I have always said, “if I am going to cook one chicken, I might as well cook two.” It’s not really any more work. I have come to believe the same about pot roast, pork roast, and just about anything that is braised, smoked or roasted.
If you are like me, you have made what seems like hundreds of variations on beef stew; the classic tomatoey American version, a Korean version, Chinese, Irish, with beer, or with wine. It’s all done in the name of variety and the constant quest for new flavors to excite the taste buds. We do it in order to make dinner ever more interesting, because let’s be honest, if you only cook the same 5 or 6 meals and present them over and over again at some point they become lackluster and boredom sets in. This is not to say, as a cook you need to know how to cook a hundred variations on beef stew because you don’t. If you are like me though you are curious, always looking for upgrades, and it is nice to have some surprises in your back pocket when you need them.
While I call this a French stew it is far from a classic daube. Daube’s make use of lots of red wine, olives, and orange peel. This stew does not. What this dish does do is keep flavors separate. By cooking the meat on its own, roasting the vegetables, then combining them only when it is time to serve the dish some very wonderful flavors only become present when everything is in the bowl.
Let me say a few things about clay pot cooking. Clay is unique, so if you have a clay pot stored in a cabinet somewhere begging to be used then this is a great place to start and here is why. Cooking in clay pots feels like cooking. The smell of the clay as it heats, the aroma that reminds you of the last meal you cooked, the cracks in the glaze, the smell of olive oil as it heats seems basic in an elemental way. It is comforting. It’s as if you a are connected to every cook that came before you and every meal too.
When you heat clay on the stove the culinary history of the particular pot makes itself well known very quickly. Often pots are dedicated to certain kinds of cooking like curry, or rice, or beans. They are used for meals made with similar spices. They are the original slow cooker and you can find them being used all around the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Asia and throughout South America.
The recipe doesn’t require cooking in a clay pot for it to be good but it does add to its mystic. It can be cooked in a slow cooker or in an enameled Dutch oven on the stove top.
Clay Pot Beef Stew with Roasted Vegetables (serves 4)
2 TBS. olive oil
2 pounds beef brisket, trimmed of fat and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/2 TBS all-purpose flour
3 medium yellow onions
15 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
3 cups homemade beef broth of sodium free beef broth
1 1/2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. Japanese tonkatsu sauce or Heinz 57
1 bay leaf
2 tsp. flat leaf parsley, minced
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch cylinders
7 fingerling potatoes, washed and halved
- Peel and trim one onion. Halve it and dice both halves into a small dice.
- Place a 3 1/2 quart clay pot or enameled Dutch oven over medium heat. Add olive oil and let it become hot. Add half the beef and brown it on all sides. Remove the meat to a tray. Repeat with the remaining beef.
- Add the flour to the oil and stir with a wooden spoon until the flour begins to color and smells nutty (do not taste the roux it will burn your tongue off.)
- Add diced onions and garlic. Stir. The roux will stick to the vegetables and clump. This is as it should be. Add the hot broth while stirring. Continue to stir until the liquid comes to a boil.
- Add a 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, Herbes de Provence, tonkatsu, bay leaf, parsley, and a few grinds of fresh ground black pepper. Add the brisket back to the pot, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and let it gently bubble until the brisket is tender but not falling apart. About 4 hours.
- About 1 1/2 hours before the brisket is tender heat the oven to 425 degrees. Peel the remaining 2 onions and cut each into 6 wedges. Place the onions, carrots, and potatoes into a bowl. Toss with enough olive oil to coat them. Season them with salt and fresh ground pepper. Toss them again.
- Spread the vegetables out onto a sheet tray and roast them for 1 hour or until they are brown and blistered. Remove them from the oven.
- To serve place a sprinkling of vegetables into the bottom 4 bowls, ladle over meat and broth over the vegetables and them top with some vegetables. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
If your weekend was anything like mine then you are comfortable having put summer to bed, tucked-in snugly with the knowledge it will sleep tight until it awakens again next year. Windows will close, doors are shut, and the nuanced smells of long simmered foods become more prevalent.
I can’t imagine a life without seasons. Not because I like the hot and cold but because they are markers, clear delineations that it is time to get on with life, a deep breath of reflection before pushing on, no summit to conquer, no eye on a prize, just a moment to reflect on the journey.
I am back to doing what I love—cooking, my way. This time of year I always cook Asian cuisine. It is such a departure from what I have done all summer, cooked from the garden, be it mid-western or southern foods, or farm favorites. Now I go to the Asian grocery and buy up bok choi, pigs liver, shiso peppers, lemon grass, and Chinese celery. Foods that I have done without since last fall.
For a few months I will get my fill, until winter.
Asian Spaghetti (serves 4)
This is great for weeknights. The sauce like many gets better with age and can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days (you can even double the recipe and freeze half.) Then simply make your noodles, warm the sauce, and serve.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 lb. ground beef
1 medium red onion, fine dice (about 1 cup)
3 celery stalks, trimmed, fine dice (about 1 cup)
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1 tablespoon garlic
1/2 cup Hoisin sauce
1/2 cup canned chopped tomatoes with juice
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 Fresno red pepper, chopped
3 Shiso peppers, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro
rice noodles, cooked
- Set a 3 quart (3l) enameled cast iron pot, or any heavy bottomed pot onto the stove. Turn the heat to medium high. Add oil and let it become hot.
- Add the ground beef, break it into small pieces and let it brown. Add red onion, celery, ginger, and garlic. Stir, let the vegetables soften and become fragrant.
- Add Hoisin sauce, tomatoes, lime juice and soy. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer and let the liquid reduce until it thickens, about 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
- Place the hot noodles onto a platter, top with sauce, and sprinkle the peppers and cilantro over the top. Serve with a nice stir fried vegetable like bok choi in oyster sauce.
We love our wings in the Midwest but until I made wing sauce, equal parts real butter to hot sauce, I hadn’t had wing sauce. Sadly, and I know it is about cost, I doubt a single wing shop uses real butter in their sauce anymore. The good thing is you can have the real deal, easily, and without having to buy a pre-made version that is less then stellar. Continue reading
Spring always seems rushed. It’s as if we spend months climbing a mountain called winter, and when we finally reach the peak, we’re so grateful that we run as fast as we can down the other side — past spring and directly into summer. It’s even true for the vegetables we’re attracted to — the fleeting cool weather crops that are harvested and eaten before spring has truly begun. Continue reading
I made a recipe of yours last night. It wasn’t the first time I have made this recipe, in fact, I have made it several times but it has been far to long since it has graced our table, rest assured, this will not happen again. Just in case I haven’t been clear it was beyond delicious as always.
I remember the night I watched you make the gratin on TV. It must have been about three in the morning or somewhere around there. I was still working in the restaurant business and it had been a long night on the line. Now I was home, my wife fast asleep in bed, and I out in the living room and on the couch with a beer in my hand winding down. I was flipping through a food magazine and doing the same with the channels on TV.
At the time I had not seen but a couple shows in any of your many series because our local PBS station didn’t carry them or they were on at times when I wasn’t around. But here you were in the wee hours of the morning in front of the camera, your heavy French accent, broad smile, all as unmistakeable as the sparkle in your eyes. You caught my attention right away.
I watched as you peeled shrimp and even went so far as to show me how to pinch the tails between my thumb and forefinger, then wiggle, and finally you gently pulled and I watched as all the tail meat slipped out of its casing without any waste. Then you sliced a handful of the freshest white mushrooms with such speed and accuracy it could have been a magic trick. You wasted no time doing the same with a couple of green onions. Continue reading