Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Catalan Beef Stew

Like the rain on the plain, this is originally from Spain. It's nice to think that the idea of putting chocolate in your food would have been taken to Spain by returning explorers who picked up the scheme from Southern America but I'm sure the truth is wholly less prosaic. Whatever the history, the fact is that a rich beef stew with an extra whack of chocolate is a wholly different animal to yer average stew. It's slightly sweet, thick, gorgeously dark and simply begs to be consumed alongside the biggest, boldest, baddest red you can find. Try a Meerlust or even a Chateau Musar and don't forget to thank me for the recommendation.

I've also made this substituting the onion for about 20 small shallots and it's great. The shallots are a bit of a pain, though. You're looking for the diddy ones, almost like seed onions. Spinneys often has 'em. Put these in a bowl and pour boiling water over them: they're much easier to peel having steeped this way. Just cut a nick in the top and pull the brown skin off and, if you like, trim off the trailing root bit but don't slice it too far or it'll lose its most useful property of keeping the shallot in one piece as it's cooking.

  • 1 kg lean beef cut into 2cm cube
  • 100g pancetta or smoky bacon cubes
  • 5 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tomatoes, skinned deseeded & chopped
  • 20 black peppercorns, crushed
  • 100ml brandy
  • 300ml beef stock
  • 20-30 small shallots
  • 30g dark chocolate
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Thyme
  • Cinnamon stick
  • ½ orange zest, peeled
Fry off the beef to seal it over a high heat, in batches so that it dry fries and doesn't 'sweat' and boil. Reserve the beef in a bowl and add the flour to this, tossing it so that the beef pieces are coated. If the pan's really browned up, deglaze it with a glug of red wine and reserve that too. Fry the onion in the oil until it's softened and starts to brown and then add the garlic and the pancetta. Take the heat up to high and add the beef and then the tomatoes to fry up. Add the beef stock and the pepper, bay, thyme, cinnamon and orange zest, stir it all up and then pop in the chocolate. Turn the heat down to as low as it'll go and leave it to cook away for at least an hour, giving it the occasional stir. If you can manage an hour and a half, nothing like it.

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