Stews are possibly my favorite thing to cook. The perfect comfort food, sure, specially when paired with a nice root vegetable puree or steamed rice or even just some rustic french bread. What I really love about making stews is the complexity of the flavors you can achieve and the little effort that goes into it. I find it fascinating how flavors are transformed over time, even well after the stew is done cooking, while resting in the fridge for example. Basic ingredients take onto a whole new level of flavor. Cheaper cuts of meat become contenders to their leaner more tender counterparts.
I have been using salt to season food all my life. And most of the time, that’s all you really need. But when it comes to enhancing meaty flavors, or more specifically umami flavors, those found in tomatoes, mushrooms and of course meat, fish sauce is an incredible flavor amplifier, and I would almost go as far as to say, it works better than salt. Forget about fishy notes, fish sauce when used judiciously will bring your beef stew to the next level. I’ve been using more fish sauce in my cooking lately. I stand by this salty fermented fish concoction 100%. It is heaven by the spoonful. Give it a try. And if you’re not convinced, stick to salt, your stew will still be delicious.
And yes, like I said, it is pretty easy to make a stew, only a few things are to keep in mind:
1. Flavor development is everything. This is something to keep in mind in the kitchen at all times, but specially when deep complex flavors are required like in the case of stews. Layering salt through the cooking process for example or in this case, fish sauce. And browning of the bacon and the meat, is extremely important. The browning of protein on a hot cooking vessel develops flavor. That brown stuff that gets stuck to the bottom of the pan is priceless. It is called the fond. I probably sound like a broken record here but this is flavor development 101. You want it, you need it, it is essential to some preparations.
2. Long enough cooking times. Stewing is great for way of turning tougher meat cuts into amazing meals, extreme flavor at a low cost. Connective tissue is mainly made out of collagen, like chuck, brisket, skirt. Meat should cook long enough so that its texture is tender and when you bite into it, it melts in your mouth with a little bit of resistance. Overcooked meat won’t have a bite at all, actually it will fall apart in the pot before you can eat it, and this might not be too pleasant.
3. Let it rest! yes, stews for whatever reason taste better the day after. I’m not just saying, try it. One reason is probably due to the fact that things dehydrate in the fridge, and flavors are concentrated that way… but that’s not just the only reason. Flavors could be concentrated without the fridge just by reducing the stew over the stove for a bit longer… so what else? who knows? I think certain chemical reactions continue to happen well after the stew is done that contribute to enhancing its flavor. Whatever it is, after a day or two, any stew will be at its flavor peak.
1 cup of jasmine rice
3 cups of water
3 Tbsp Three Crab Thai Fish Sauce
1 Tbsp of grape-seed oil, or ghee. Vegetable oil is good too.
1 lb beef stew cut in medium cubes (brisket or chuck should do fine)
1/4 cup chopped bacon (about 2 strips)
1/3 cup tomato sauce (san marzano if possible)
1 celery stalk chopped medium size
1/2 large yellow onion chopped medium size
3 garlic cloves thinly sliced (see how to garlic heads!)
1/3 cup of AP flour (enough to dust the beef chunks)
1 Tbsp Three crab fish sauce (more to taste as you adjust)
1/2 Tbsp Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce (more to taste as you adjust)
2 Tbsp sherry wine
1 and a 1/2 Tbsp sugar
1 and a 1/2 Tbsp champagne vinegar
1 Tbsp chopped green onions… the greener bits for garnishing.
For the rice: Place rice, water and fish sauce in a pot and bring to a simmer. Jasmine rice is extremely delicate. It will cook quicker than shorter grain rice, and over cooking it will be disastrous even if only cooked one minute longer than it needs. I don’t have a suggested cooking time. I check a few times while it cooks. About 5 minutes after water starts to simmer. Strain the rice, return to the pot, add tab water, strain again. We want fluffy not starchy. At least I like it that way. The fish sauce should provide enough seasoning to give the rice an awesome flavor and complexity. It will not compete with the stew though. It’s flavor is not loud, and its fragrance is well, if you’ve smelled jasmine rice.. is one of those scents that are so beautifully pleasant and memorable.
For the stew: I use my pressure cooker but no worries. Just triple the stewing time without one. Oil goes on the cooking vessel. Heat it up until the oil starts to ripple and barely smokes. Meanwhile, dust the meat chunks in AP flour. I use a strainer to remove any excess. Add the chunks to the pot. Add the bacon to the pot. Do not overcrowd the pot. If you have too much meat, or your pot is too small, work in batches. Ideally, chunks should all lay in a single layer with some space in between them for them not to boil. Brown well in all sides. Make sure the fond (stuff sticking at the bottom of the pot) doesn’t get too dark, we want caramelization on the meat and the fond, but we don’t want anything burnt. Once burnt, game over. Reduce the heat if you need to, add a couple Tbsp’s of water if you need to emergency-deglaze. Once the meat is brown and the bacon is crispy, add the veggies, including the garlic, which will help deglaze the fond. Add the sugar and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the tomato sauce. Add some fish sauce. Cook everything until tomato sauce is turning dark, and veggies are translucent. Add vinegar. Taste. Add more fish sauce to taste. Any stew really is a exercise on tasting and adjusting the seasoning. Add Sriracha sauce to taste. Cook for a minute. taste. At this point, water and time is all that’s needed. The meat needs time to break down. Add enough water to almost cover the meat. Pressure cook for about 20 minutes, or cook simmer on the stove for about 45 minutes to an hour. I suggest using the pressure cooker. In a pressure cooker, little flavor escapes the pot, and the cooking times are as you can see dramatically faster. You should cook off excess water until your stew has the right consistency. It should be thick. The little flour used when browning the meat should provide enough thickening power to render a wonderful finish.
This might be a quick post but don’t underestimate the power of learning how to develop flavor through browning and caramelizing food (fond is gold in the kitchen) and through long cooking times. Few things are as delicious as a carefully crafted stew. It is also wallet friendly. Cheaper cuts of meat cooked properly will deliver incredible flavor and that’s a fact. But remember cheaper doesn’t mean lower quality. Always use fresh beautiful looking meat. Be careful with those manager special’s at the grocery store 🙂 cheap or expensive, ingredients should look and smell fresh and wonderful. Until the next time!