There's nothing that says birthday like Beef and Stout Stew.
On the eve of Alysha's birthday (and mere weeks before her Broadway debut!), I wanted to throw her a special, little celebration wingding, so we invited a bunch of her fabulous, fun friends to feast on my fresh and fabulous food.
Celebrating with us tonight was NY's hysterical hostess of the gay cabaret scene, Emily, lovely and amazing singer/actor Anna, Alysha's awesome American Idiot castmate Rebecca (check her out on the Grammy's!), and Jeff and Martha regular who's currently appearing Off-Broadway in Yank - David (who's using up his "cheat meal" on this dinner, fyi). Also, with us only for the first course, adorable, up-and-coming TV personality, Matthew. Such an entertaining bunch!
Beef and Stout Stew (p. 195)
Having never eaten Boeuf Bourguignon, which is the inspiration for this recipe, I wasn't sure what to expect here. The substitution of stout for red wine really confounds my expectations. I can imagine this with the wine, but stout?
I start this recipe with what I hope is not going to be a major blunder. Instead of using a clear oil (sunflower/safflower) as instructed, I mindlessly pour olive oil into the pot with the bacon. I know this oil has different burning properties, not to mention different flavor, and I hope the switcheroo doesn't bite me in the ass.
Also, I wasn't able to find cipollini onions, as listed in the recipe, so I settled for pearl onions, as used in the traditional Boeuf Bourguignon version.
This is a recipe that would really benefit from a complete mise en place, which I didn't do. Consequently, I'd get to a stage of the recipe and realize, crap, I never trimmed and cleaned the mushrooms. And everything would have to go on hold while I took care of that ingredient/task. I should know better by now....
The first part of this recipe involves browning some bacon and the beef. There was some confusion about how to slice the slab bacon. The instructions say to cut it into 1 inch lardons, which I did, but this seems like a weird proportion. The bacon is about an inch thick, so the 1 inch lardon ends up being shaped like a 1 inch square, i.e. postage stamp. (All I'm saying is, doesn't leave you with a great mouth feel as you're gnawing on a big lardon.)
Next, you slice the beef into 2 inch pieces. (Again, 2 inch cubes? 2 inches by 1 inch? 2" x 10"?) There was a fair amount of fat and silver skin on this meat, and I wasn't sure if I was supposed to trim all the fat away or leave it be. I started to trim, but I eventually decided that a little bit of fat is probably a good thing, so I went halfsies.
After the meat is browned and the pot is deglazed, you sauté some chopped onion and garlic and then throw in the mushrooms. When everything is soft, you add some flour and mustard, cook it for a minute, then you add the meat back with the liquids (stout and stock) and bay leaves and thyme.
Meanwhile, since Emily and Anna are vegetarians, I'm making a seitan and tofu version alongside the meat version. I tried to match it, step for step, so it would have a similar taste and texture, but I could only get so close with the faux meat.
After the stew has cooked for an hour, you throw in halved fingerling potatoes and the cipollini (or pearl in my case) onions and cook for another half hour or so, until everything is soft.
At the half hour mark, the potatoes weren't that soft, and thank god, because it wasn't time to serve the entree. My stews cooked for an extra 30-45 minutes, and I think it only made them better. The beef stew wasn't thick enough when I first checked (I took the lid off and raised the heat), and the veggie stew was too thick (I put the lid on and lowered the heat).
By serving time, everything had a decent consistency. I threw the postage stamp sized lardons in, seasoned with S+P, and served it over a bowl of egg noodles, with the prescribed accoutrements (julienned carrots, chopped dill, and horseradish). The horseradish was incredibly overwhelming. Merely grating it reduced me to tears, the fumes were so aggressive. Flavor-wise, a scant 1/4 teaspoon would have been sufficient per portion.
Overall, I was pretty happy with the dish. It was plenty hearty, very comfort food-y. The meat was incredibly tender. The balance of ingredients was maybe a little potato heavy for my tastes, but good. The stout ended up being a very background flavor, but an interesting one, not as overwhelming as I'd feared. For the record, I couldn't taste any olive oil weirdness, so I think I got away with it.
If I were cooking it again tonight, I might add a few more mushrooms and lose some potatoes, but all in all, it's a great recipe and a yummy, rib-sticking meal.
Jeff: A- (had to take a little off for my olive oil mishap)
Also served that night: White Bean Dip (nice), pain d'epi with olive-garlic butter (very popular), an arugula salad with basil, bocconcini, artichoke hearts, and Slow-Roasted Tomato Slices, roasted brussels sprouts with balsamic vinegar, and in honor of the impending special day, Chocolate Layer Cake with Swiss Meringue Buttercream.
Until we eat again....
Clockwise from the left, that's Alysha, Rebecca, Emily, Anna, and David (Matthew was gone by beef time).