Stewy Ideas

Cooking for dummies, recipes for fools….

Twelve friends for Christmas dinner …. my family encourages me to cook stew, a cleaver idea to serve twelve friends as they consider it to be one of their favourite dishes. When I revisit the idea of creating a beef stew: there are several steps which are key to getting right.

Step one is decide where you want to go with spices, and I start to use spices I consider ‘tongue ticklers’- those spices you’ve tasted but probably not used before. I adore Chinese pepper, (grounded Sichuan peppercorns) as it tickles the tongue; I began to use earlier this year, it is a fantastic hidden treasure. There are other such as Chinese child oil, a classic oil used in Maps Tofu, yet be careful as it is made with roasted sesame.

I looked to more mainstream spices such as coriander, chilli bean, or Pixian chilli paste, paste, ginger, oyster sauce, hoisin, garlic, white pepper and Chinese wine. I added a tiny amount of nutmeg and of course I turn down any spices which influence colour in a negative way such as turmeric. The cook must decide what and how each ingredient influences the final taste.

The initial steps entails browning the meat, and I am hopeful during this first stage gaining colour, impregnating the meat surface with a brilliant colour which will in the stew remain only up until a certain point. In many Chinese recipes they soak the meat in cold water and even blanch it but I refer a quick brine. Oh, do use a dutch oven known as a heavy cast iron casserole.

The question becomes how and what sauce you wish to obtain; use red wine it gets dark and tomato it gets sweet so be careful when thinking of using your favourite ingredients. Once you figure out where you want to go initiate the glazing using some liquids and or fat to get a gain brilliance on the surface of the meat. I always use a slight amount of vinegar, my ode to Cesare and I use his vinegar the world’s best. This is Barolo vinegar, an oxymoron when you think of it. But wine vinegar from Italy Albaretto Della Torre is my go to choice. 

I do add a touch of very small amount of Chinese vinegar in hope of contrast it will find its way later on. I love Chinese dark vinegar it is so different and distinctive and sweet, yet funky. Zhenjiang or Chinkiang vinegar is a rice-based black vinegar widely used in Chinese cuisine and it takes its name from the city of Zhenjiang in Jiangsu province. Are use the normal regular type but you can find different qualities and when it comes to Chinese vinegar it is quite extraordinary.

beef shank – at the early stages cooked with smokey butter

Do I need to use a certain amount of alcohol., i.e. red wine to slow cook the meat – the answer is no unless it is a classic dish, non-chinese and more French Beef bourguignon. It will all come together as I am going to use chicken stock and be careful of the fat content when adding stock as the fat will catch up at the end of the cooking if there is too much. Flavour is enhanced by using some kind of fat like bacon, butter or Pork ribs which I dropped in without searing. This way there are two types of meats and the ribs are tender yet more white after completion.

It is a good idea to use chicken broth (diluted with water) instead of a beef broth because beef is too intense. I find chicken adds a soothing quality, greater complexity of flavours and balance.

I have to determine to what extent the recipe will end up balanced. And we cannot forget that there are key ingredients those being onion that melds into the dish. So some will cut the onion mirepoix and cook it separately, caramelised then adding it. I use small onions and remove them before finishing. My stew is just a stew without any vegetables.

And the other ingredient which I believe is important in Asian cooking yet I try to avoid it whenever I can and that’s sugar. When cooking Asian still instead of sugar you can use mirin if applicable, or Zarame a Japanese rock sugar. The idea of sugar isn’t appealing but in many dishes sugar is used to heighten flavours.

zarame Japanese rock sugar used with shaoxing wine gets mellow

Remember I am creating my own identity, so the recipe is just an indication so you can choose distinctive elements such as cloves and or anise star, some essential in small doses. And, deglaze and caramelise the meats surface so it has a nice colour even it is gets soaked up during cooking.

Don’t forget mushrooms in the sauce the umami is intensified when using dense mushrooms, and this time shiitake. The end game is a stew which can be served with rice and the beef mush be tender and juicy. Cooking it and leaving it overnight is a wise idea so the flavours meld, so good luck and look here for some stewy ideas.

Categories: Meaty Days