This cooking thing is new to me. In my pre-Swiss life, I had a career and a two or three big hobbies that kept me too busy to try to do more than a few pastas, sautés, rice dishes, easy soups and salads.
I've been trying for about a year to get my beef braising right. I've made plenty of stews, from Julia's boeuf bourguigunon to plenty of much easier Italian recipes. Each time, I followed the recipes to the T and each time they would come out "just ok." Certainly flavorful and more than edible but failing to provide that perfect mouth-watering beef that melts in your mouth. And while I always ordered the meat fresh-cut from the butcher the meat just seemed unimpressive. I don't have a slow cooker because most stores here just sell rice cookers and most of the brands available online to deliver here in Switzerland here have gotten luke-warm or bad reviews. So my braising needs to be on stove top or in the oven.
By far, the best of the cook book recipe I tried was a simple beef braised in beer, from the book "Just Four Things." Since I can't have beer anymore (a gluten and wheat allergy is another post), I can't eat that anymore. So using the cooking times from that recipe, with just enough meat, fresh from the butcher, for me and Mr. Wild Dingo, I winged it. I made up this simple recipe as I went and cooked by intuition. Voilà! Mouth-watering, melt-in-your-mouth beef, that broke apart with a spoon. I should have known. Prior to trying to learn how to really cook, I've always cooked by intuition. It worked for me back then. Why not now?
And because it's my recipe, I'm happy to share it with you. Keep in mind, since this is by intuition, you'll see lots of approximate rather than exact measurements.
Oh-My-Gawd Braised Boeuf
Serves 2 (with maybe 2 pieces left over for the dogs)
1/2 -3/4 lb braising beef (preferably chuck) cut into 1"-2" squares chunks by the butcher
2 carrots, peeled, cut in chunky rounds
2 stalks of celery, cut chunky
4 small yellow onions peeled, quartered. Or a bunch of small white braising onions, peeled and left whole. All the veggies should be about equal in size.
1 - 1.5 cup dry red wine. Go BIG here, meaning a BIG bodied wine you wouldn't drink without dinner. It should be delicious but difficult to drink without food! I used a 2006 Barolo but Cote de Rhone or Burgundy will work.
1/2 large bag of frozen peas or 1 small bag, thawed
1 cup beef broth (optional)
An all-clad sauté pan or iron skillet but not a teflon pan
Iron clad casserole dish with a tight lid or aluminum pot with heavy bottom and a tight lid. I just bought and used for the first time, an iron clad, Swiss-made, casserole dish and it worked the best. So if you have it, use it.
Take the beef out of the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature.
Pre-heat the oven to 150 C/300 F
Prepare the veggies in separate bowls and set aside.
In a small sauté pan--iron or all-clad, not teflon, do I really need to repeat myself here?--heat about 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil on high. Or like me, just pour in what looks right to you.
Dry the beef chunks with a paper towel, soaking up all the blood and put in a bowl ready to sauté. It browns better this way. Have faith and trust in JC (that would be Julia Child)!
In batches (I did batches of 4 pieces each), brown the beef VERY quickly in the pan, barely a minute or two total for all 4 sides. Use tongs to flip them over. The beef should be seared on the outside, not cooked through and still bloody. As they finish browning, take them out and set them aside. I think this is where I made a lot mistakes in past attempts. I thought the beef should be really "brown crusty" but it's not the case. Use the hottest part of your pan. I only have a VERY large sauté pan so I had to use the center and sauté a few at a time rather than the full pan. But it goes really fast.
In the same pan (leave the heat set to high or lower to medium), toss in the quartered onions and sauté until half translucent. Some can be a little browned slightly. But they shouldn't burn!
Add the carrots and celery to the pan and sauté for a few minutes just cooking the outsides of the veggies, so they're slightly browned and lightly cooked, still very firm though. It would help to have exact time here, but you'll have to use your brains. They should not be cooked soft. Use your judgement on pan heat in how you like to sauté veggies. I leave the heat high and sauté fast.
When the veggies are done to your liking, scoop out half of them and place them in the iron casserole dish. Add the beef and salt. Then add the rest of the veggies on top of the beef.
Turn down the heat to medium on the sauté pan (unless you want to wax your eyebrows) and add the 1 cup of dry red wine to deglaze the pan. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up the meat seared on the bottom of it. Let it simmer for about a minute or minute-and-a-half constantly scraping the bottom with the spoon.
Add the wine from the pan to the casserole dish.
Add these optional ingredients: bay leaf, another 1/2 cup or more of red wine, 1 cup of beef broth. The braising broth (can be all wine or a little of beef broth and wine) should come up to about 3/4 of the way of the veggies and meat, just barely covering it.
Cover the pot tightly and put it in the oven at 150 C for 3 hours. Check on it from time to time, give it a stir and make sure it is BARELY simmering. If it's too high, turn it down. I fluctuated between 150 C-140 C.
Go do your yoga practice or play with your dogs.
At the 2.5 hour mark, add your thawed peas.
At the 3 hour mark, take it out and test the beef. If it's good, turn it all the way down to a warm. I used 50 C to keep it warm until ready to serve.
Now that I figured how to really braise beef properly, I'll be experimenting with flavor, herbs and braising broths. The recipe above doesn't have a diverse dimension of flavor as I just focused on getting the braising right. Also if you want a thicker broth, strain the whole thing and boil down the broth, adding a little thickening (flour or whatever) then toss them back together again. But I can't be bothered with such trivial French details. I'm starving by now having walked my dogs, ridden the bike trainer and practiced yoga for the last 3 hours. In our Italian house, simpler is better.
Enjoy with the rest of the red wine and either add a salad, potatoes or fresh baguette (if you're lucky enough not to have a wheat or gluten allergy) to sop up the juice.