Dijon adds depth of flavor. I cover the bread with the onions and garlic, then dump on all the liquids. In the recipe instructions, you are supposed to do this in two steps- beef, bread, onions, repeat, before putting all the liquids in, but the bottom of my stew pot is too wide to make this effective, and I’ve never had a bad turnout from doing it in one layer.
Then you whack in all the liquids and other herbs- beer, stock (or water), vinegar, sugar, bay leaf. Let’s take bets- let’s see if my husband reads this post and is bothered by the fact that I do not name the beer we used in this recipe, and comments with it below. I bet it bothers him enough to bring it up, but not so much that he’s a public commenter. Place your bets now.
The recipe has optional allspice, but I never use it as I’m not much a fan of allspice. A bit too fragrant for me.
In the oven it goes for 2 1/2- 3 hours.
I check it every hour to make sure it’s not over reduced. This is how it looked at hour one.
And here it is after three hours:
Not gonna lie. It looks kinda gross in the pot. But let me tell you. It’s DELICIOUS! The bread gives it body and so it’s quite thick. I probably could have thinned it out some, but we really liked it. I added water before packing up leftovers because often starches continue to absorb liquid long after the cooking process stops, so I didn’t want the leftovers to be slice-able.
While the stew cooled a bit from the oven and had a chance to rest, I threw together the spaetzle. I tried this once before and was wildly unsuccessful because I used a colander to push the batter through. It was a lot of work for little result, and this time I decided to use the food mill.
Luckily, the dough is basically a throw it in a bowl and stir-it type:
The recipe calls for it to rest for a while, so I did this quickly and let it sit for about 20-30 minutes. Here’s where things start to look gross. I put the dough in a food mill over a pot of boiling HEAVILY SALTED water. I know. The picture below does not look appetizing.
Still kinda snotty looking.
After 2-3 minutes the dough cooks and floats to the top. I pulled it out with a spider spoon and put it in a colander to drain.
The best part of spaetzle is you brown it in butter after cooking it to make it crispy and dry it out a bit. If I have one regret for this process, it’s that I didn’t use a non-stick pan. I’m pretty anti-non stick, but I should have pulled one out for the browning. Things were sticking like mad. As a side note. If you don’t want to faff with the spaetzle, we eat this stew with mashed potatoes, or roasted potatoes or even just butter noodles. Any of those would probably be quicker, and just as satisfying.
I sliced and sauteed brussels sprouts for our green veg. They are great thrown into a pan with some olive oil and a bit of salt.
Because it’s stew, I pulled a few of the frozen yorkshire puddings from last week’s roast dinner to serve with the meal.
If I was fancy, I would have sprinkled it with chopped parsley to make it prettier. But I’m not. I’m practical. Eff that. It was delicious.