When we were kids, my dad fancied himself a pretty good beef stew maker. I did not agree – he used big chunks of flank steak, which I suspect weren’t cooked quite long enough to break down in its tomato-ey sauce, because while it was certainly lean and healthy, it had the texture of chewy meat rope. (Sorry Dad – it’s not you, it’s me. And the meat rope.)
Fortunately, he’s so fantastic that it’s easy to overlook his stew.
But it’s funny how childhood food preferences stick with you – I keep thinking I don’t like beef stew, but really I do. (So long as the meat is cooked long enough.) Any tough cut of beef (or bison) makes a good stew – even those chunks of “stewing beef”; the trick is to simmer it first, giving the connective tissues time to melt and the gravy a chance to develop, before adding the potatoes and carrots, which you don’t want to break down to the point where chewing is unnecessary. These days, I make beef stew in the big red Le Creuset braiser I bought for myself, browning the meat first on the stovetop to create all those deep browned crusty bits that add so much flavour. (One day I made boeuf bourguignon for fifty, and browned so much beef that our kitchen was like a steamy meat sauna.)
Once I have that foundation of browned bits, I add the onion and celery to the pan to loosen them (and create even more), then some beef stock, tomato paste, balsamic vinegar (because: yum) and red wine and let the whole thing simmer for a good couple hours, until it looks something like this:
Then the potatoes (small, with their skins) and carrots (ditto), and even parsnips, if you’re into alternative root vegetables, get into the pool. Toss a handful of frozen peas in too, if you like.
They get the chance to cook in the dark, sticky gravy, leaving everything awesome and not at all watery; enough to stand up to these neverending cold-snowy-icy days.
Or for nights when you want to invite your dad over for dinner.