Stew-per Supper

At the first dip in the thermometer here in Texas, everyone pulls out all the sweaters and the Uggs and clears the store shelves of chili & cornbread or stew-making ingredients. Even if the forecast tells us the high is a mild 50°, for us that’s downright “bundle up” weather! You’ll just have to bear with us, we don’t get much cold weather here. We hope for “snow days” when it’s not even snowing!

In our house, this meant stew. We don’t have anything against your traditional, home-grown stew in our house. We actually have a taste for a variety of different flavors home-grown, unique, and exotic. However, when given an opportunity to try new things, I definitely jump at the chance! It’s a not-so-secret habit of mine to refrain from make the exact same recipe twice. I will perhaps if I loved it so much and have an inspiration to make a variation on it, but with so many recipes out there to arouse… I just want to explore with every meal!

When I came across a Chilean Braised Beef Stew with Garlic Cream recipe from Saveur magazine’s October 2015 issue, it was still in the upper 90s outside… about 6 weeks ago. No one was even thinking about hearty, soul-warming food at the time. We were just trying to stay cool. However, I dog-eared the page on a wish and a prayer in the hopes that by the time I chose to make it, the weather would warrant an ebullient bowl of beefy goodness.

I can happily say, the weather complied with my wishes. I know the phrase “there is a God in heaven” is used jokingly in these types of situations; but I whole-heartedly believe He sees the desires of our hearts, no matter how small, and He cares! If He cares enough to number the hairs on my head, He cares enough to bring me a little rainy, chilly weather. It may have only been 50°, but it was perfect stew weather!

The recipe called for the beef to be seasoned with kosher salt and black pepper prior to dusting with flour. This is always a must before cooking meat, by the way. After looking at the other seasoning used in the recipe, I was inspired to season the meat with my special blend of herb salt. I do still buy store-bought herbs and spices on occasion, but I also like to dry my own. Whenever a recipe calls for a certain type of fresh herb, I use it when I can get it fresh and dry whatever remains for my own stash. Drying your own can be an exercise in patience, but the end result is so worth it! Store-bought herbs often lack the flavor and color that home-dried only provides. Plus, using the home-dried later imparts bolder, truer flavors that you wouldn’t ordinarily get from dried!

The garlic cream gave me a little trouble, but it wasn’t any more than adding a little more cream couldn’t fix. The garlic cream is basically aïoli. In America, an aïoli usually consists of flavored mayonnaise, but a more correct aïoli is given here. It’s simply garlic, oil, and (milk +) cream. The velvety garlic cream adds a cool punch throughout the steamy, flavorful beef stew. Since the herbs/seasonings were simple, each component was able to stand out and really project itself onto the palate.

The earthiness and refreshing aroma of thyme plays well with the earthy, sweetness of the carrots and onions that form the broth base for this stew. Coating the cubes of beef with flour prior to browning, adds a little thickening to the broth. What you end up with is tender bits of meat braised in a rich gravy. Chileans ordinarily eat their stew with fries (kinda like we eat it with mashed potatoes here in America). We didn’t, but I definitely intend to enjoy the last of the aïoli with some Alexia Rosemary Fries!

If you prefer not to use red wine in your beef stew, beef stock can be swapped in for all or part of the wine. As a matter of fact, I only had about half as much as I needed left in my bottle of Holland House, so I swapped in some Better Than Bouillon for the rest. We still got the acidity and sweetness you’d normally get from the wine, but it wasn’t overpoweringly “wine-y.” If you opt for using all beef broth, use a good quality one (or better yet, homemade!) for best flavor. Otherwise, you’ll just end up with an ordinary beef stew. Which is fine if you want that sort of thing… Cooking is so personal. You do you!

What have been some of your favorite additions to beef stew?

Currently reading: Bon Appétit magazine, November ’15 issue

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