Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Something to Stew Over

I've never really been terribly fond of traditional stew. Part of it is that I'm not a big gravy fan. Maybe that's the jarred gravy my dad always used, but I am not even that excited about homemade gravy. Another part of it is that I've never really liked long cooked meat. I would rather have a dry roasted piece of beef any day! I would even rather have ground meat chili than chili with stew meat. Call me weird, there's just something about the flavor.

This winter, however, I came across two Cook's Illustrated cookbooks that got me thinking about stew in a whole new way. The cookbooks are the Make Ahead recipe collection and Cover and Bake recipe collection. Like all Cook's Illustrated recipes the stew recipes in these books had extensive introductions that covered all the ins and outs of making that recipe. The authors test dozens of different variations to find the perfect recipe. Whenever I have followed a Cook's Illustrated recipe exactly I have ended up with something out of this world spectacular. If you don't know them, check them out!

A couple months ago I made a beef stew from the Cover and Bake book that was fantastic. The meat wasn't overcooked, the gravy was flavorful and just the right texture. It wasn't gummy or oversalted or watery. I knew I needed to give this stew thing another try. And some things just beg to be stewed... like wild boar

The other day, perhaps a payday, I stopped by City Market NW in the rather trendy Alphabet Neighborhood of northwest Portland. City Market NW is the kind of place you should ONLY stop by on pay day, and only then if the credit card bill is not due that same week. It includes outlets for Pastaworks (gourmet fresh pasta, cheeses and antipasti dishes plus wine and import grocery), Viande Meat and Sausage Co (nationally renknown butcher and chartcuterie), Newman's Seafood (can we just say that it doesn't smell like fish) and produce from a local organic farm (who's name I have forgotten.. sorry!). All in a cute little shop with a crazy flower stand out front. When I am independently wealthy I will shop here every day. Until then, only on pay day and with severe reserve and self control :)

Back to our story. I wandered around, drooled over everything and decided that if I was going to spend a week's worth of gas money on dinner it might as well be good quality meat. I thought about pate, but ended up settling on the wild boar stew meat. A beautiful portabello mushroom, some little red potatoes and a Kinder Surprise Egg rounded out my purchase. What? You've never had a Kinder Surprise Egg? You should... a chocolate shell with a little toy inside. Mine was a whirlygig paper and plastic hippopotamus thing. And it's imported :)

Wild Boar Stew for One (That "One" being Me)

1/2 pound wild boar stew meat (beef would work, or pork, I guess)
1/2 of a medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 4 inch diameter portabello mushroom chopped into 1/2 inch pieces (or maybe 6 white or brown mushrooms, sliced)
1/4 cup chopped carrots
Couple tablespoons red wine
Cooking fat (I bet I used goose fat, you could use lard, coconut oil or olive oil)

Couple tablespoons flour
1/2 tsp or so ground sage
salt and black pepper

Half a dozen small red potatoes
Ground rosemary and sage and black peppercorns plus sea salt
Cooking fat (again, goose, pig or olive as you see fit)

* Combine the flour, sage, salt and pepper on a small plate. Taste to make sure it is seasoned well enough - you want it to taste like more than just flour. Toss the cubes of meat in the flour while you melt a couple tablespoons of cooking fat in a heavy bottomed sauce pan or small dutch oven (I used a 2 quart enameled cast iron and it was the right size). When the fat is hot shake off the excess flour and place chunks of meat in the pot. You want it to be hot enough to hear a sizzle and only enough meat to cover the bottom of the pan without too much touching. When the meat is browned on one side stir or flip the pieces and brown on the other sides. Pull the browned meat out onto a plate and repeat with the rest of the meat.
* When all the meat is browned adjust the fat in the pan - I had to add some but depending on how fatty your meat is you might want to remove some. Add the onions and mushrooms and cook until they are soft and starting to color and get dry again, stirring regularly to keep the onions or "fond" from sticking too much and burning. Add the carrots and cook another minute or two then add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add another spoonful of the seasoned flour and stir and cook for another minute or two.
* Deglaze the pan with a couple tablespoons of red wine and then add the meat back into the pan. Add stock until it just covers the meat and bring everything to a boil. Turn heat down and simmer for an hour or so, or until the meat is cooked through and the flavors have melded.
* Meanwhile, clean and chop the potatoes into serving sized pieces (I think I quartered mine, but they were quite small) while bringing a pot of water to a boil. Salt the water and cook the potatoes until they are done, but not falling apart soft. Drain in a colander and allow to dry while you heat cooking fat in a cast iron skillet in a 400 degree oven.
* Add the dried off potatoes to the hot fat (use an oven mitt to handle the pan and watch for splatters!). Toss once or twice and put the pan back in the oven. After 10 minutes or so check to see if the potatoes are browned. If they are stir them and season with salt, pepper and ground herbs. Allow to brown on the other side and then pull out of the oven.
* Serve stew in a shallow bowl ladled over the roasted potatoes. Perhaps with a generously buttered slice of wheat bread. Maybe a salad, if you don't want to be a purist. Certainly with more of that red wine.

Yup, with stew like this I might just be a convert. Gravy out of a jar? Blech. Wild boar in homemade beef stock... yes please!


  1. That sounds fantastic. I bet the sage is a fantastic accompaniment to the boar.

  2. I have that same cookbook unopened. They kept sending me books I never ordered and things have been so crazy I wasn't 100% sure I hadn't ordered them then I figured out they do that until you tell them to stop.

    I'll have to open the book after reading your post. These sound fabulous and so does that store. Don't tell my 5 year old you can get toys INSIDE of candy. He would explode.

  3. Sustainableeats - you can send any unwanted cooks illustrated books or magazines to me!!! And toys in candy makes me kinda want to explode sometmies too :)