Wednesday, July 4, 2012

New Stew

I know, I should be writing posts about summer inspirations. It's the 4th of July, after all! But every once in a while, something unseasonal comes up, which is nonetheless important.

I intended to cook moose steak tonight, but when I thawed the unmarked package of moose meat, a gift from a friend, I discovered not steak, but stew. What was I supposed to do with stew meat in July? I just wrote about my issues with the gas range heating up the house, after all. I decided I'd make a stew that I could do on the BBQ.

Well, that didn't pan out. We've been getting weird weather these days, and today was windy, with gusts blowing hard enough to put out the side burner on the BBQ. It was relatively cool, though, hovering around 20 degrees Celsius, so I decided to just make the stew on my stovetop with the windows and screen doors wide open.

I found a recipe online that called for fresh herbs and wine. I followed the recipe, more or less. I didn't use Partridgeberry wine, but rather some open bottles of red that had been open for too long to drink, but that I couldn't bear to dump.

I snipped fresh oregano, rosemary and thyme from my garden and added them, along with a bay leaf, a teaspoon or more of salt and a generous glug (a cup or more) of wine to the meat. Instead of marinating overnight, I just marinated at room temperature for a few hours, since that was all the time I had.

I browned the meat in lard, without dusting in flour, because the recipe didn't call for that, and I find that step messy and annoying at the best of times. I then added a pinch of paprika, a chopped onion and two carrots. After stirring a bit, I added in the marinade liquid and some of my thawed homemade beef stock. That simmered for a couple of hours, and then I threw in another onion and some halved baby potatoes.

Then came the revelation. Instead of making a slurry out of water and flour to thicken (to make up for not flouring the meat before browning), the recipe called for mixing equal parts flour and butter, and stirring that in at the last minute. I am familiar with adding butter to pasta sauces and wine reductions, but have never yet added it to a stew at the end of cooking.

I will always do it from now on.

What a difference it made! The gravy was smooth and velvety, a pleasing colour and silky texture. It looked...French, somehow. Not rustic, but gourmet!

I have never been a fan of stews. They fall into the same category as chile and lasagne—they're always so-so, never amazing, and if I never make one, I can always guarantee that I'll get my fill somewhere along the way, since they are the things that people always make for guests. Stew, like chile and lasagne, is also one of my husband's favourite comfort foods, so he is always starved for them.

We may have discovered a happy medium here—I now have a method for cooking stew with results that stop me in my tracks. My husband may have a few more stews in his future.

I should also mention the kids' response. D and G tend to eschew stew, pushing it around on their plates and filling up on bread. Baby G ate the entire bowl, lifted it to his lips to drink the last of the gravy, and then asked for more. D dipped his bread in the sauce, ate several bites, and then came back to it later and finished it off. D's enthusiastic praise: "Thanks, Mom, for making such a great feast!" and baby G chimed in, "Tootoo [thank you], Mama!" We have a winner.

I have another package of moose stew meat in the freezer. I don't think I'll be doing a single thing to try to improve on the recipe. And I'll be thickening every stew I make with the butter and flour mixture. They will be better for it.

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