Thursday, October 02, 2008

Stew au Poivre

... Not Steak au Poivre. I didn't want to spend $6/lb on filets mignon of questionable quality, and didn't want to wait for a better selection, so I improvised this dish from regular stew meat, presumably chuck, and I do believe it is at least a promising beginning. The inspiration for this came from Alton Brown's Steak au Poivre, which I have made before, and used way too much pepper. It was pretty tasty anyway.

This recipe could be emboldened, I think, is how President Bush would say it. For instance, allspice is like a conservative cook's clove. You could go all in with clove, perhaps. Also, heavy cream is what Alton Brown actually calls for in his Steak au Poivre, not half-and-half, but that's a bit too rich for me, and we're using a pint of half-and-half, which theoretically does contain 1 cup of heavy cream (two cups in a pint), which is the amount he uses.

The taste of the cognac is really subtle, even though it seems like we use a lot. I like the amount of attention it receives in this recipe, but if you're completely crazy for that flavor, just add more at the end.

There are no doubt other spices we could add to complement the cognac, but I would have to perform a more in-dept olfactory, and perhaps gustatory investigation, to be completely pretentious.

This recipe requires:

1 lb of stew beef (a.k.a. top round, bottom round, or chuck cut into bite-size pieces)
2 yellow onions
2 red potatoes
1/2 stick of butter
1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
4 cups of flour
32 oz. vegetable stock
1 pint half-and-half
1/2 cup whole black pepper corns
1 tsp allspice
About 4 cups of Courvoisier (could substitute with more veggie stock)

Crush the pepper corns into very coarse pepper (like the pieces should be about 1/4th to 3/8ths of a pepper corn) and set aside. I do this by putting the whole corns in a little pile between two paper towels and beating them with a rolling pin, then separating out as well as possible the big pieces. We want about 2 tablespoons of the big pieces. The dust can go away.

Cut the butter into pieces and put in stainless steel stock pot with the olive oil. The oil is primarily to keep the smoke point of the butter down, so use however much you feel is necessary.

Thoroughly coat the beef with flour and shake off excess. Put it in the pot to brown. You want it to brown on all sides at a high enough temperature to create some crust on the bottom of the pot. While it's browning, chop the two onions and dust them in flour the same way, shaking off any excess.

Once the meat is browned, remove it from the pot and put in the onions and the pepper. Sauté the onions over medium heat, then remove and put aside with the meat.

Now there should be a lot of brown crust in the bottom of the pot. I hope it did not actually burn black. It should be dark brown, but not burnt. If it actually burned, you either had the heat too high, or you need a pot with a thicker bottom that distributes the heat better. My pot has a paper thin bottom, so I have to be careful about the heat.

Now comes the deglazing. Open the Courvoisier and turn the heat up to high. Let it get hot for a few seconds, then pour in the cognac. I don't really know how much to tell you to pour in, but about 1/2 inch or so deep. That will come to a boil. Back off the heat to where it's boiling, but not like crazy, and stir as much as possible, trying to loosen up any pot crust that didn't deglaze immediately. Do that until it thickens, then add the vegetable stock.

Cut up the two potatoes into bite-size pieces and add to the stock, along with the meat, the onions, and the allspice. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and let simmer 20 mins. Then remove the lid and let reduce for another 20-30 mins, until all the ingredients are showing because the liquid is so low.

While it's reducing do NOT stir it too much. You'll cause the potatoes to break down making it too starchy. Or maybe you like it that way, I don't know. You could also just add the potatoes 20 or so minutes after you've started the simmer.

How long should you let it reduce for? Well, you're about to add a pint of half-and-half, so however much you think would be sufficient to maintain a thick consistency after that happens. I would say let it reduce by about 1/3rd.

Turn off the heat and let cool for a minute or so, stirring gently. Pour in the half-and-half and one tablespoon of cognac. Mix thoroughly. Serve.

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