Provencal Beef Stew

| July 14, 2008 | 1 Comment
  • 1 Comment

Provencal Beef StewAs a member of a recently formed meat club, one that divides up monthly deliveries from Marin Sun Farms, I have been revisiting some of my favorite beef, lamb and goat recipes. After a few years of rarely cooking big pieces of meat in my kitchen (the meat lover in my heart is always duking it out with the vegetarian of my brain), I had a large roast in the freezer that required some attention.

An invitation to a Provencal-style patio party helped me decide what to do with that hunk of tri-tip. Beouf en daube, anyone?

There are as many ways of making this classic dish as there are stew pots, but one version, with big chunks of carrots, glossy shallots, and briny green olives is my own favorite. Gentle cooking in an airtight pot is the key, and purists will insist that you make it three days before serving it, reheating it along the way to meld and then re-meld all the ingredients into a rich, complex stew.

I have been known to simmer a stew for a mere two hours on the day of serving. It really does make a difference to let it mature for a couple of days, however, as the leftovers just keep getting better and better.

A few tips for making a daube so good that you will not actually have that much left in the pot after your dinner party…

searing meat

Use a heavy pan with a very tight-fitting lid. When browning the meat, don’t salt in advance or there will be excess moisture, which leads to steaming. Some cooks don’t salt at all before browning stew meat. Likewise, avoid crowding the pan. It’s worth it, for flavor, to brown in two or three batches. If all those chunks of meat are touching each other, you’ve put in too many. Wait until the meat releases itself from the bottom of the pan — if it’s still gripping, it’s not ready to be turned yet. Aim for nice, deep brown edges in order to establish a meaty base for your stew.

If I’m feeling happy, I might flame off the meat with some cognac. If I’m in a rush, I skip this.

Remove the meat to a plate, spoon out excess fat or add extra fat as needed. (Tri-tip won’t give off much at all, so I keep a jar of duck fat in my freezer for emergencies like this.) Then, continue with the vegetables.

mirepoix

For long-cooked stews, keep your vegetables in big pieces. For this version, I used whole shallots and some whole garlic cloves. Some people like to cook them separately and add later, perhaps stirring them in just before serving. I’ve never liked this because the flavors are never deep enough for me. I’m willing to sacrifice some carrot color for carrot complexity. Lots of fresh thyme, a sprinkle of herbes en Provence, a few strips of orange zest and a couple of bay leaves round out the mirepoix.

olives

Green olives from the south of France, say picholine, would be appropriate, but those big Greek ones are fine, too. I keep meaning to try the pitted ones stuffed with almonds or garlic, but being rather conservative with comforting food like this, I have stuck with plain olives. I do think the pimento-stuffed ones would look silly.

Old recipes call for a handful. I love olives, so my own recipe calls for two big fistfuls.

If they still have their pits, spread them in a single layer on your cutting board and crush them gently with the bottom of a saucepan. Then pop out their pits. You can be a heartless, lazy host and leave in the pits. Just be sure to warn your guests!

pigs feet

My own not-so-secret technique for adding body, especially with flavorful but lean cuts such as tri-tip, is to pour in a full bottle of wine (minus one glass for the cook, of course) and then toss in a pig’s foot. Ask the butcher to cut it in half lengthwise. And if you’re wondering where the heck you find a pig’s foot, head to the nearest market frequented by Asian, Latino or African-American cooks. I usually remove the foot before serving, snacking on its winey goodness by myself while standing in the kitchen.

If you prefer, you can use a thick piece of fatback, which you can find at most supermarkets.

Or, to avoid pork entirely, you can make a thick paste of equal amounts butter and flour, a.k.a beurre manier, to stir into the stew 15 minutes before serving.

Or, you can just enjoy your stew on the thinner, healthier side.

seal with a long thick rope

Before my pan goes into the oven, I seal it with a long, thick rope rolled out from a firm dough of just flour and water. You could try using foil beneath the lid for an extra layer of moisture barrier instead. I once thought all this merely frivolous — until I gently cooked away all the liquid of one of my stews and had to start over with a cobbled together sauce half an hour before the guests arrived.

If you’re taking the stew to a potluck, keep the lid sealed on it. If you have a heavy cast-iron pot and wrap it in a thick towel, it’ll stay warm for a good hour. I like to serve daube with wide, parsley egg noodles or garlicky mashed potatoes, or lots and lots of crusty bread.

BEOUF EN DAUBE
To make a dough for sealing the lid, stir a small amount of tepid water into about 3 cups of flour to form a stiff dough. Knead briefly, then roll into a long, thick rope; cover and set aside until needed.

Makes: 12 servings

Ingredients:
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 pounds beef roast, such as tri-tip, cut into large cubes
1 large carrot, cut into thick rounds
8 shallots, peeled
8 cloves garlic, peeled
Small bunch of fresh thyme
1 teaspoons herbes de Provence
4 wide strips of orange zest
2 bay leaves
1 bottle of dry red wine
2 to 4 cups good-quality beef or chicken stock
1 1/2 to 2 cups green olives, pitted
1 pig’s foot, halved lengthwise and soaked in boiling water for 5 minutes
Salt and black pepper
Chopped flat-leaf parsley

Preparation:
1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F, making sure the rack is in the lower third of the oven to accommodate the pan.
2. Over a high flame, heat the olive oil in a heavy, Dutch-oven pan until it glistens. Add the meat in batches and cook until well browned on all sides. Remove to a plate and set aside.
3. Add or remove oil, if needed, then combine carrots, shallots, and garlic in the still-hot pan. Saute until fragrant and golden. Stir in the thyme, herbes de Provence, orange zest and bay leaves along with the reserved beef.
4. Pour in the wine and enough of the stock to cover the meat by 1 inch. Add the olives and then tuck in the pig’s foot beneath the meat and vegetables. Bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat and cover.
5. Press the dough rope over the edge of the lid to seal tightly. Make sure there are no cracks or gaps. Place the pan into the oven and cook for 3 hours. Let cool completely, then refrigerate for 1 to 3 days, stirring and reheating once a day if possible. Remove the pig’s foot, season to taste with salt and pepper and sprinkle with parsley just before serving.

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About the Author ()

Thy Tran writes literary nonfiction about food, the rituals of the kitchen, and the many ways eating and cooking both connect and separate communities around the world. She co-authored the award-winning guide, Kitchen Companion, and her work has appeared in numerous other books, including Asia in the San Francisco Bay Area: A Cultural Travel Guide and Cooking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America. Her writing has been featured in The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Fine Cooking and Saveur. A recipient of a literary grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission, Thy is currently working on a collection of essays about how food changes in families across time and place. Though trained as a professional chef, she works on cookbooks by day, then creates literary chapbooks by night. An old letterpress and two cabinets of wood and lead type occupy a corner of her writing studio, for she is as committed to the art and craft of bookmaking as she is to the power of words themselves. In addition to writing, editing, teaching and printing, Thy remains active in local food justice and global food sovereignty movements. Visit her website, wanderingspoon.com, to learn more about her culinary adventures.
  • d

    when do the olives go in???