By Nanette Hebdige
It’s stew season for a reason! Fall is long over and winter has been has finally made its frosty appearance and with the cooler temperatures prevailing, stews are the quintessential comfort food and a ubiquitous sensation. There aren’t enough words to eulogize and offer the homage that stews rightfully deserve. Because a good stew is like a fine wine that needs savoring and anticipated. Even the dog salivates smelling the aroma while it’s cooking.
From a historical standpoint, records written by Apicus in Journals labeled Cookery from Imperial Rome, stews go as far back as 2nd century AD, where there’s mention of lamb and fish dishes prepared in broth. And going back even further, tribes in the Amazon boiled turtle meat using their shells, since a combination of 2 or more ingredients simmered slowly basically constitutes a “stew”. Plenty of archeological earthenware pots have been unearthed with remnants of vegetables, meats and wine sediments, so, it’s safe to say spear-wielding cavemen were making stews because of the vast documentation stating that’s were soups and stews started.
What’s not to love about a good stew?
From the mouthwatering bouquet wafting through the house as it tenderly simmers with barely any supervision, to the predominant and oftentimes unique ingredients showcased through every cultural take, and finally the sublime moment when your eyes roll to the back of your head because it’s boggled your palate.
And paramount is the glorious fact that the flavors deepen with time, so it can be made a day or two ahead, which is perfect for a gettogether or for weeknight meals. When making this gem ahead, the key is to bring the pot out of the fridge, allow it to sit on the counter for about 45 minutes to remove some of the chill and give it a gentle reheat. You want the ingredients to reheat slowly, so the liquids don’t evaporate, and the ingredients aren’t reduced to mush.
Here are 10 globetrotting beef contenders to add to your recipe arsenal. And to ensure the end result is iconoclastic, check out Beef Stewing 101.
IRISH BEEF STEW
Out of the gate is the traditional Irish stew made with potatoes and beef native to Ireland. Lamb, goat and mutton were the meat of choice in ancient times, cooked with potatoes and water. The Celts didn’t possess the cauldrons that hung-over cooking pits in their households, until the Greeks invented it in the 7thcentury. This take uses beef and the results are equally as brilliant.
The doyenne of French cuisine, the incomparable Julia Child introduced this beloved French beef stew and it has become a true epic beef dish, recreated all over the world. Like its sister coq-au-vin, both dishes derive from the Burgundy region in France and are slowly simmered in a red wine sauce with pearl onions and mushrooms, with a touch of cognac.
One of the most celebrated and oldest dishes deriving from French peasant cooking. Don’t think for one minute that it’s outdated, because the throwback on old classics is now all the rage. It requires time to cook, so prepare this over the weekend. This isn’t a beef-stew per say – because it doesn’t have the same consistency, but more like beef cooked in broth. It’s important to provide the garnishes, as that’s what makes the dish authentic. The leftovers are even more outstanding the day after.
SPANISH BEEF STEW WITH RIOJA WINE – ESTOFADO DE TERNERA A LA RIOJANA
This time-honored Spanish stew comes from the Spanish region of Rioja. As with any stew, you can make modifications and Spanish cured chorizo is a popular addition that can be sautéed after browning the chuck and some mushrooms can be added at the end. The addition of red Rioja is what makes it traditional, not to mention the smokiness of the Spanish paprika. A match made in heaven.
MEXICAN BEEF STEW WITH GUAJILLO SAUCE – BIRRIAS DE RES
Guadalajara is the home to the Birrias de Res, tequila and the famous Mariachi’s. Birrias is a typical dish presented at every restaurant in Jalisco and most households, served with corn tortillas, lime, cilantro and chopped onion. The red color in the sauce comes from the red guajillo peppers, quintessential to this dish.
CARBONNADE À LA FLAMANDE – FLEMISH BEEF STEW
Flemish in origin, Carbonnade is a beef stew made unusual by the addition of beer, ACV, sugar, fresh tarragon and thyme. It’s rich, hearty and completely versatile, as it can be served accompanied by buttered noodles, mashed, boiled or roasted potatoes and my personal favorite, a crispy, heaping pile of French fries.
THAI BEEF STEW
The addition of Thai aromatics imparts a very distinctive take on this Asian Beef classic curry and the coconut milk delivers a velvety creaminess that cuts through the heat level. Don’t skip adding cilantro and squeezing some lime before eating it, it adds the freshness needed to take the flavor notes to Nirvana. Without it, it’s not the same. Can be served with noodles or plain jasmine rice.
SHORT RIB STEW
This is one of the exceptions to chuck. If using short rib meat hasn’t entered your mind to make stew, the rich marbling in the meat renders an incredibly succulent stew when simmered slowly.
SINGAPOREAN BEEF RENDANG
This is an Asian/Malaysian Beef Stew on steroids – a favorite that is ever popular in South East Asia. Slow simmered beef in coconut milk with toasted spices and chilies. Malays typically don’t inject much beef into their cuisine, as it is an expensive commodity, but it’s found in almost every household after the holiday Hari Raya Puasa, celebrating the end of the Ramadan and the customary Muslim fasting. You can however find it at many Malaysian and Indonesian restaurants year-round. It is wickedly delicious and once you have made it you will be addicted.
The end up product is an unbelievably aromatic stew-like dish with beef so criminally tender that will have your eyes roll back to the back of your head. After the beef has cooked, you will be left with a very thick sauce – thick enough that it will adhere to the meat.
Last on the list is the Russian popular Stroganoff dish, more prevalent in the 60’s now making a comeback, as with many dishes that are throwbacks being revived in the culinary world. Unlike most stews that require lengthy braising to render the meat tender, the cut of beef used for Stroganoff is beef tenderloin, and therefore it only requires a very short cooking time. This is more a meat dish in a rich, velvety, creamy sauce, typically served over egg noodles. You can cut the beef and add a variety of mushrooms or add more beef and less shrooms.