Time for Stew
By Dara O’Brien
Creative Director, Lake Isle Press
I attempted my first beef stew some years ago. I vaguely recall that its salient features were chewy beef and disintegrating potatoes.
I never tried to make it again and that’s a shame, don’t you think? Whipping up a fortifying stew sounds pretty good to me right about now. There’s a long, isolated winter coming; I need all the fortifying I can get.
I’ve read that one of the secrets to making a good beef stew is patience. The meat cooks for hours, not minutes. It may seem counterintuitive to cook beef for a long time and expect it to become increasingly tender. Overcooked meat is supposed to be dry. Well done = tough and chewy.
But stews and braises are different. For super tender meat, go low and slow. And leaner cuts are your best bet because they have more collagen, which breaks down when the meat cooks for an extended time.
Lesson learned. I was ready to try again.
I decided to launch my Stew 2.0 quest with Mayada Anjari’s recipe for stewed white beans with beef (a Middle Eastern dish called white fassoulia) from her Lake Isle Press cookbook “The Bread and Salt Between Us.” I chose it because even though it’s a straightforward stew recipe, the beans offer a twist on the classic trio of beef with potatoes and carrots. And it looked extremely yummy (the picture from the cookbook is below; my version is at top).
I followed Mayada’s recipe exactly, which included an overnight soak for the beans (rather than a quick soak or prepping then in my Instant Pot as I normally would). I’d never done an overnight soak for any beans; the result was perfection. Whadda ya know. When time allows I’ll do it again.
The recipe worked like a charm but for one snag. The beans were great… the broth was tasty… and the beef was tough. I had bought the right cut (chuck roast) and done everything by the book, or so I thought. Somehow the timing for the beans and the beef was off.
I rechecked the recipe. That’s when I saw that it said to start cooking the meat while the beans are simmering. I started it after the beans had already been simmering for an hour. My bad.
Faced with leaving it on heat and turning the beans to mush or removing it from the heat before the beef was ready, I opted for a third alternative. I strained out the beans, put the beef back in the pot with the broth, and cooked it for another hour.
That solved it. The beans didn’t turn to mush and had a rich, smooth texture. The beef was tasty and tender. The stew was delicious. I served it with Mayada’s Rice Pilaf with Vermicelli and the two dishes were a great match, both immediately after cooking and when I reheated them as leftovers. The ratio of beef to beans was a little skimpy, but the beans made a great side dish on their own.
Mistakes were made. Stuff happened. The trick was to pinpoint the problem and allow the time needed to fix it. In other words, in cooking, as in many other things, patience can be a virtue. That, along with a big pot of stew with perhaps a crusty baguette can help fortify us all during the long winter ahead.
STEWED WHITE BEANS (WITH BEEF)
1 pound dried white kidney beans (2 1⁄2 cups), soaked overnight and drained
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup vegetable oil
1½ pounds stew beef, cut into 1½-inch pieces
1 medium onion, thinly sliced (about 1½ cups)
One 6-ounce can tomato paste (¾cup)
2 large cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
Salt and black pepper
Serve with Rice Pilaf with Vermicelli
Click here for printable recipe.
1. In a large pot, combine the beans and enough water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil on high. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 1 hour. Add 1 cup cold water to the beans, return to a simmer, and cook for 30 minutes more, until the beans are tender.
2. While the beans are simmering, heat the olive and vegetable oils in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high until very hot but not yet smoking. Carefully add the beef in one layer and cook for 10 to 13 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Add the onions, stir, and cover. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the onions have softened. Add 5 cups water, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the beef starts to soften.
3. Add the beans and their cooking liquid. Cover and cook for 45 minutes on medium.
4. Add the tomato paste, garlic, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and stir until thoroughly combined. Cover and cook on medium-low for 25 to 30 minutes, until the beef is very tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat and let stand for 10 to 15 minutes to thicken slightly before serving.
Recipe from “The Bread and Salt Between Us” by Mayada Anjari with Jennifer Sit, Lake Isle Press, 2018
Originally published at https://www.lakeislepress.com on October 22, 2020.