Hearty, rich, comfort food, belly warming – these are all descriptors for beef stew. It is the ideal fall dish and warms up the whole house while the fragrant aroma envelops your senses.
It is always better to buy a particular cut of meat from the butcher rather than just stewing beef because meat cooks differently depending on which area of the animal it comes from. For this recipe I used brisket, which I bought from the butcher and then had him cube for me. It makes a succulent stew. The sweetness in the dish comes from the carrots and rutabaga as well as the honey. You could add other roots such as parsnips, yellow beets or even potatoes. A touch of chile de arbol is a wonderful seasoning, particularly when there is some sweetness in the dish. It has more depth of flavour than cayenne, making it my first choice when I want to spice up a stew.
The reason for removing the lid in the last half hour of cooking is to allow the sauce to reduce a little more, intensifying its flavour.
Portland, Ore., is home to a superb dining scene that often sets the trends through its network of exciting restaurants. Famous for its laid-back but inspiring food scene, it was home to the birth of the food-truck craze (there are more than 600 in the city). Visiting Portland recently, I saw that the new trend is vegetable-forward cooking, where vegetables are the main attraction, with protein in a supporting role.
At a conference in Madrid that I attended, Joan Roca, chef-owner of three-star Michelin and S. Pellegrino No. 1 restaurant in the world El Celler de Can Roca, said emphasizing vegetables is the most important food trend in the past 10 years. He believes that proteins belong in the background. This is not a move to vegetarianism, but to using the diverse taste, colour and texture of vegetables as the basis of the plate. Roca also noted that prices in restaurants would be kept down if vegetables became the focus, an important point in our skittish economy.
In my recipe (which owes a deep thanks to the Italian restaurant Ava Genes in Portland for the idea) the steak portion per person is four ounces, but the vegetables are a much bigger part of the dish. Bound together with a rich demi-glace sauce, it is a dish this side of heaven. Demi-glace is available at good butcher shops if you prefer to buy it. Omit sauce instructions if you do.
When I was in New York recently, on a local friend’s advice, I made a beeline to Fung Tu, Jonathan Wu’s wildly creative and idiosyncratic restaurant on the border of the Lower East Side and Chinatown. An alumnus of Per Se, Wu is putting his stamp on American-Chinese cuisine, recreating and modernizing the traditional dishes he remembers from his grandparents’ kitchen and using innovative concepts to elevate familiar dishes. He takes things one step further with an outstanding wine, beer and cocktail list crafted to fit his menu.
Balsamic vinegar is a good alternative to black rice vinegar.
I am not a lover of braised meats because of their texture. When it comes to short ribs, though, all bets are off. This New Year’s, I made one my best braises ever and probably the simplest. I used an old French method, not overindulging in herbs and spices. It is best made with real beef stock, which can be either homemade or bought from your butcher. It reduces much better because of its natural gelatin.
Short ribs come two different ways. Some are cut across the bone, so you end up with three bones. Think thick Miami-style ribs. Others are cut English style on one long bone. These are my preference, as they look more elegant and the meat is more luscious. Garnishes change with the season, but carrots and mushrooms are my choice. I cook them separately and add them for the last few minutes. And I bake the ribs separately for 15 minutes after cooking. It makes them more succulent.
This was my favourite dish growing up. The creaminess of the potatoes and the slight spiciness of the beef make a delightful contrast. My granny used to add green peas at the end before baking but it is optional. For a more traditional shepherd's pie, use lamb instead of beef.
This fragrant, spicy dish reheats wonderfully. Freeze remaining coconut milk for another use. Tamarind can be bought in many different forms. I prefer the tamarind concentrate found in Asian stores. Kemiri (also called candlenuts) are the nuts used in Malaysia; Brazil or macadamia nuts make a fine substitute. Although the recipe calls for belachan (shrimp paste) I found anchovy paste to be a good alternative. Serve with rice and sambal.
When I was in Singapore recently, I sampled some lovely curries. They were Indian in flavour, though not entirely, with some spicing from other parts of the Asian world. This beef curry has classic Indian spices as well as star anise and is finished with a little preserved lemon, which gives it extra zing. My recipe isn’t traditional, but these extras lend the dish a silky finish with serious kick. By sautéing the spices whole and then grinding them with a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder, the flavour is much fresher. You can use ground spices if you wish, however. If you like a hotter curry, add up to half a teaspoon of cayenne for a real punch of heat. Serve it with rice and sautéed greens, dusted with a little garam masala.