Monday, October 15, 2007

Do not fear beef. It is your friend.

The stove is well-loved, *not* just dirty, all right?

OK, so admittedly, that is not a picture of beef. Instead, it's a picture of the first step in the long process of beef stew and ultimately, beef stroganoff. I picked up a gorgeous chuck roast from Marin Sun Farms over the weekend and wanted to try slow-cooking it instead of just browning it, shoving it in the oven and eating it rare, which is what I usually do.

So the first step was making a decent vegetable stock to stew it in. I love making vegetable stock because it's an opportunity to take all the stuff you'd normally discard (or compost, for that matter) and turn it into something tasty. I've found that as long as you have the basics in there - carrots, celery and onions or leeks - it doesn't matter what else you add as long as there is a great heaping pile of vegetable matter and you cook the living hell out of it. This one had the aforementioned basics, plus leek tops, cranberry and fava bean shells, kohlrabi peels and tops, beet stems and peels, chard stalks and onion skins. Basically, you throw it all in your stockpot and then add water to about an inch or so above the pile and let it simmer for a couple of hours. For some reason, it seems as though something magical happens at about the 2 1/2 hour mark - the liquid goes from having an inchoate watery-green taste and develops a deep, rich vegetable flavor. Here's what you end up with after about 4 hours of cooking:

I strained all the spent vegetable matter through a sieve and discarded it, having yielded about 5 quarts of stock from a pile of stuff most people would normally toss.

Next, I put my chuck roast, two medium-sized onions and 6 cloves of garlic into a stew pot and filled it with vegetable stock and about 2 cups of red wine. When I opened the package of beef up, it looked and smelled like a rosy, delicious meat-gasm. Here it is, uncooked, in the pot:

BEEF, up close and personal

After about 3 hours of simmering, the meat was fall-apart tender and the cooking liquid was just redolent of beefy goodness. I let it cool over night, stuck it in the fridge and when I took it out the next evening to prepare, a thin layer of fat had solidified at the top. This I cracked off and mixed with some flour to make a sauce thickener. When it was reheated, I added quartered potatoes and a small red cabbage, also quartered, to cook in the stew juices. I know it must seem insane to spend 7 hours cooking one meal, but the thing to remember is that most of that time is spent sitting around, doing other stuff and popping over to the stove occasionally to stir.

Of course, there were leftovers. I turned those into beef stroganoff, which is a really easy way to use up beef leftovers. It basically involved shredding the beef, reheating it in the stewing liquid and then adding some sour cream and dijon mustard to taste, and then serving it over egg noodles. It made me feel triumphant in a 1950's home-ec kind of way to transform my two-day old chuck roast like this.

I'd also like to add that this whole rigamarole is probably the most economical way to enjoy grass-fed beef, since chuck roast is one of the cheaper cuts you can get other than hamburger, which sells out more quickly. I totally understand the sticker shock that comes with sustainably raised/natural/organic/grass-fed etc. meats, but do not freak out and go buy feedlot beef from Safeway instead ("Rancher's Reserve", my ass)!!! Just get a brisket or a chuck roast and you'll be good for a while. This one yielded 6 meals.

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