Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Decadent Beef Stew

Marrow is a bit of a mystery to me. I know that's what it is on the inside of bones, I know I first discovered it as a kid, sucking a sweet dollop from the middle of lamb neck chops in winter stews or occasionally from the end of a hot bone in a roast and first time round being surprised to like it. I've been to the famous St John's for dinner and knew to start with the incomparably wonderful roasted marrow bones and parsley salad. Part of me thinks anything that amazing has to be a little bit bad for you and part of me knows that if it's that good it can't really hurt.

The reason I'd started wondering about marrow was because I'd taken out some veal marrow bones to thaw that had been in the freezer for ages. I was utterly convinced they would add something wonderful to blanquette de veau but then realised I was perhaps a little thin on the details of what and why. In fact bone marrow is the soft tissue inside the bone where new blood cells are created in animals - including us. It is high in protein and though it can also be high in fat, it is a 'good' fat - monounsaturated - which lowers some forms of cholesterol and thereby helps to reduce the chances of heart disease.

Make a stock with veal bones and you will discover that once chilled, the stock will be as stiff as a bowl of the stiffest jelly. Bones - and the cartilage that surrounds them - are high in collagen, a protein that dissolves into gelatin when heated. Similarly, a braise made with lamb shanks will have more body - and delectability - than the same dish made with boneless lamb. The younger the animal, the more collagen in the bones and cartilage, hence more body in stocks and the reason most chefs prefer veal bones over beef bones when making it.

Using bones and even buying and cooking meat on the bone is becoming ever rarer which should be a source of anxiety to all who care about food and the pleasures that it provides. More and more meat is sold already boned, even by the butchers of Borough Market. It may be easier to carve a roast that's boned and rolled but you'll never get that primordial pleasure of chewing on the bone for the last little skerrick of the juiciest meat and the thrill of sucking out that blob of creamy marrow. A serious loss.

Stock is one of the essential building blocks in savoury cooking - no bones, no meat stock, no joy. A litre of stock will make a fine risotto or cheesy peas, any number of soups, the base for stew or will reduce down for a lush gravy. Stock in the freezer makes possible a variety of meals - quick and simple. It gives power to you as a cook and as someone who eats well. I tend to make big batches and freeze them in washed out milk cartons - don't overfill or they'll burst as they freeze. It's a good use of the cartons and a handy way of having the right measure. Let me think, do I need a pint or a litre - big carton or small?

When I made this stew on Sunday I didn't make stock first - I simply added the bones to the pot and cooked the whole lot together for about 6 hours in a very low oven. I refrigerated the resulting stew, bones removed, overnight. Next day it had set so thoroughly I could have sliced it thinly and made a stew sandwich. It did cross my mind.
Heated through again, it made for one of the richest, most decadent stews I have ever eaten. And yet it was, undoubtedly, a simply attained pleasure.

Rich Beef Stew
1kg/2.2lbs of stewing steak or shin beef
About the same weight in veal bones
100g/4oz bacon, sliced
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbspns goose fat or olive oil
1 tbspn tomato paste
2 tbspns plain flour
Bouquet garni - bay, rosemary, thyme, celery leaves, parsley
600 ml red wine
Salt and pepper

Heat the oil or goose fat in a large heavy based pan that has a well fitting lid. Gently brown the meat then remove it with a slotted spoon. Add the onion, garlic and bacon and cook over a medium heat till the onion is translucent. Add the flour and tomato paste and stir thoroughly. Return the meat and the bones to the pan, mix well then add the wine. Bring to the boil then tuck the bouquet garni down into the stew. Season. Cover the top of the pan with a sheet of aluminium foil and then fit the lid tightly. Turn off the hob.

Heat the oven to as low a heat as possible then put in the covered pan. Cook for 6 or 7 hours till your home is filled with the most delicious aromas. Remove the pan from the oven and when cool enough take the bones out, adding any marrow that remains back into the stew, then discard. Refrigerate overnight and skim any fat from the top before reheating. Serve with mashed potatoes and carrots or cabbage.

The beef I used was from longhorn cattle that had been hung for 12 weeks, on special for £7.99 a kilo at Ginger Pig, the wine was £5 from the Londis on the corner up the road from our flat, the other ingredients another £2 at most. In total this cost £15 and made more than enough for six generous dinners. You don't have to be rich to eat the very best. Give it a whirl.

Highly recommended.

No comments: