Cooking for 20: Beef ragù and browning boldly
19 February 2006
I like to hang out over at Apartment Therapy's The Kitchen, which is pleasant and interesting and full of very nice people. It also provides recipe inspiration from time to time. This recipe by Jamie Oliver came up at one point and instantly it sounded amazing. I made it that very day for some friends, loved it and promptly made it again on Saturday for house church potluck.
It has a deep, dark beefy flavor imparted by the long simmering and the red wine. It also has that lovely quality that only truly browned meat and long cooking can give to a dish: the flavor lingers full on the tongue and behind the nose, warm and generous.
For instructions on properly browning the meat, I give you Robert Farrar Capon and his imperious instructions in The Supper of the Lamb:
Now then. You are ready at last for the crucial operation, the sine qua non of any stew, festal or ferial. Put a little olive oil in the bottom of a heavy (deep, too, if possible) iron skillet and place it over a high fire until it begins to smoke. Then add the cut lamb, bones and all and brown well. Use no flour.
It sounds absurdly simple, but it is the point at which nine tenths of the stews in the world go wrong. The trouble is that few cooks realize how long it takes to brown meat thoroughly (One note on a culinary heresy: People who flour their meat and brown it in butter are entitled to their religion. We live in a pluralistic society. I think it only fair to note, however, that such people have never gotten around to browning meat. All they have done is darkened some butter and scorched a little flour. The meat inside remains untouched. Accordingly, their stews never know the savor of the true burnt offering; in their haste they settle for the dubious pleasure of eating charred wheat.)
Even for a little stew like this, therefore, it will take fifteen minutes or so to do a good job of browning the meat. ... What leads most cooks into turning off the fire too soon is the fear of drying out the meat. Now clearly, there are dishes to which this fear is entirely appropriate; stew, however, is not one of them. It matters not how many juices run out of the meat during browning because they go nowhere but into the pot. Any drying that occurs is only temporary. The water that escapes as steam will be restored shortly by the stock and wine to be added. Your meat's lost soul will be replaced by a second and better one.
Isn't he great? I took his advice to heart and have cast away my timidity when browning meat. We'll see him again, I'm sure. He's so quotable.
Adapted from Jamie Oliver
Time: about 4 hours
4 pounds boneless beef chuck roast, or other cubed stew beef
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
4 sprigs rosemary, plus 1 tablespoon finely chopped leaves for garnish
4 sprigs sage
3 small onions, peeled and cut in chunks
8 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
1 big carrot, peeled and thickly sliced
3 celery stalks, thickly sliced
4 cups red wine (cheap cabernet, in this particular case)
2 28-ounce cans peeled whole cherry or plum tomatoes
1 pounds bowtie pasta
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons finely grated orange zest
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.
1. Season beef with salt and pepper to taste. Place an oven-proof Dutch oven over medium-high heat, and add olive oil to cover the bottom thinly. When oil is hot, add beef. Stir until beef is well browned on all sides. Do this in batches, if necessary, to ensure proper browning and to avoid sweating or steaming (the sworn enemy of delicious browned meat). Add rosemary and sage sprigs, onion, garlic, carrot and celery. Reduce heat to medium-low and sauté until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes.
2. Add wine and continue to simmer until liquid has reduced by half, about 15 minutes. Add tomatoes and their juices. Simmer, covered, in a 275-degree oven for 3 to 3 1/2 hours.
3. Place a large pot of lightly salted water over high heat to bring to a boil. Remove Dutch oven from oven. Using two forks, finely shred meat and vegetables. Discard herb stems. Loosely cover pan and return it to low heat to keep warm.
4. Add pasta to boiling water. As it cooks, scoop out 1/2 cup water and reserve. Cook pasta to taste, then drain well. Return pasta to pot, and add butter and 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano; mix gently until butter has melted. Add a little reserved cooking water to loosen.
5. To serve, lift pasta into each of six shallow bowls. Spoon beef ragù over top. Sprinkle each bowl with a pinch of orange zest and rosemary, and a spoonful of cheese.
Yield: 15+ servings, depending on appetite, side dishes, and general approval. What was not scraped out of the pot by the end of the evening got zipped up in a little baggie and taken home by someone else.
(Shamelessly swiped and reprinted from the NYTimes archive.)