Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The 21st Century Housewife’s© Mediterranean Beef Stew

Last night I needed a meal that would comfort and impress, but that would allow me to be out of the kitchen while it cooked and give me flexibility as to when I served it. For me, that meal is nearly always stew, but if you don’t mix it up a bit, everyone can get very bored indeed with this staple go-to dinner. However I find that by playing with some unexpected ingredients, you can develop some really lovely recipes.

I’ve been to both Spain and Portugal and I love the slow cooked dishes they serve there. So I decided to try to replicate some of the tastes I have enjoyed while travelling in the Mediterranean. Many of their dishes involve one of my favourite ingredients – red wine – and they also use vinegars as the perfect foil to it. Vinegar may sound like a funny ingredient to use in a stew, but its complex flavour really adds body and depth to just about any meat dish. It also seems to make all the other flavours just that little bit more intense and satisfying. For me, one of the vinegars that really stands out in cooking is sherry vinegar.

Sherry vinegar is of course made from sherry. It’s aged in oak barrels for at least six months and even up to ten years in the same way as wines and brandies. As well as adding a lovely kick to stews and slow cooked dishes, it is wonderful in salad dressing and gravies.

Last night’s experimentation in the kitchen was incredibly successful and my recipe got rave reviews around our dinner table. I served it with baked potatoes because I had potatoes on hand, but I think next time I’d serve this dish with some rice to soak up the wonderful gravy. Speaking of which, be sure to use a good red wine (one you would be prepared to drink) for this. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but unless it tastes nice in a glass, it isn’t going to taste nice in the dish.

I hope you enjoy my Mediterranean inspired dinner as much as we did!

The 21st Century Housewife's© Mediterranean Beef Stew

¼ cup (2 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons) olive oil
2 -3 medium onions, peeled, halved and sliced
1 pound chuck or braising steak, cut in cubes (roughly one inch square)
¼ cup flour
3 tbsp sherry or red wine vinegar
1 cup good red wine (I used Shiraz)
1½ cups beef stock (from a cube is fine)
1 or 2 garlic cloves
½ tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp dried thyme
¼ tsp pepper

In a large oven safe casserole dish that is also safe on the stovetop – or in a large frying pan – fry the onions gently over medium heat in 2 tablespoons of the oil. Let them soften up slowly until they get all melty and delicious looking. This will take about fifteen minutes.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the onions in the pan. Put the heat up a little bit. Coat the pieces of steak in the flour and add to the pan. Cook, stirring constantly, until the steak begins to brown.

Leaving the heat just above medium, add the sherry vinegar and allow it to bubble around in the pan a bit and absorb into the flour coated meat. Pour in the wine and beef stock and stir.

Finely grate in the garlic cloves (or chop them finely and add to the pan if you prefer) and add the spices.

If you are using an oven safe casserole that is safe on the stovetop, at this point you can just move it into the oven. If you are using a frying pan, transfer the contents to an oven safe casserole at this point.

Cook at 325 to 350℉ or 150 to 170℃ (depending on how fierce your oven is) for 1½ to 2 hours, stirring every half hour or so. The beauty of this kind of recipe is that you can adjust the cooking time to suit your serving time. For example if you need to be doing something else and want to cook the stew for longer – say 2½ to 3 hours - just use a lower heat setting (but don’t go below a safe temperature). Personally I never cook below 140℃ which is 280℉.

Leftovers will keep for a couple days in the fridge, and you can easily freeze this stew once it has cooled completely.

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