Friday, 18 January 2013

Beef Stew to warm the cockles

Cuts of Beef from my copy of
Reader's Digest 'The Cookery Year'

I was planning to write a piece on 'food waste'.  The media has been alive with comment, and quite right too.  Then the cavalcade abrutly moved on, unceremoniously rolling out of the way to make room for the 'horse burgers' scandal.  Those 3-for-2 offers don't seem quite so appealing now we know why the supermarkets can afford to do it.  Anger and disgust quickly gave way to endless equestrian jokes.  Now we Brits are preoccupied with the current bad weather - a subject dear to our hearts.  So, I've decided to combine all three subjects to bring you a beef stew - stay with me on this.

There is no cut of beef so mean it can't be used in a tasty stew.  Shin of beef is my favourite.  Sliced from the foreleg, the rounded nuggets of meat are connected by a gelatinous membrane.  Slow-cooking in stock, water or wine allows it to yield up a sticky, rich, quality to the sauce.  It's a relatively cheap cut and works so much better than the more expensive stewing steak. In buying this lesser-favoured cut - or a cut such as bolar, found deep within the shoulder - you're helping ensure the whole beast is used, and not wasted.

You can sometimes buy beef shin bone-in, in which case your stew will benefit from the marrowbone for an even richer sauce.  Of course to get your hands on shin beef, certainly bone-in, you'll need to buy from a good independent butcher - one you can trust and who really knows his beef.

Now to that stew.  This is a very simple recipe, calling for very few ingredients, which I've made dozens of times.  As with most stews, it tastes even better re-heated the day after making.  The recipe is based on 'Shin of Beef Stewed in Wine' from Elizabeth David's book French Provincial Cooking.  It's deeply comforting served with mashed potato and buttered cabbage.  In fact, it is the perfect dish for when bad weather rolls in.

So, what great insights did I have to offer on those hot topics of the week? Well, maybe instead of swallowing the line that the world needs to grow more food, how about we put in place practices to ensure we eat the food we already produce.  Instead of demanding cheaper food we should buy a little less meat and buy it regularly from a trusted independent butcher.  And, when bad weather is forecast, it's time to make stew.  There you go, 3-for-the-price-of-1.

Beef Stew
(serves 4)

100g (4oz) streaky bacon, cut into 1cm pieces
1 large onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, flattened
750g (1.5lb) shin beef (or bolar), cut into large nuggets and outer layer trimmed off
A handful of parsley and thyme
1 bayleaf
1 large glass of red wine
1 large glass of water
Salt & pepper

Pre-heat oven to 140C (120C Fan oven).  Fry the bacon in an oven-proof casserole until crisp, adding a little olive oil if it's very lean. Add the sliced onion, garlic and the herbs.  Place the beef on top. Add the wine, bring to  the boil and cook for 3 minutes.  Add the water and bring back to the boil.  Season well.  Cover well and transfer to the oven.  Cook for 3 hours.  Check seasoning and serve.

Here's a link to a helpful article by Alex Renton in The Guardian on How to Buy Beef