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Kitchen Story: Stewing over Stew

March 7, 2011

There are probably thousands of recipes for beef stew, and even more that people make off the top of their head or the way their grandma made it. Just in the last year, I’ve probably made ten different beef stews of varying types. I happen to like the process of making stew (and soup, but that’s another story). Get your ingredients together, chop ’em up and otherwise prepare each according to it’s needs, and then, in some order or other, put them into a pot together. Leave it alone for a bit and you’ve got stew. And like many dishes, it’s usually better the day after you make it. So what is it about the process that is so satisfying? For me, it’s about the coming together of the flavors. Take tonight’s recipe – nothing too fancy, and each piece on its own isn’t all that intriguing. Beef. Sure, it’s tasty, but chuck roast is not exactly the most elegant cut and it definitely needs proper care. And salt. For tonight, I opted for cutting up bacon and frying that first, and then browning the beef in bacon fat. Carrots, potatoes, celery, onions, tomato paste – not exactly rockstars of flavor on their own, but there is a reason these ingredients are in so many recipes. At some point , I’m going to write a story on the “holy trinity” concept – that most culinary cultures have some trinity of vegetables that make a base of their foods – the French mirepoix with carrots, onions and celery; the Cajun/Creole holy trinity of onions, bell peppers, and celery. But back to stew, it’s not the individual ingredients that makes it bowl of crawl under the covers during a thunderstorm comfort, it’s about combining them, adding heat, and the magic of time. And lastly, this recipe has dumplings on top – when you can cook a bread product right on top of a bubbling pot, there is a new level of ooh. However, if you want to try this recipe, give the dumplings more than the 10 minutes it calls for in the recipe. Mine took at least 20. And you want those suckers cooked through; nothing quite like uncooked dough to ruin a lovely bowl of savory heartiness. If you’ve only had uneventful, mushy pots of blandness and thought that was stew, I think it’s time to grab a pot and try again. Your soul will thank you.

Beef Stew with Dumplings

From Great American Favorite Brand Name Cookbook

8 servings

4 pounds lean, boneless beef chuck, cut into 2-inch cubes

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided*

2 ½ teaspoons salt, divided

¼ teaspoon pepper

3 cups dry red wine

2 cups water

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 large clove garlic, minced

½ teaspoon dried thyme, crushed

12 small white onions

4 carrots, cut into quarters

4 ribs celery, cut into 2-inch pieces

3 white turnips, cut into quarters**

¼ pound small mushrooms

¼ cup chopped parsley

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon sugar

1 egg, well beaten

½ cup milk

Brown beef in ¼ cup of the oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season with 2 teaspoons of the salt and the pepper. Add wine, water, tomato paste, garlic, and thyme. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Add onions, carrots, celery, turnips, mushrooms, and parsley. Simmer, covered, 20 minutes more.

Meanwhile, prepare dumplings. Combine flour, baking powdered, remaining ½ teaspoon salt and the sugar small bowl. Add egg, milk and remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Stir to blend. Drop dumplings by tablespoons onto hot stew. Cook, uncovered, 10 minutes.

*Chop package of bacon into small pieces and cook until crispy. Remove and drain on paper towels. Use the bacon fat to brown the beef. And then add the bacon in with the wine, etc.

**Substitute 5-6 red potatoes, cut into quarters

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