Monday, October 09, 2006

Beef Stew with a Cuban Flair

Stew – another weather related recipe. And a great remedy for a cold, rainy, and downright miserable Saturday. I discovered Ropa Vieja – Braised Beef, Peppers, and Onions with a Cuban flair from The Gourmet Cookbook edited by Ruth Reichl.

Here are the ingredients with a couple of my own omissions/substitutions:

3 pounds flank steak (mine came from The Fresh Market)

8 cups water

2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped

1 fennel bulb, course chopped (the recipe called for celery, to which I am not partial)

1 bay leaf

6 garlic cloves, minced

1 ¼ teaspoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons salt

¼ teaspoon whole black pepper, crushed

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 green bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into ¼ inch wide strips

1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced

14 ounce can whole tomatoes

3 tablespoons tomato paste

2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into ¼ inch wide strips

2 yellow bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into ¼ inch wide strips

½ cup green olives, pitted and chopped (recipe called for pimento-stuffed green olives)

(The recipe also called for 1 cup of frozen peas which I conveniently forgot to get when I went grocery shopping.)

WARNING – This is not a quick meal. It takes about 3 hours to finish. Now that you know, I’ll proceed with the instructions.

Combine beef, water, carrots, yellow onion, fennel, bay leaf, garlic, oregano, cumin, salt, and pepper in a large heavy pot (I use a Le Creuset enamel pot) and bring to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered, about 1 ½ hours until beef is tender. Remove beef to a bowl or plate. Pour liquid through a large strainer. (The cookbook here says to discard the solids, I say set them aside in a medium bowl. You’ll see why.) Return liquid to pot and boil until reduced to 3 cups. Pour reduced liquid into a boil. Wipe out the pot. While liquid is boiling (or when the meat is cool enough for you to touch), shred the meat with your fingers and set aside. The meat should be so tender that it almost falls apart.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the wiped out pot and sauté the green peppers and red onion until very tender (the recipe says this takes about 10 minutes, it took me more like 20 minutes – I like my onions crunch-free). While the peppers and onions are getting tender, open the can of tomatoes and add them to the set aside solids. Also add the tomato paste. With an electric emulsifier (a.k.a. boat motor), puree the mixture. Add the pureed mixture and shredded beef to the green peppers and onions. Cover the pot and simmer on low for about 20 minutes. While this is simmering, in a frying pan, pour in the remaining olive oil and sauté the red and yellow peppers…mmm, about 20 minutes. Once the peppers are tender, add them and the olives to the pot. Let simmer uncovered for 15 minutes or so. Serve with crusty bread or over white rice.

This turned out to be a very hearty meal with lots of leftovers. It would be great for a meat appreciative crowd. The cumin and olives added a subtle flair, but did not steal the show. I simply loved how the flank steak pulled apart after boiling and I also liked how the seasoning for the water added flavor to the beef. I will consider using flank steak with other beef stew recipes. We enjoyed our stew with a 2003 Castle Rock Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (~$12), but a Crianza Rioja or a Priorat would be tasty as well.

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