An Unseasonal Stew.
Life’s messy. It may look like spring, and feel like spring, but deep in your heart, you’re craving a slow-cooked beef stew. Congratulations, you’re being elastic.
Don’t tell the Seasonality Police, but spring doesn’t always mean spring. I usually hold a high position in the force’s tactical response and enforcement unit, but enough with the rules.
I’m all for bending like a willow these days, without breaking. Get used to hearing the term ‘elastic’ applied to things other than stretchy pants, because we all need to hone our flexibility skills, both physical and psychological, to adapt more easily to change.
So it’s okay if you want to cling to the comforts of the cooler months and slow-cook brisket and braise beef cheeks, as long as you’re flexible enough to lighten it as you go. In the interests of being elastic in the kitchen, here’s how.
How to turn winter into spring:
Downplay the dominance of meat by using equal weights carrot/celery/onion and other vegetables to meat. Especially carrots.
Overdo the liquid component. This advice is directly counter to all slow-braising instructions, but the actual sauce is as much a player as the meat
Use leeks – lighter, sweeter – rather than onions in the base flavours.
Use lamb instead of beef, chicken instead of lamb, fish instead of chicken.
Cook fatty meats such as brisket and lamb shanks the day before you want to eat, then refrigerate overnight, and lift off the fat that has set on the surface.
Use white wine instead of red wine, maybe. I stuck with red wine.
Skip the heavy polenta or potato gratin, and serve with rice, cous cous, cauliflower puree, or cauliflower rice.
Add greens! Serve with asparagus, broad beans, zucchini and peas.
Slow-braised beef cheeks
If you have never cooked beef cheeks, you’re in for a treat. Cooked slowly, they collapse into tenderness, and are completely forgiving. Serve with fresh peas or broad beans, or parsnip puree, cauliflower, you name it.
1.2 kg beef cheeks, trimmed
4 tbsp olive oil
150 g thick-cut bacon or speck, cut into strips
2 leeks, trimmed and chopped
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
4 celery stalks, sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled
500 ml red wine
400 ml chicken stock or water
2 tbsp tomato paste
4 anchovy fillets
2 bay leaves, 4 thyme sprigs, 2 rosemary sprigs
1 tsp sea salt
Half tsp cracked black pepper
Extra herbs for serving
Heat the oven to 140C. Heat half the olive oil in a heavy pan and sear the beef cheeks in batches over medium heat on all sides, until crusty.
Remove the beef, add remaining olive oil and cook the bacon, leeks, carrot, celery and garlic, tossing well for 5 minutes.
Add the red wine and simmer for 5 minutes, then add the stock, tomato paste, anchovy, bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, sea salt and pepper. Return the beef cheeks to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes.
Tightly cover, transfer to the oven, and cook for 4 hours or until tender. Skim off the fat, or cool and refrigerate overnight for the fat to solidify.
To serve, break up the beef into smaller pieces, and pick out the herbs and discard. Gently reheat and serve with fresh herbs. Serves 4.
Tip: Tie herbs into a bundle with kitchen string, to make it easier to fish out.
Tip: If there’s too much sauce for your liking, strain half the cooking liquid into a small pan and boil for 5 minutes until glossy. That way, you can serve the beef cheeks and vegetables onto shallow pasta plates with a slotted spoon, and ladle the reduced sauce over the top.
Tip: Throw any left-overs into a jaffle or onto soft tacos.
Thanks for reading! And liking, commenting, subscribing, or sharing.
Again, special thanks to my right-hand man, Terry Durack, for being my right hand while mine is in a splint. (Hence, the recipes for dishes I can eat with my left hand and not have to cut up. Asparagus! Grilled lamb chops! Stew!)
I would also like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands and waters upon which I work, live, cook and play; the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. I fully support the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice to be enshrined in Australia’s Constitution.