Despite some rather encouraging early spring days, I am reminded more often than I would like to be that it is still February, and therefore certainly not spring quite yet. Although mentally I am totally over winter, my body still requires winter nourishments, warm baths, and central heating, so I suppose those scrooges are right. And damn that groundhog too.
In this nearly-not-winter-anymore time, I find myself craving this kind of stew, with its warm meditteranean flavours whispering that soon there will be fresh vegetables to eat, and raw salads, but not quite yet. Like all stews, it’s rich and hearty, but it also requires little more than some crusty bread and a crisp salad of bitter leaves to satisfy my vitamin-D deprived body.
Recipe: tomato-ey shin of beef stew
- Cut the meat into large chunks, about 2-3cm, or get your butcher to do this for you.
- In a heavy-based saucepan, heat up a couple tablespoons of olive oil over a high heat, and once the oil is starting to smoke throw in a layer of meat (it’s OK if it’s closer together as the meat will shrink a little as it cooks, but make sure all the pieces are touching the bottom of the pan, otherwise they won’t brown). Sprinkle a bit of salt on top if you wish. Resist the urge to move the pieces for at least a few minutes, then check to see if they have started to brown. You want caramelized, crunchy bits (see photo). Once you have those, flip them over to the other side and repeat, until all the sides of meat are browned and some of the fat has been rendered out. Remove with a slotted spoon and leave on a plate. Lots of lovely juices will seep out- keep those for later!! You may have to do this in batches, but it will be worth it.
- Once you’ve browned all your meat, turn the heat down to medium and add your sliced onions. You may need to add just a little bit of olive oil to the pan if not much fat has rendered out, but you don’t need a lot if you’re using a fatty cut like shin. Sprinkle a bit of salt on the onions, and once they start to sizzle, turn the heat down a little and cover with a lid so they sweat. Stir occasionally until all the delicious burned on bits from the meat have been absorbed in the onions.
- When they’re starting to lose some of their water and caramelise slightly, add the rest of your veg and the herbs. Again cover with the lid a bit to speed up the sweating process, and stir occasionally until they start to get soft.
- Once the vegetables have softened (don’t worry if some still have a bit of bite), turn the heat up to high and add the glass of wine to deglaze the pan. Stir, scraping at the burned on bits until they dissolve, and the alcohol has burned off.
- Add the tomato puree and cook for one more minute, then add the tomatoes, the meat, the meat juices and enough broth to just cover everything.
- Wait until the stew achieves a very very gentle simmer, partially cover with the lid and leave to cook for at least 3 hours, ideally 4. It’s ready when the meat is tender enough to pull apart with a fork or spoon, and the liquids have cooked down into a rich, dark red glossy sauce.