With winter fog plus the added gloominess of a recent oil spill hanging over my lovely city, there’s really no better time for a hearty stew involving an animal of the land! If you know me, you’ll know that me eating beef is a pretty rare event – I generally abide by the principle that I’ll eat beef, or most meats, only when my body really craves it. Me cooking red meat at home is an even rarer occurrence. So, listen up! This is probably one of the only beef recipes you’ll get out of me!

After convincing Nathan that I do indeed want to make a beef stew (not chicken, not lamb), off I went to Drewes’ butcher shop a few blocks away to buy me some happy, sustainably-raised moo-cow. When I asked the guy working at the counter about the difference between the stew meat ($6.49/lb) and a whole chuck roast ($6.99), he said something about how they’re exactly the same thing but one’s cut up and the ‘gland taken out’ for my convenience. Now I don’t know much about cuts of meat so call me ignorant, but what’s a gland doing in a shoulder cut?

In any case, even though his whole explanation didn’t make much sense to me, I still went with the pre-cut stew meat, figuring that it shouldn’t really matter for a stew. Looking back and after doing some research online, however, I think I should have bought the whole roast – the logic is that when you buy the roast, you know exactly the cut you’re getting and not just scraps from various parts of the animal. You can also cut up chunks which are all about the same size, so everything cooks at the same rate. Oh well.

Originally, I had this grand vision of making a boeuf bourguignon, full of delicious red wine. But then I remembered that one of my main reasons for making a beef stew was to use up a bunch of our CSA carrots; boeuf bourguignon, while delicious-sounding, traditionally involves only onions, mushrooms, beef, wine, and bacon. Darn.

In the end, I made a red wine beef stew with carrots and green beans (can I call it boeuf bourguignon-esque?) and served it with some smashed potatoes and a gremolata mixed with some coarse sea salt. The gremolata idea was taken from reading one of Jamie Oliver’s recipes and I got to give him props – it really brightens up the whole dish. Good job, Mr. Naked Chef!

(Recipe based on this one by Dave Lieberman, and because I can’t follow instructions, “adapted” last minute by me)

1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1.5 lb beef chuck/shoulder, cut into 1-inch chunks
flour for coating the beef cubes
2 medium onions, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1.5 cups red wine
2 cups chicken stock
1 14-oz can tomatoes, smushed coarsely by hand
2 cloves garlic, smashed
3 sprigs rosemary
2 bay leaves
8 small carrots, halved then cut into 1 inch pieces
2 handfuls of green beans, trimmed, long beans snapped in half
3-4 russet potatoes, washed and cut into quarters
about 1/4 cup whole milk
2-3 tbsp olive oil
leaves from 1 handful of parsley, chopped

zest of one lemon
1 clove garlic
1 sprig rosemary, just the leaves
pinch of coarse sea salt

Heat butter and olive oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Season the beef cubes with salt and pepper, toss to coat in flour, and add half to pot in a single layer. (Don’t pack them all in or they won’t sear properly.) Turn the pieces so they get browned on all sides, then set aside on a dish. Don’t worry if you get some brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan – they make the stew extra delicious. Repeat with the rest of the beef and set aside.

Add onions and cook until soft and tender, about 3-5 minutes.

Lower heat to medium-low. Add in about 1/2 cup of the red wine and using a wooden spoon, scrape up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add in the rest of the wine, the stock, the tomatoes (with juices), garlic, rosemary, and bay leaves. Once the whole thing comes to a simmer, lower heat even further so it’s barely simmering. Put cover on halfway and let simmer for about an hour. Stir occasionally.

Add in carrots and simmer for another hour. (If the stew starts to look too thick, you can add in some water or stock to thin it out.)

After another 30 minutes, put potatoes in another pot of cold water and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and cover until the stew is ready. This will essentially allow the potatoes to slowly cook in the hot water until you’re ready to mash them.

Add in green beans and simmer for another 10-15 minutes until the green beans are tender but not mushy.

While green beans are cooking, you can make the mashed potatoes. Check that the potatoes are fork tender – if not, turn on heat briefly to finish boiling them. Drain, then put potatoes in a bowl, and roughly mash with a fork. Drizzle in olive oil, a small pinch of chopped parsley, a splash of the milk and stir together. Add in small amounts of milk if it’s too crumbly – the potatoes should stick together and not be crumbly, but you don’t want them as creamy as regular mashed potatoes either. Season with salt.

To make the gremolata, mince garlic and rosemary and mix with lemon zest and sea salt.

To serve, put a mound of potatoes in center of plate. Ladle stew around the sides. Garnish with chopped parsley and a small bit of gremolata.

(Makes a whole lot of stew – enough for multiple meals. Stew freezes pretty well too if you want to save some for rainy days.)

Note: I actually used too much stock (3 cups) when I made the dish, resulting in a very liquidy stew even after 2 hours – so I ended up having to whip out the oldest Cantonese cooking trick in the book and thickened the whole thing with some cornstarch (since I was too hungry to wait for it to reduce). Hopefully, that won’t happen to you. But if it does, either let it simmer until it’s reduced to the right consistency or cheat like I did: take a tablespoon of cornstarch, add in a bit of water, and use your fingers to dissolve the whole thing so there are no lumps. Slowly drizzle into the simmering stew after adding green beans and stir. You should see your stew thicken as the cornstarch cooks. Keep adding cornstarch like this one tablespoon at a time to get your stew to the desired consistency.