There is something incredibly comforting about a nice hearty stew on a cold day. I have been having such great cravings that I went out and bought a pot specifically for stews, braises, soups and roasts. I had been thinking about it for while but caved recently when the urge to cook slow dishes reminiscent of leisurely weekend home cooking. I wanted a pot that would be the source of many great family memories over the years; one that when the children, grandchildren and the hubby see it being pulled out, will know they are in for a real treat. I knew I was going for cast iron and especially an enamelled one because I did not want the hassle of seasoning raw cast iron after every use or the limitations re- not being able to cook acidic foods.
There was a toss up being Le Creuset and Staub but in the end, Staub won for a few reasons. It provides better searing with the black rough enamel, has a heavier lid which seals the pot into a real oven, and self basting spikes on the lid provide more juicy meats as steam condenses and drips back on to food. Plus Staub is the brand of reference to chefs all over the world, including mine. Like Le Creuset, they have many beautiful colours and a great and lasting finish and I couldn’t seem to narrow it down to less than 5 colours that I adored. I wanted one that would stand the test of time, that I could see myself passing on to our offspring or grandchild, so I took The Chef’s advice and stuck to black. Somehow, this reminds me of my granny’s Potjie cooking on wood fires in the hilly interior of the Mocho Mountains in Clarendon- and man was her food sensational!
If there is one cooking method that is famous in Jamaica, it is stewing. Our world famous oxtail stew and curried goat are only two of many dishes, but many of which are stewed. We stew everything! Seafood… we stew; chicken- we stew that too- in fact we will soon post a recipe for a Chicken Stew that reminds us of a good Jamaican Brown Stew Chicken- the Pinoy favourite, Chicken Adobo.
We love stew. Who doesn’t? What’s not to love about gelatinous, fatty cuts of meats cooked slowly with aromatic vegetables and herbs, slowly rendering theri fats and production mouth-wateringly juicy pieces of meat?
Traditionally, the toughest, most inexpesive cuts are used for the longer cooking, lower heat stews while softer, more expensive cuts like tenderloin and steaks are cooked quicker over higher heat.
The problem with old fashioned stews is that they take several hours just to cook and sometimes, like this past weekend when I made this dish, you just dont have all day. So what do you do when you want a stew but dont have all day? Cheat! This isn’t your exam finals, it just another day in the life of a busy person. So if you must, here is how you can cheat on a stew without being caught.
There are two ways to cheat:
1. Use a pressure cooker to cook the beef. This could shorten the cooking time by at least an hour. You will sear meats and then add cooking liquid and pressurize until tender then add your vegetables for another 3 minutes or so. You may have to thicken more with cornstarch at the end with this method. This only works if you have a pressure cooker. But since we placed a really cool one on special order, 2 until it arrives, we will use the second method when we are in a hurry.
2. Use quicker cooking cuts. Since the meat is the longest cooking part of the stew, this will save you lots of time! The trick is not to cook them for long but cook them quickly by searing on wach side and removing and setting aside. That will give you the nice caramelized sticky bits on the bottom of the pot called fond, which add flavour to the stew base. You will then use pre-made stock as the cooking liquid to enhance the flavour since you are not rendering stock from the slow cooking process as you normally would in a traditional stew. Use fish stock for seafood stew, and either chicken or beef stock for beef stew.
Ingredients: Steak (whichever cut you wish, we used a bavette), brown onions, fresh thyme, chicken or beef stock, flour for rue and meat, olive oil (not extra virgin), salt and pepper, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, capsicum/bell/sweet peppers, green beans. You may add or delete whatever veggies you wish.
Method: Sear tougher root veggies like potatoes and carrots on medium heat to caramelize but not cook thoroughly. We are building levels of flavour with this process.
Caramelize Onions adding a pinch of salt at end then removing from pot.
Season beef with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour and shake off excess then sear in pot for no more than 2 minutes each side.
This is what it should look like. Set it aside as well as the root vegetables and caramelized onions.
Creat a rue by adding 1 tablespoon of flour to hot oil and stirring constantly, cooking the flour in the process.
Add your stock to the pot. The amount you add depends on how much veggies you will be cooking. Add enough to just cover veggies.
Return potatoes and carrots to pot. Add thyme. Stir to incorporate rue, fond and all the flavours.
Cover pot and cook until potatoes and carrots are almost done.
Add the rest of the softer vegetables and stir. Cover and cook for 3 minutes. Slice the steak into bite sized pieces and add to pot and stir. Cook for another 2 minutes. Garnish with caramelized onions. Serve immediately.
CHEF’S NOTES: If you wish to cook a more traditional stew, use a tougher cut with more gelatine like shank, oxtail, chuck, brisket, round,etc. You would have it cut up in small pieces and continue to cook the meat after searing it by adding the cooking liquid to it and covering. You would add the other vegetables only after the meat is cooked. Bavette steak is a less common cut also known as flank or skirt steak and is a very meaty flavourful cut. It toughens when overcooked so it is best to follow directions here if using it in a stew-type dish. It is used in Mexican dishes like fajitas, and Asian Stir Fries.