September in Montreal: Get Stewed

veggiesWell, we’ve reached mid-September in Montreal and we all know what that means; winter is pretty much here! I woke up to a cold, cold Sunday morning and instantly, ok once I got two double espressos in me, craved a nice hearty stew. I was supposed to be accompanying my girlfriend to my daughters swim classes which would also mean missing most of all of the 13h football games…so I devise a devious scheme. I offer to stay home and cook ALL DAY so that they can come back to a nice meal. I know, I am a real humanitarian. The family all loves stew and to my surprise my lady friend is ok with this plan. Little does she know that stew is all in the prep work and once it gets down to cooking there isn’t much left for me to do. Alright so on to the stew!

This is the perfect time of year for this since all of the ingredients are being harvested here now like right by my house so this is a full on locally grown meal. Stew is a versatile dish that can easily be tweaked and played around with depending on what tastes you prefer so keep in mind, as with most of my recipes, this is a guideline. Feel free to try different things from this base. Oh, and let me know if you try something and it works really well.

Stout Beef Stew

2 lbs stewing beef
1/4 lb cubed bacon or pancetta
3 medium onions(two chopped, one peeled but left whole)

3 carrots (peeled and sliced)
2 to 3 celery stalks (chopped-I also like using a little of their leaves)
15 to 20 button mushrooms(washed and sliced)
1 28 oz can of diced tomatoes or 3 cups diced fresh roma tomatoes
bouqet garni (I use parsley, thyme, and rosemary)
2 cans of Guinness or about 3 cups of other preferred stout beer
3 bay leaves
2 to 4 cloves of minced garlic
4 cloves
about 3 tbsp flour
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
salt and pepper

I like to be organized in the kitchen so the first thing I do with a recipe like this is get out all of the ingredients that I need laid out on the counter. From there I chop all of the veggies I will be using EXCEPT the garlic. When using garlic you should always wait until within 15 minutes of when it will go into the dish otherwise it will lose most of the amazing nutrients that it contains. It really is a super ingredient that does a ton of positive things for you so you wouldn’t want to lose all of that. Alright, everything is chopped up and ready to go.

Now, as for the meat, you always want to take it out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before you start cooking it. The meat shouldn’t be ice cold but close to room temperature. Another important note: make sure you are buying stewing beef and NOT bourgignon beef. I’ve seen a few people make this mistake. They are two different cuts of beef that are meant to be cooked in very different ways. Bourgignon beef is leaner and is meant to be fried at high temperature in a French style fondue. Stewing beef is marbled with a fair amount of fat and is meant to be cooked slowly over several hours. So here I take about 2 tbsp of flour and season it. I lightly coat all of the beef with the flour. I heat a dutch oven (thick cast iron pot with ceramic coating) to a medium high heat. I add most of the olive oil to the pot and the butter. Once the oil and butter are hot I brown the beef cubes. Some people don’t brown the beef for stew. Some people are jerks. I’ve tried it both ways and it can still work without this step but the main reason why I like doing it this way is for the flavor left in the pot from cooking the meat and rendering some of the fat. Once the meat is browned I remove it from the pot with a slotted spoon and set it aside. I then toss in the pancetta cubes to fry them up and get them nice and crispy. Most people don’t add pancetta or bacon to a standard stew (you’ll often see it in a beef bourgignon) but hello, it is bacon! If you love yourself and if you love your children add this step please. Ok, so once that is crispy I remove it with the slotted spoon and add it to the beef that is standing by.

Beer in stewNow I add the rest of the olive oil I’ve got and throw in all of the veggies except for the mushrooms and garlic. I am gonna sauté all of this for about 10 minutes on a medium heat and get all of the veg nice and sweaty. About two minutes before they are done I add the mushrooms and give everything a good toss. Then in the last few seconds of sauté work I add in the garlic. Oh, I nearly forgot to mention the third onion!! So, the peeled and whole onion serves as a vessel to transport the intense but necessary flavors of the cloves into the dish. I make 4 incisions around the onion and insert the cloves into them. Cloves really are a heavy flavor so you never want to use too many. I think 4 gives the dish a nice sharp contrast with the sweet tomatoes, onions and beer. Also, I could just throw in the cloves on their own but trust me, you do not want to bite into a hidden clove. It isn’t so bad if it happens to a guest because they will leave eventually, but the smack of taste from biting into one is not pleasant. With them in the onion like this they are easy to keep track of.

Now I add the beef, pancetta, bay leaves, bouqet garni, whole onion with cloves, and of course the beer! I give everything a good stir. I bring it to a nice rolling boil and then cover it and turn the heat down so it can simmer sexily for 2.5 hours. At this point you can prepare dumplings to add later, or mashed potatoes that can go on top later and crisp up in the oven on quick broil. There are any number of ways to fancy up a simple stew if you want to. But there is football starting in 12 minutes and I have the house to myself for the next few hours. So, here are the next steps to take in my situation:

1) Pop open a beer

2) Remove pants

3) Say goodbye to your pants

4) Go watch some football

I nail all of those last 4 steps with a speed and grace that a gymnast would be proud of and plop myself in front of the TV just as the 13h games kick off! I do go and check on the stew every 30 minutes or so to give it a quick stir and make sure it isn’t drying out. Stout stewOnce it has cooked with the lid on for 2.5 hours I remove the lid, spoon about 4 tbsp of the liquid into a bowl and add the final tbsp of flour into the bowl and whisk it together to make something like a rushed, simple roux. Once all of the lumps are removed from the flour I add this to the stew and give everything another stir. I leave it now to simmer on low heat for another 30 minutes. KABLAMO! It is done now and looking smelling fine!

I really like pairing a nice warm stew with some noodles and crusty bread. These first few days in Montreal when summer just flat out disappears are rough to get through but having a steaming bowl of sexy beef stew can ease the pain and this one hits the spot. The kids are starving after their swim class so they seem to love it too. It’s also a great dish to make if you want to take care of other things around the house since it is all in the prep. So if you love watching sports on a cool Sunday this one is right up your alley. You might think I pulled this one out as an excuse to watch football. That is hurtful. I did it for the children.

Stay phat.



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