Sunday, October 12, 2014

Slivered beef stew

It's been rainy for days, and when that happens, I always crave stew. It was my turn to cook today, so I picked this.

Slivered Beef Stew is one of the super-random collection of recipes that wound up being comfort food as we moved all over the world, falling somewhere between Stroganoff and Hungarian Goulash, which we also made pretty frequently. Especially when we lived in Scotland and it was always cold and rainy.

Since this is a pretty basic recipe, I'll tell you how it goes, and then list variations. Like I do.

1. Slice up your beef - It's called slivered beef stew, so generally in long thin slices, but I've also made it with chunked stew meat and it works fine. Use whatever beef you can afford.

2. Chop up one big onion - usually we use yellow onions, but this time we used a white one because the yellow ones looked gross.

3. Use a little oil, and brown up the meat and the onions - let it release yummy juices and render healthy fat. If it caramelizes some, that's great, but if not, it's still good.

4. Add carrots - we usually use a whole small or medium bag of baby carrots, but four or so big carrots, chopped, is how we did it when I was a kid.

4. Add potatoes - this time, we used four medium sized red potatoes, and I wished we'd used more, but we're supposed to be cutting carbs since dad came up diabetic. You can use any potato, really; back in the day, we used baking potatoes. Don't bother peeling them--that's where the nutrients are!

5. Water - Enough to just cover the veggies and meat. They'll add their own juices as they cook, so don't overwater it. You could also add broth or stock, but with the onion, it's not really necessary.

6. Season - this is so easy. Salt, pepper, bay leaves, paprika. That's it. The meat and veg do the rest.

7. Cook it for a while, until everything is soft. Add more water if it cooks down too much.

8. Mushrooms - mom likes mushrooms, so we add a pack of them, sliced, here after the potatoes and carrots are mostly soft. You can add them earlier if you don't mind them getting soft, and they add depth to the broth.

9. Thickening - traditionally, you add a few tablespoons of flour, but since I'm wheat free now, we thicken with cornstarch. No difference in flavor. You want it to be just a loose sort of thick--not a suace like canned soup, just thicker than broth.

10. Sour cream - add one cup of sour cream and stir it in really well. Heat back up. Taste and adjust seasoning--I like it sort of salty and peppery, with the paprika enough to make it just a little pink over the yummy creamy brownness; you do it how you do. 

11. Eat!

That's how it's always been made. My whole childhood. Cheap, warming, nutritious, feeds a lot, keeps well in the fridge, freezes just fine.


But it's also really simple, so here's some variations:

- Use chicken! It's lighter, but just as tasty with chicken.

- You could probably also use pork; I bet bacon, too, would be amazing.

- You could probably also use fish, you just might have to add it later, since it's more delicate.

- I want to try it with various sausages, since there are so many varieties out there these days; I think the sweet Italian, or one of the ones with apple, or a good sagey one would all do well in this recipe.

- Really, if you had some really tasty beans, you could make it meat free.

- if you want to go grain free, I bet you could purée the mushrooms and use that to thicken it. 

- I'm not that much of a fan of button mushrooms, which is what mom uses; I want to try this with fancy forest mushrooms. I like the texture better, there's more flavor, and if I use the dried ones, that juice is more flavor for the pot!

- Sometimes we add baby corn! 

- Since this is a fall recipe, I think we could trade out almost anything--leeks or shallots instead of onions; sweet potato or pumpkin instead of carrots; golden or purple potatoes, or some other root instead of potatoes.

- Traditionally, there's not garlic or heat in this recipe, but as I developed my own ways of cooking, I add garlic to almost everything, so when I make this I'll usually throw a few cloves in, mashed. Dad adds hot sauce or cayenne.

- I've made this with other herbs. Thyme is good. Herbes de Provence does well with the chicken variation. You could add rosemary and a little sage to the beef.

- You could add a lot more paprika and make it closer to a goulash, and it would be lovely, or leave that out entirely and add a little mustard powder and make it closer to a stroganoff. Also, this is particularly good with chunky fresh-cracked pepper instead of ground.

How would you do it?
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