Saturday, April 9, 2011

Since I can't drink it...

There really is very little in the food world that I love as much as meat that has been slow cooked in alcohol. The slow cooking process plus the enzymes in the alcohol can break down an otherwise tough piece of meat (like the chuck in this recipe) into something tender and full of flavor. You can stew it in wine, simmer it in beer, even serve it up after cooking it in cider. Right now, I can't drink any of those delicious beverages. (Cause, in case you didn't know, I'm currently incubating a small human.) And I miss them. Oh, how I miss them. The good news is, I can still cook with them! Hooray!

For this week, I made beef, mushroom and Guinness pies. The funny thing is, I actually don't drink beer, so it might seem sort of ironic that I'd seek out the flavor of one of the forbidden fruits I don't even enjoy. However, for cooking something as hearty as a beef stew (which is what this essentially is), that dark bready flavor is exactly right.

Stew Ingredients:
2 lbs chuck, cut into rough  cubes
2 tablespoons plain (all-purpose) flour
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
14 oz button mushrooms, stems removed (which in my house means, "stems eaten while you're assembling the other ingredients")
2 fl oz beef stock
1 cup Guinness
2 teaspoons tomato paste (concentrated purée)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Stuff you will need (mood lighting optional).

Please note that the above ingredient list doesn't include anything for the topping. Because you have options here, people. The original recipe called for puff pastry, and I was fully prepared to do that. I had the pie crust all bought and thawed out in the fridge and everything. But once I tasted the stew, it screamed "POTATOES!" to me and I was forced to abandon the pie crust idea for a mashed potato topping. I should say that because I was unprepared to make homemade mashed potatoes, I ended up using instant (oh, the shame and horror... and deliciousness). So if you decide to make this recipe, I think you could go puff pastry top, mashed potato top, CHEESY potato top, whatever. Starch, I think though, is necessary. So sayeth the Panda.

Back to the filling though. Start off by heating about half of the oil in a deep, heavy pan. Have you noticed that a lot of my pictures show how much I use dutch ovens for cooking? That's because there is nothing so versatile in the kitchen as a good, solid dutch oven. The really good ones, like what you can find at Le Creuset, are a little pricey, sure. But if you get one, you will use the everloving crap out of it, I promise you. If you would consider it, I'd suggest a  5-1/2-Quart to start off. (I have a 5- 1/12 quart and a 7 quart, and I use the smaller one a lot more often.) Oh, and they're lifetime guaranteed. And cheaper if you can find an outlet store.

Yes, I used to work for Le Creuset, why do you ask?

Anyway, once the oil is heated (please watch out for spitting) add the cubed beef slowly and brown on all sides. Once the meat is browned evenly remove it from the pan and set aside, then add the rest of the oil and the onions. If there is some beef residue at the bottom of the pan this is a good thing. Leave it there. We call that flavor! The onions start to soften up and turn a little golden after about five minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook for another five minutes or so.

Slowly add the stock, Guinness, tomato paste, vinegar and beef back into to the pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low/medium-low, cover and simmer for 60 minutes or until beef is fork tender. Divide among four ramekins or ovenproof bowls and cool for 20 minutes. If you want to pre-make the filling, you can actually refrigerate it overnight at this point (I did).

Ready to make the final product? Ok, preheat an oven to 400 degrees. If you want to make homemade mashed potatoes, this is how I do it: take 4 medium to large potatoes, peeled, and boil them until soft. If you are making mashed potatoes just as a side you can leave the skins on, but I don't recommend it when you're putting it on top of a stew. Once the potatoes are soft enough to be pierced easily with a fork, take them out of the water and let them cool for about five minutes. Then blend with an electric hand mixer, slowly adding milk about 1/4 cup at a time until you reach the desired consistency. DO NOT OVER-BLEND or you end up with something that, while delicious, has the consistency of watery oatmeal. Things you can add to make mashed potatoes extra delicious: 1/2 cup ranch dressing; 1/2 cup shredded cheese; 1/4 cup chopped scallions; 3 tablespoons minced garlic. The options are almost endless.

Or you can use instant. Oh, they're not THAT bad. Or you can go with the original recipe and use pie crust, which you would do by cutting a piece of raw crust slightly larger than the top of your ramekin and draping it over the top.

Regardless of how you topped it off, you're going to stick the whole thing in the oven for about 20 minutes.

These little pies were so delicious they rendered Mr Panda temporarily speechless. The process of cooking beef over a long period while steeped in alcohol allows it to become just so tender it's hard to describe. (And yes, the "alcohol" part mostly cooks out, so no lectures, please.)

For full disclosure, the pies themselves would be best served with something on the side, like a salad or a bread. On their own they left us a little hungry and we ended up going to our local Chinese place for won ton soup. Why won ton soup? Because I'm pregnant and that's what I wanted. Still, I couldn't wait to eat the leftover pie the next day. They refrigerate nicely, but try to give the meat mixture a little stir before reheating.

Also, I'd like to make these again but I'm actually planning on substituting ketchup for the tomato paste. It's going to make the dish a little sweeter perhaps, but I bought the smallest can of tomato paste I could find and still ended up discarding most of it. If you happen to try these and use ketchup, please report back here and let me know how it goes. Enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. This sounds suuuuper delicious. You don't have tomato paste in a tube, like this?

    I admit, I never bought this stuff when I lived in the US, but it's pretty essential for a lot of the stuff I make over here.