January 9, 2013

The Maine Ingredient: Time to steam up those windows

By Anne Mahle

OK, now's the time for full-on comfort food. The buche de Noels, chateaubriands and swanky cosmos are in the past, and now it's time for warm stew, homemade bread and a beer. Plus, it's more than a might nippy outside, so who doesn't want to have something simmering on the stove for an hour or two to get the feeling back into the tips of our fingers and toes?

This beef stew is yet another riff on a classic meal, and I have to say I never tire of it. Simple flavors, full-bodied, with the sage and bacon adding a touch of elegance to an everyday staple.

As I was in the grocery store this week deciding what to create for dinner, a good bit of my choices were based on availability and price. My decision process usually begins with what I have in the freezer, but if, as was the case this time, I've run through the entire cow that was housed there, the grocery store is Plan B. Once I've decided on the cut, then I can gauge how long to allot for cooking times. In this recipe, "beef stew meat" could mean a number of different cuts, but is typically from the chuck.

However, beef stew meat -- that was over $4 per pound. But beef shoulder? That was $2.99 a pound. Now we were talking. Yes, I'd have to cut and trim it myself, but I know how to wield a knife.

Because stew is one of those meals that simmers along for an hour or two, the cut of meat one chooses should be from a muscle that is well-used: The shoulder (or chuck), for example, or the butt (or round). Meat from the shoulder will have more fat, which will make for a more silky, flavorful stew, whereas meat from the round will have less fat, more sinew and require a little more time to become tender. In both cases, long, slow, wet cooking is perfect for tenderizing what can be very sinewy cuts of meat.

In either case, the result is a cozy meal that warms up your house and bellies. Happy steamy windows to you!

BACON AND SAGE BEEF STEW

Serve with homemade spatzle, wide egg noodles or mashed potatoes. Because unlike many stews, this one does not contain potatoes, it is easily frozen (potatoes turn mushy when defrosted).

1/4 cup flour

1 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon salt

3 pounds beef stew meat, cut into 3/4-inch pieces

6 strips of bacon, cut into small slices

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 cup red wine

2 cups beef stock

1 large sage sprig, tied with a string

1/2 pound carrots cut into short sticks

1/2 pound frozen pearl onions

In a large bowl, combine the first four ingredients. Fully coat stew meat with flour and seasoning mixture. Heat olive oil in large stockpot over medium-high heat. Carefully add meat and brown, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, in a separate small pan, render bacon and remove from fat. Set aside. When stew meat is browned, add garlic and saute for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add bacon, red wine, beef stock and sage sprig and stir. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer. Cover and simmer for at least 11/2 hours, or until the beef is tender. Add the carrots and pearl onions and simmer covered until tender, another 10 to 15 minutes.

Serves 4-6.

PEAR, PECAN AND BLUE CHEESE SALAD

1 ripe pear, sliced thinly

3 large red leaf lettuce leaves, chopped, washed and well-drained

1/4 cup chopped pecans

1/3 cup crumbled blue cheese

2 tablespoons lemon juice; about 1/2 lemon

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/8 teaspoon salt

Several grinds of black pepper

Combine pear, lettuce, pecans and blue cheese in a large salad bowl. Drizzle the lemon juice and olive oil over the ingredients and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss with your hands to gently combine and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Anne Mahle of Rockland is the author of "At Home, At Sea." She can be reached at:

chefannie@mainewindjammer.com

 

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