Every nation boasts of at least one culinary masterpiece. To the French, a beef bourguignon or a coq-au-vin is perhaps the crowning jewel of their cuisine. curried lamb Madras sits at the heart of Indian gastronomy. A goulash is as precious to the Hungarian as a tagine is to the Moroccan.


 

Every nation boasts of at least one culinary masterpiece. To the French, a beef bourguignon or a coq-au-vin is perhaps the crowning jewel of their cuisine. curried lamb Madras sits at the heart of Indian gastronomy. A goulash is as precious to the Hungarian as a tagine is to the Moroccan.

One thing for certain is that all these dishes utilized inexpensive cuts of meat. In rural areas, the financial means mandate on the peasants that frugality becomes a way of life.
For the lack of prehistoric gastronomic data, one can safely assume that tartar, or raw, is the most ancient dish known to mankind. Kebab, or meat-on-a-stick, probably came about as soon as fire was invented. Stewing or braising will have to be the third culinary method that flourished soon after the invention of earthen cookware.

Stewing played a very important role in sustaining the human health, as it provided nourishment as well as a new way to preserve meats longer. Today a stew refers to any dish containing either an assortment of vegetables, meat or seafood covered with a savory liquid and flavorings and slowly simmered until all the components are tender and the liquid is reduced and thickened to a silky sauce consistency.

A great stew takes on the challenge of a tough undesirable cut of meat and embarks with it on a culinary voyage that ultimately alters its characteristics and turns it into a flavorful melt-in-your-mouth pièce de résistance; totally sublime and worthy of haute cuisine.

Many Americans serve their stews over homemade mashed potatoes or egg noodles. I prefer mine in a bowl with plenty of crusty sourdough bread to soak in all the goodness.

There are several ways to make an excellent stew. You can slowly simmer it on the stovetop, braise it in the middle section of a 300-degree oven or simply use your electric Crock-Pot while you are away for the day. However, the success of a good stew depends on a few key steps without which the end result is merely a boiled meat dish.  

First we must sear the meat on all sides to create what is called a “fond,” or foundation for the dish consisting of brown protein particles at the bottom of the pan. It is critical therefore to start with a hot, heavy-bottomed cooking vessel that can carry and hold the heat evenly, otherwise the meat will scorch and leave a burnt, bitter taste.

Secondly, the browning of the meat must be done in batches if the amount is greater than the surface of the pot. A crowded pan steams rather than sears the meat and results in dried out and grey-looking stews.

Thirdly, an excellent stew is never boiled but slowly simmered until a complete harmony of flavors is achieved. Finally in order to help break down the connective tissues and therefore tenderize the meat and transform the collagen (a glue-like substance that holds the cells, the tendons, the cartilage and the bones together), into a gelatinous sauce, we must introduce an acid such as wine, vinegar or tomatoes. Once you warm up with a bowl of hot delicious stew on a cold autumn or winter day, I have no doubt it will become a favorite recipe.

Beef Stew

Serves 4 to 6
2 pounds chuck meat cut into 2-inch cubes
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ stick of butter
3 medium size yellow onions roughly chopped
1 pound of carrots, peeled and cut into julienne strips or chunks
1 pound red potatoes washed and cut in quarters
¼ of a pound of button mushrooms cut in half (crimini may be used)
2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 pint of beef stock or broth (low sodium)
2 cups of good red wine
2 garlic cloves smashed
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon fresh thyme chopped
1 cup frozen sweet peas

In a large mixing bowl, season the meat with salt and pepper and dust it with the flour until all sides are completely coated.

In a heavy-bottomed soup pot or a Dutch oven on medium high heat, melt the butter and sear the meat on all sides. It is important not to crowd the bottom of the pot.

Add the onions and sauté for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally until they start to turn brown.

Add the wine and scrape all the brown goodness off the bottom of the pot.

Reduce (cook down) the wine by half, add the stock, bay leaf and the tomato paste and bring to a gentle simmer.

Continue to simmer for 1 and ½ hours or until the meat is tender and the sauce is velvety.

Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Add the potatoes, carrots and mushrooms and simmer 25 minutes more or until the vegetables are tender.

Stir in the frozen sweet peas and the fresh thyme and cook 5 minutes more.

Serve hot with your favorite bread.

Pumpkin Cheese Mousse Cake

12 oz. cooked fresh pumpkins pureed or a 12 oz. can of pumpkin pie filling
1/3 cup of brown sugar
1/3 cup of granulated sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon lemon extract
2 egg yolks
2 egg whites whipped to a stiff peak (this is what makes it a mousse)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
7 oz. crushed graham crumbs blended with 4 oz. butter or a ready-to-use graham cracker pie shell
6 oz. sour cream
3 oz. cream cheese at room temperature
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup of whole milk
1 pinch of salt

Butter a 9-inch cake pan and line its bottom with parchment paper then press down the graham cracker and butter mixture on the bottom and sides. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cream egg yolks with the sugars using a wire whisk until all dissolved.

Incorporate the rest of the ingredients except the whipped egg whites.

Gently fold in the egg whites using a rubber spatula.

Pour the batter into the crust-lined pan and bake for 40 to 45 minutes.

Serve immediately with your favorite ice cream or chilled with a dollop of whipped cream and your choice of fresh berries.

Bon appètit!

Chef Fehmi Khalifa runs a personal chef service in the southeastern Massachusetts and Providence areas, offering a healthy alternative to fast foods for today’s busy families. He meets with clients to discuss menus and prepares the food in their homes with heating instructions on the packages. For more information on Chef Fehmi, log on to www.ChefFehmi.com, e-mail ChefFehmi@live.com or call 508-951-4901.