I know what you might be thinking -- eh, beef stew, boeuf whatever -- it's still just dry, tough, chewy meat with overcooked vegetables... au contraire.
I was given the secret. Do you yearn for fall-apart tender stew meat, do you yearn for explosive, rich flavor and bright, beautiful vegetables. Come with me.
Your only difficulty will be finding this cut of meat. I don't know how common it is around the States, but I found it pre-packaged in my local Ralph's superstore. The original Food and Wine article stated that you may have to ask a butcher to special order it for you. Look, do whatever you have to do to get your hands on 2 pounds of flatiron steak. I bought two steaks, each slightly over a pound. The flatiron cut is your secret weapon. Trust me and don't waiver.
Next, it's very important to use real pancetta -- don't skip it -- don't substitute. Look at the picture up there. You have no idea how wonderful it was to chomp down on those lardons. Don't deprive yourself. Just trust The Tart and keep moving.
I know some of you might feel the need to save some time and skip the pearl onion route. Please don't. We are talking 20 little balls here -- it will take you 10 minutes to peel them. I didn't even do the whole blanching thing to loosen their skins. I just whacked off each end and peeled the first layer off. Easy peasy. And look up there again -- aren't they gorgeous?
On to the baby carrots -- this is where I save my time -- just buy the baby carrots. They are adorable, sweet and ready when you open the bag. The original recipe calls for them, and if Jacques Pepin says it's okay, it's fine by me.
Finally, yes, the whole blasted thing is simmered in one entire bottle of wine. Look -- just do it. Don't put in half stock or heaven-forbid, water. Just pop the cork on a decent 10 buck cab and pour in with abandon. You won't be sorry. As we were eating leftovers, the sauce was so decadent and delicious, I wished for more of it and thought, hmmm, should I add another bottle to get more sauce? Really, that's how good it is.
So, yes, it seems like a lot of work, but the ingredient list is really short and once you have everything together it comes together in no time. And eating it -- I could close my eyes and swear we were back in our favorite little bistro in Paris, Polidor, sitting in the back on the long benches with a steaming bowl of beouf bourguignon with the rest of the locals. Please try it. Merci, and bonne nuit.
Beef Stew in Red Wine Sauce
Adapted from Food and Wine Magazine
by Jacques Pepin
2 pounds of beef from the flatiron part of the shoulder
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic (I used 8 cloves... yes, this is more than a tablespoon -- sue me)
1 tablespoon flour
1 bottle of red wine
2 bay leaves
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
20 cipollini or pearl onions
20 cremini mushrooms
20 baby carrots
5 ounce piece of pancetta
2 1/4 cups water, divided
Dash of sugar
Chopped fresh parsley
Remove any skin or sinew from the top of the flatiron steaks. Cut the meat into 8 pieces. [Yes, the chunks will seem too big. Just go with it.]
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a cast-iron pot or Dutch oven. Arrange the meat in one layer in the pot, and season it with salt and pepper. Cook on top of the stove over high heat for about 8 minutes, browning the meat on all sides.
Add the finely chopped onions and garlic and cook over moderate heat for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the flour and mix in well so that the flour doesn't form any lumps. Stir in the bottle of red wine. Add the bay leaves, sprigs of thyme, more salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Stir well and cover.
Place the pot in the oven and continue to cook for about 1 1/2 hours: the meat should be soft and tender and the liquid properly reduced. The recipe can be prepared to this point one day ahead.
For the garnishes, peel the cipollini or pearl onions, wash the cremini mushrooms and baby carrots. For the lardons, bring the pancetta and 2 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan and simmer for 30 minutes then drain. Cut the pancetta into 1/2-inch thick slices and then cut the slices into 1-inch wide lardons.
Combine the onions, mushrooms, carrots and pancetta in a skillet with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, 1/4 cup of water, and a good dash each of sugar, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes; at this point, there should be practically no water left. Uncover and cook over high heat, sauteing the vegetables until nicely browned on all sides, about 4 minutes.
To serve, mix some of the vegetables and lardons into the stew and sprinkle the rest on top as a garnish. Add a little fresh parsley and serve.