Monday, November 5, 2012

Beef Stew/Ragu with Pickles and Sausage

Last winter, our go-to stew was a delicate veal stew with mushrooms and sage, which paired nicely with our delicate winter.  This winter, in expectation of a more "New England" winter, our go-to stew will be this one with a touch of smokiness from bacon fat, a sweet and sour component from pickles and capers, and a finish of red wine vinegar to give just the right amount of brightness and a little tang.

For the pickles, I use golden glow, which my mom makes. If you don't pickle, look in speciality sections for this old fashioned style of pickles, which is peeled cucumber, red and green bell peppers, onions, and has a sweet and sour flavor.  You could I presume use cornichons or dill pickles, but you will miss out on the sweetness the golden glow adds.  The other key ingredient here is herbs de Provence, which although there is only a 1/2 tsp, adds a powerful herbal note in support of the other strong flavors. I like Penzeys, but as long as your blend is not powdered from age, any high quality blend will work here. There are various ways to make your own herbs de Provence blend, but if you keep dried marjoram or savory as standards in your pantry, you probably have herbs de Provence too.

Be sure to plan ahead to simmer the dish for at least an hour and a half, preferably two hours, so that the beef becomes suitably tender.  Unlike some stews that have large chunks of vegetables with the chunks of meat, this stew has chunks of beef only, and the rest of the stew is saucy.   In this way, I guess you could call this a ragu.  But who cares, it tastes good no matter what you call it. The first couple times I made this, I used standard sized stewing chunks, which are about 2 or 3 inch hunks of beef.  I've decided that the only utensils you want here are a fork and a piece of bread, so I cut the beef chunks into generous 1" pieces, that can fit on a fork.

If you don't have bacon fat, just use olive oil.  However, if you don't have bacon fat, I must ask....why???? Next time you make bacon, drain off the fat and keep in a glass jar with a tight lid in the fridge.  You can add new fat to the same jar, scooping out what you need.  Great for dishes that would benefit from an extra smoky boost, like this one!

As with most stews...even better the next day.

  • 3 TBS bacon fat
  • 4 ounces of sweet italian sausage, removed from casing
  • 2 pounds beef stew meat, like chuck, cut into generous 1" chunks
  • Flour, for dredging
  • 1 medium onion (about 1 cup), chopped
  • 1 medium carrot (about 2/3 cup), finely chopped
  • 1 large stalk celery (about 2/3 cup), finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup golden glow pickles, drained and finely chopped
  • 2 TBS capers, drained and well rinsed, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves (about 2 tsp) minced
  • 1/2 tsp dried herbs de Provence
  • 2/3 cup red wine (like a young pinot noir or chianti)
  • One 28 oz can crushed tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
  • 1-2 TBS red wine vinegar
  • Heat bacon fat over medium heat in a large dutch oven.
  • Add sausage to pan, and cook until lightly brown, breaking up into small pieces with wooden spoon as it cooks.  Using a slotted spoon, remove sausage from pan and set aside.
  • Raise heat to medium high, and working in batches to allow room from deep browning, cook the beef. Just before placing in pan, dredge beef chunks in flour, shaking off excess. (do not dredge beef chunks until just before placing in pan, or the flour will soak in, and you won't get a good crust)
  • As each batch of beef browns, remove from pan and set aside with sausage.  If your pan gets too dry in subsequent batches or before the next step, add more bacon fat or a splash of olive oil, and allow to heat before continuing.
  • Ensure there is at least a TBS of fat in the pan, and then add onion to pan and lower heat to medium. 
  • Cook onion for a about 5 minutes, until softened.
  • Add carrot, celery, pickles, capers, garlic and herbs de Provence, cook stirring regularly for about 5 minutes, until vegetables are softened
  • Add red wine, raise heat to medium high, and simmer the wine, deglazing the pan.  Simmer for 1 minute
  • Add tomatoes, rinse can with water and add half a can's worth of water.
  • Return beef and sausage to pan, stir to submerge into sauce.
  • Bring to a simmer, partially cover, and simmer for 1.5-2 hours.
  • When beef is tender and sauce thickened, remove from heat, and stir in 1 to 2 TBS red wine vinegar.
  • Serve with bread or over pasta.