I forgot to take pictures as I made this beef stew for our book club meeting. But here is my friend Heidi showing the finished product off for the camera.
Like any beef stew, it is baked low and slow. I cooked it at 275 for 3 hours, left it to cool overnight, defatted it and cooked it again with the potatoes added for another 2 hours. The secret to beef stew is to add enough umami that it tastes very meaty. The sources in this recipe are: the browned beef itself, anchovies, mushrooms, and salt pork. Browning is critical. When I made a similar recipe for my widower father he was amazed that it was not gray. It turns out my mother used to just throw everything in the pot, including the stock and then put it in the oven. Please don’t do that!
I’m not sure where this recipe originated, but it has gone through a few transformations, anyway.
Provencal Beef Stew
3/4 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms
3 lbs boneless beef chuck, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1½ inch chunks
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
5 ounces salt pork, cut into 4 large pieces
4 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch rounds (about 2 cups)
2 medium onions, halved and cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices (about 4 cups)
4 medium cloves garlic sliced thin
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 bottle red wine (I prefer Zinfandel)
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup niçoise olives, pitted and drained well
4 anchovy fillets , minced (about 1 teaspoon)
5 sprigs fresh thyme, tied together with kitchen twine
2 bay leaves
3 medium potatoes cut into chunks
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) whole tomatoes, drained and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 cup frozen peas
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
Cover mushrooms with 1 cup boiling water. When cool, lift mushrooms from liquid with fork and chop into 1/2-inch pieces (you should have about 4 tablespoons). Strain liquid through fine-mesh strainer lined with a paper towel. Set mushrooms and liquid aside.
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position; heat oven to 275 degrees. Dry beef thoroughly with paper towels, then season with salt and pepper. Brown well in batches, using another tablespoon of oil for each batch. Be careful not to burn the fond. Transfer meat to a bowl as it is browned.
Reduce heat to medium and add carrots, onions, garlic, and tomato paste to now-empty pot; cook, stirring occasionally, until light brown, about 2 minutes. Stir in flour and cook, stirring constantly, about 1 minute. Add wine, scraping pan bottom to loosen browned bits. Add salt pork, beef and any juices in bowl. Add enough broth to cover the beef. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to full simmer. Add mushrooms and their liquid, 1/2 cup olives, anchovies, thyme, and bay, distributing evenly and arranging beef so it is completely covered by liquid; cover partially and place in oven. Cook until fork inserted in beef meets little resistance (meat should not be falling apart), 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
Discard salt pork, thyme, and bay leaves. Allow to stand until cool then refrigerate overnight. Defat using a spoon to scoop the fat off the surface. Add potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, peas and remaining 1/2 cup olives. Bake another 1 – 2 hours uncovered at 275. Stir in parsley and lemon juice to taste.