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Shun Classic Asian Cook’s Knife

The Magic Wand of the Kitchen

Jacob Dean

Jacob Dean is a food and travel writer and psychologist based in New York.

The Magic Wand of the Kitchen

Beef Stew with Gem-Cut Vegetables

One of the great tragedies of beef stew is that, while it clings to your bones and fills you up on a cold evening, it’s often a bit homogeneous. Sure, a good beef stew has plenty of ingredients, and you want it to be comforting, but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice appearance, texture, or flavor.

The secrets here are twofold: first, we cut our vegetables into beautiful “gems” using a faux-tourné dice. A regular tourné cut involves taking a vegetable such as a carrot or potato and using a knife to basically carve it into what looks like a tiny football. It looks pretty, but it’s unnecessarily complicated, and also wastes an awful lot of vegetable. The faux-tourné, on the other hand, couldn’t be simpler: you just take your vegetable (in our case parsnips and carrots) and cut about an inch off at a 45-degree angle. Then you rotate the veg, cut off another inch-long segment at a 45-degree angle, rotate it again, and keep going until it’s all cut up. The end result are, at least in my eyes, gem-like chunks with clean, flat sides, that cook evenly and look beautiful.

The other secret is that we fortify this stew with a roux, which is a paste of flour fried in fat. A lot of stew recipes simply call for dredging your stew meat in flour before you brown it, but this can make the meat gummy and leave you with little flour deposits sprinkled throughout your finished dish. The better option by far is to make the roux, which enhances the nutty, savory characteristics of the flour while helping to thicken it.

The other two things I do aren’t secrets, and were pioneered by food writer J. Kenji Lopez-Alt at Serious Eats. First, instead of buying “stew meat” or pre-cubing your meat, you brown whole steaks, and cut them up after the browning is done. This significantly cuts down on moisture in the pan while you brown, which makes it far easier to brown your meat. Secondly, you brown your cut up vegetables before they go in the stew, remove them, and then add them again in the final stages of cooking. This adds flavor via the browning, gives them a jump start on cooking, and means that they’ll retain their shape when you finally go to serve your dish.

The end result is lovely, a savory mix of tender, flavorful beef, beautiful, firm vegetables, and a hearty perfectly thickened base packed with flavor. You can make this even prettier by using a mix of multi-colored carrots (commonly available in many grocery stores), and a shower of finely chopped parsley on the surface right before serving never hurt anyone either.

Preparation

  1. Place oven rack on the lowest level possible and preheat oven to 163°C (325°F).

2. Cut the carrots and parsnips into roughly 2.5 cm, (1-inch) chunks in a “faux tourné” style. Do this by taking one vegetable at a time, placing it horizontally on the cutting board, and slicing it at a 45-degree angle. Then rotate the vegetable one quarter turn and cut it again at a 45-degree angle. Do this in 2.5 cm (1-inch) increments until it’s all chopped.

3. Place a large Dutch oven over high heat and add 60 ml (4 tablespoons) vegetable oil. When oil is shimmering, add cut up carrots and parsnips and saute until lightly browned, approximately 5-8 minutes. Do not worry about them getting soft, they’ll cook more later. Remove from pan and reserve in a heat-proof bowl.

4. Increase heat to high and add an additional 60 ml (4 tablespoons) of vegetable oil. Season the beef lightly with salt and pepper. When oil is beginning to smoke, add beef steaks. Cook, flipping occasionally, until seared and golden brown on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. Remove steaks to a plate and let rest, uncovered.

5. Lower heat to medium and sprinkle flour into the pot while stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or spatula, evenly incorporating the flour into the oil. Make sure to break up any lumps. Cook, stirring constantly, until the flour and oil mixture (the roux) has turned a golden caramel brown, around 2 minutes. Because the pot is still hot it will cook very quickly. This is fine, but be careful not to let the roux burn or it will get bitter!

6. Add the onion, celery, and garlic to the dutch oven and stir thoroughly to evenly coat the vegetables with the roux. If the pot seems very dry, add an additional 30 ml (2 tablespoons) vegetable oil. Saute until vegetables have begun to soften, approximately 5-7 minutes. Add tomato paste and stir to evenly incorporate.

7. Add dark beer, let come to a boil, and cook until mixture has thickened, around 4 minutes. While beer is reducing, cut beef steaks into 2.5 cm (1-inch) cubes, retaining any liquid released. Add cubed beef and any liquid to the pot. Stir to incorporate and add the chicken stock, bay leaves, and rosemary. Stir again to combine.

8. Place pot uncovered in the oven and let cook for one hour. After one hour has elapsed, remove pot from oven, add reserved parsnips and carrots, and place back in the oven. Raise heat to 177°C and cook for another 30-45 minutes, checking vegetables for tenderness at the 30 minute mark. When vegetables have reached desired level of doneness, remove from oven, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately. This dish goes very well with egg noodles or mashed potatoes, but is also wonderful eaten on its own or with crusty bread.