Thursday, March 21, 2013

Asian beef stew with Thai garnish (+ how to make another meal out of it)

On Monday morning I went to work in a wet mess of snow mixed with rain. My throat was sore, my nose was tickling and my eyes were stinging, the beginning of a horrendous cold. Yesterday, however, it was a beautiful day: it was sunny, the air was clean, the sky was a clear blue. When the sun shines these days, it shines a little warmer, the air instantly turns balmy, everything looks brighter. Then, a cloud covers the sun and the chill in the air envelops you, reminding you are still in the grip of the icy fingers of winter.

First of two batches

This dish sort of reminds me of this time of the year, when it is definitely still winter but little hints of spring start showing up here and there. The stew is hearty, warming, bursting with the flavors from the Far East. While it bubbles on the stove and cooks slowly, ever so slowly, in the oven it pleasantly warms up your kitchen. But mind you, it is not a heavy meal. The meat is tender and lean, the sauce is far from rich, more of an intensely flavored and tinted broth. Every bite is accompanied by the fresh, brightly colored hot and sour Thai salad it is served with. The tangyness of the lime juice, the umami from the fish sauce, the crisp and cool julienned vegetables, the bite from the chilli peppers and the potent aroma of the coriander leaves all contribute to that feeling of spring that is slowly creeping into all things winter.

Don't be scared off by the list of ingredients, if you already cook Asian-inspired recipes at home, you will already have most, it not all, of them in your kitchen. And if you don't it is not a big deal: I used Mirin instead of Chinese wine, small red chilli peppers instead of large red and green ones, cinnamon powder instead of sticks. I also realized that I forgot to add in the ground coriander at the beginning while I was writing out the ingredients for you. It turned out great anyway. The procedure is extremely simple and allows you to prepare ahead of time: a perfect dinner party dish. All it requires is a few hours of unattended slow cooking (I was taking measurements at Ikea while this baby was in the oven). The flavors are wonderful (even my half Thai friend loved it and asked me for the recipe) and the meat just falls apart at the touch of your fork.

1. Sauté ginger, garlic and onion; 2. add stock; 3. add sauces and spices; 4. boil down sauce once meat is ready.
A few notes:
Nigella (Lawson of course) suggests making this with ginger mashed potatoes and parsnips, which I'm sure is delicious, but I just couldn't be bothered and made it with basmati rice instead, which worked perfectly to soak up the sauce.
If you end up not using all of the sauce (I used boneless meat  - she suggests either or - so that could be why... less bulk), DO NOT throw it away! Store it in a jar in the fridge for future use.
On Monday, to nurse my cold, I heated up some stock, poured in a few tablespoons of said sauce and then dumped in the leftover basmati rice: the most perfect meal for a congested head and chest and a runny nose. I loved it so much I decided I wanted to integrate it into our dinner. I had some tuna that I had bought a couple of days prior that needed using up. I heated some more stock, mixed in the rest of the jar of sauce and then added in some rice noodles. On the side, I sauteed some rapini in a pan with olive oil and garlic. Last, I seared the tuna steaks coated in sesame seeds and then cut them into thin slices. I served all the ingredients in a bowl with spoons and chop sticks. Success all the way round!
I am telling you, there is nothing better than a meal that yields one, or even two more!

Adapted from Nigella's Kitchen

Braised beef stew
2 onions, peeled and quartered
5cm/2inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tsp ground coriander
3 tbsp vegetable oil
250ml/9fl oz. Chinese cooking wine
4 tbsp soy sauce
4 tbsp dark brown sugar
2 litres beef stock
2 tbsp oyster sauce
4 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise
1kg/2¼lb beef shin off the bone, or other stewing beef, cut into large cubes

For the garnish/salad
3 carrots, peeled and julienned
4 spring onions, julienned
1 long red chilli, deseeded, julienned
1 long green chilli, deseeded, julienned
a bunch of fresh coriander, chopped

For the dressing
juice of 1 lime 
4 tbsp Thai fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F.
Blend the onions, ginger, garlic and coriander in a food processor.
Heat oil in a heavy-based ovenproof large casserole. Fry the mixture over medium heat and stir until soft and all moisture is gone, about 10 minutes.
Pour in the Chinese wine (or Mirin in my case) and let it bubble up. Add the soy sauce, brown sugar, stock, oyster sauce and rice wine vinegar and bring to a boil, then add in the cinnamon and star anise.
Add the meat and let everything start boiling again, then cover and finish cooking in the oven for about 2 hours.
Take the casserole out of the oven and remove the meat with a slotted spoon. Place it in an ovenproof dish, cover with alluminum foil and keep warm in the oven. In the meantime, place the casserole uncovered on high heat and boil the sauce until it has reduced by about half. (Since I made mine in the morning, I just let the beef cool off in the sauce in the oven and then took it out before boiling down the sauce. You can also do this a day or two before and store the meat and sauce separately in the fridge).
This is when you should start preparing the salad. Since I had guests coming over and didn't want to be stuck in the kitchen, I did this about an hour before and just put the julienned vegetables in a bowl of cold water. Otherwise, julienne the carrots, spring onions and chilli peppers and chop the coriander and mix them all in a bowl.
Make the salad dressing by mixing together the lime juice, fish sauce and sugar in a separate bowl and then dress the vegetables.
Serve in a bowl or deep dish, pouring the sauce over the meat. Garnish the beef with half the spicy and sour Thai salad and put the other half in a bowl so guests can serve themselves to more if they like.


  1. I hope you are feeling a little better. Your Asian beef stew sounds terrific and perfect for this cold weather.


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