Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In the mood for Stew?

Yesterday in a somewhat reluctant (lazy) haze I decided to make a stew.   I was searching for something unctuous, dark and comforting and one which would burp along for quite a few hours and emerge onto the dinner plate with minimal effort.  No less than 24 hours later, I produced this ...

I bought 1lb of stewing steak (against my mothers advice to buy a few large slices of frying steak and cut them up) and loosely followed a Claudia Roden recipe for Greek stifatho.  The name comes from the Italian stufato meaning stewed meat and this is a braised beef and onion stew typical of rustic Greek mountain cooking.

Firstly I peeled two large handfuls of small white pickling onions - you can make this job easier by soaking them in boiling water for a few minutes to loosen the otherwise tight skins.

I put them into a large casserole, with a lid, along with half a bottle of red wine, the diced pieces of meat, 3 cloves, 4 black pepper corns, 1/2 tsp ground all-spice, 3 tlbsps olive oil and 3 tblsps of red-wine vinegar.  I added a little cold water, just enough to cover the ingredients.

I brought it to the boil and removed any scum which appeared, not a lot as it happens.
Then I placed it on my smallest gas ring with a diffuser so that it was cooking at a very low bubble and left it there for 2 or 3 hours.  I didn't need to, bit depending on the tightness of your lid, you mat need to add a little more water, so check it occasionally.

The meat should be tender to the point of falling apart.

This all sounds fine except that it tasted slightly bitter and it took a good 31/2 hours until my meat was remotely soft.  I then added about 8 prunes to the pot towards the end of cooking to sweeten and slightly thicken the juice. 
It did taste good then but I think that the cooking took so long that the anticipation of the meal had gone, completely. I have never felt so removed from anything that I have ever cooked.  I stopped short of putting it in the bin, I mean there was nothing in the world wrong with it, I just didn't want to eat it.  Plain and simple.

I am not sure what this says about me - I never know until the last minute what I am really in the mood for - now that I think about it, it is evident in the fact that I am always last at the table to order in a restaurant, preferring to hear what everyones individual course combinations are first before committing mine to a hard and fast decision.
Maybe it just says that I am completely whimsical and never satisfied, who knows?

Anyway less of the self-evaluation.  I let it cool and put it in the fridge to wait for my mood change and made a great pasta putanesca.

So to get to the end of the story, I ate it for lunch today and it was out of this world delicious.  The sweetness of the prunes had improved the juices entirely and with the slight spiced taste I served it atop a serving of braised savoy cabbage and sprinkled on some toasted chopped walnuts.  I surprised myself at how good it tasted.  I had planned to sprinkle on some bright white feta to make it palatable, but also to highlight the darkness of the meat.  It was black, tender and a bit like soft turf.  Just delicious and I think I might have it for tea as well.

Some things are really worth waiting for.

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