My husband has recently developed a liking for red wine. Not just any red wine, but the old world style, full bodied, fruit-laden red wine. The kind of red wine that resulted in our honeymoon trip to New Zealand including several days of wine tasting, and his being labeled an “alternative” wine drinker in a country that specializes in light and fruity pinot noir. And so earlier in the week I found myself standing in front of shelves filled with red wine bottles with labels I did not recognize, and a very helpful sales clerk eager to advise me on my purchase. Of course they had just the kind of bottle I wanted, and so, excited, I hurried home with my purchase to drink with our dinner. Of course, the bottle was disappointing – not in a sense that it was closer to vinegar than wine kind of disappointing, but it just was not quite what we wanted. And so, I had a nearly-full bottle of red wine to find a use for or pour down the drain.
Now, for the record, I do not like to pour wine down the drain. Luckily for me, it’s cold outside, and there are few things that go better with a cold wintry evening than a hearty beef stew. And what goes better with a beef stew than red wine? Perfect solution found.
There are countless beef stew recipes, some that call for wine, some that don’t, some that include vegetables, some that are meat only, some that are a little sweet…my choices often depend on what I have in the fridge or pantry. I did not have many vegetables in the fridge today, so I chose to go simple – meat, onions, garlic, herbs, and wine. And a little bacon – because, let’s face it – everything is better with bacon.
The best pot for a stew is a heavy cast iron enamel pot, like a Le Creuset or similar. It retains heat well, and distributes it evenly in the oven. However, it does not distribute heat evenly on the stove top, so if you are planning to cook your stew on the stove top, you would be better off with a stainless steel pot, ideally a multi-layered one with aluminum core. Not that the finished product will suffer too greatly from your cooking vessel of choice, as short of burning, you have quite a bit of leeway when making a stew.
Ingredients (I made this with the idea for a lot of leftovers, but it would probably serve 6 to 8 people):
Beef chuck (or your favorite stew beef cut) – 4-5 pounds
A few strips of bacon, chopped
One large onion, chopped
A few garlic cloves (I used elephant garlic, so one clove was enough), chopped
Two tablespoons of tomato paste
A few bay leaves
A bunch of thyme, tied with kitchen twine for easy removal
1 750ml bottle of red wine
1 1/2 cups of beef broth
2 tablespoons flour
salt and pepper
Assembled cast of characters (from left to right): thyme, garlic, onion, beef chuck, tomato paste.
Heat up the pot with a little olive oil, and add chopped bacon. The oil will help to get the bacon going, and we will pour out the excess oil anyway, so don’t worry about additional saturated fat grams.
Once the bacon is golden and the fat has rendered, drain it on paper towels, pour out the excess oil and wipe the pot.
Return the pot to the stove, add a little more olive oil, and add the meat (you may need to do this in batches in order not to overcrowd the pot – this is important, because if you dump all the meat in at once, the meat will steam instead of browning up to a nice dark brown).
Brown the meat on all sides, adding a little salt and pepper, and remove to a deep plate or a bowl.
Add the chopped onions, and saute for about five minutes or until translucent, then add the chopped garlic and saute for another minute and add salt and pepper.
Just before adding the meat back into the pot, sprinkle the flour over the onions and garlic, stir, and let cook for a minute or so.
The flour will help the sauce thicken. Add the bacon pieces, and the beef slowly, stirring to coat with the flour mixture, and cook for a minute or so, then add tomato paste and stir.
Add the wine, and beef stock or water if necessary to almost cover the meat.
Add the thyme and bay leaf.
Taste the broth and adjust salt if necessary. Bring to boil, cover, and place into a preheated 300-degree oven for an hour and a half or until the meat falls apart easily when pierced with a fork.
Remove thyme and bay leaves before serving. The stew pairs well with potatoes, mashed or roasted, or noodles, depending on your preference. In either case, it works well with crusty bread to mop up the sauce.