Elaine is sibling number six. She’s tall, curvy & blessed with a wicked set of pipes. She is also generous, smart and kind. I once witnessed a very large frozen mango daiquiri slip off a serving tray and come cascading down her hair and white blouse. She squealed in shock, and then laughed it off to calm the panicked waitress. I can guarantee you that would NOT have been my reaction.
Elaine reminded me that not all comfort food starts out as a childhood favorite.
“One that I remember is Dad’s stew…I remember haaaaating the boiled carrots and huge chunks of potatoes. But of course every time I eat it now I’m transported to when I was 10 and we’d all be sitting at the dinner table laughing about this “crazy western food” dad made for us. Thankfully the stews have gotten better around here. I’m sure dad got the point and incorporated a little Asian flare. I love meaty stews to this day.”
Now, if you follow this blog you know that my dad’s scrambled eggs have always been spectacular, but I have to agree with Elaine. As kids his stews were a challenge to choke down. You see, in an effort to keep us all healthy our dad would never peel the potatoes or carrots. And so while they were chock-a-block full with all their natural nutrients, they also tasted like bitter dirt. As for the beef, we would dutifully chew the lumps of flesh. Then when our dad wasn’t looking, we’d coyly spit the remaining mass of gristle into a napkin and quickly stuff it under the rim of our plate. I don’t think my dad cooked with wine; perhaps he used stock. However, more than likely the meat and vegetables were vigorously boiled in water with little added flavoring.
Our poor Canadian papa was probably just trying to introduce his own childhood favorite to his rambunctious brood. Unfortunately, our Asian palates were not amused. Thankfully, as Elaine pointed out, over the years the stews have improved—the cuts of beef got better and peeling the vegetables became an acceptable part of the process—and now this very Western dish is a family favorite.
I thought it only appropriate to serve dad’s stew with the Stirling family silver, a lovely gift from my nana on my wedding day. You wouldn’t guess from looking at me that I’m part Scottish but that family crest is my proof!
1 lb. beef (chuck, boneless ribs, etc.)
Salt & Pepper
1 cup red wine
1 cup tomatoes, peeled and chopped (canned is perfectly acceptable)
1 tsp. sugar
1 Tbs. butter
2 tsp. neutral oil
1 leek, white part only quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 sprigs of thyme
1 fresh bay leaf
1 tsp. celery salt
1 Tbs. flour
2 cups beef stock
3 carrots, peeled and chopped into 1” thick disks
8-10 cremini (baby bella) mushrooms, wiped clean & stems trimmed
Japanese pickled onions (optional)
- Heat a skillet over high heat. Drizzle with neutral oil. Cut the beef into 2” x 2” cubes. Salt and pepper generously. When the skillet is lightly smoking add the cubes of beef. Sear each piece on all sides.
- Once all the beef is seared deglaze the pan by adding a cup of red wine. Turn heat down to medium and simmer until the wine has reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes & 1 teaspoon of sugar, simmer another 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile heat 1 tablespoon of butter and 2 tsp. of neutral oil over medium-high heat in a pot. When the butter has melted add the sliced leeks and ½ tsp. of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes or until leeks become soft. Add the minced garlic, thyme and bay leaf. Cook another 3 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of flour. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add 2 cups of beef stock. Stirring well to incorporate.
- Add the beef, wine and tomato mixture. Cover but leave the lid cocked a tad to allow some steam to escape.
- 1½ hrs in, add the carrots (if you like things extra complicated but more perfect, boil the carrots separately with a little salt and sugar, add them at the end). 15 minutes later, add the mushroom caps. Simmer gently for a total of 2 hours or until the beef is tender.
- Serve over creamy mashed potatoes. Top with Japanese pickled onions* and minced parsley.
* In Japan curry is eaten with sweet pickled radishes and onions. Here the tiny onions add a great textural contrast and their sweetness pairs perfectly with this stew. My advice: do NOT use Western-style pickled cocktail onions. Maybe it’s my Asian bias but I found the resulting flavor far too sour.