A rich and flavoursome beef stew garnished with pearl onions, carrots and pancetta. The sauce in this Gluten-free recipe is thickened with Arrowroot powder.
This classic dish combines beef with pancetta lardons and rustic chunks of vegetables, with the whole lot gently braised in a bottle of red wine. The key to success is to make sure that each element in the stew is still distinguishable. This means not destroying the different textures by overcooking – what you don’t want is an homogeneous mush. The beef requires long, slow cooking to break down the tough connective tissue and make it tender. In this recipe, it is cooked for 1 hour 45 minutes. But if you cook pearl onions and carrots for the same length of time, they disintegrate and the flavour leeches out. So the pancetta and vegetables should be thought of as more of a garnish, and only added for the final 30 minutes of cooking.
Because the beef is not cooked until it falls apart, and because it is not cooked on the bone, less collagen is broken down and converted into gelatin. Also, the main cooking liquid is alcohol, rather than a gelatin-enriched homemade stock. When gelatin is released into cooking liquid it thickens the sauce, to the point that it will set like jelly when cooled. A vital step in cooking a stew is to reduce the cooking liquid at the end. This produces a thick sauce that will cling to the meat and vegetables, rather than pooling at the bottom of the plate. If you reduce red wine, it will concentrate the flavours but the viscosity remains very thin. This is why I suggest adding arrowroot powder at the end to thicken the sauce. But if you struggle to digest starches, then you can skip this step.
Tips & Tricks
- Fry the meat before braising it – this caramelises meat sugars on the surface, which develops the flavour.
- Heat the pan to sizzling point – this creates an instant seal when the meat is added, preventing it from sticking and keeping the moisture locked in
- Do not overcrowd the pan – this will cause the meat to stew in its own juices rather than brown
- Boil the wine – this evaporates off the alcohol and mellows the flavours
- Blanch the pearl oinions – peeling them can be fiddly, but scalding them in boiling hot water for 90 seconds loosens the skins so that they slip off
- Cook the pancetta gently – this allows the solid fat to melt and render out, resulting in a crisper, less flabby texture
- Boil out the liquid from the mushrooms before frying – mushrooms release a lot of water when put directly into hot fat, which causes them to steam rather than brown
- Reduce the cooking liquid – this concentrates the flavour and creates a thick coating that clings to the meat and vegetables rather than running off and pooling at the bottom of the plate
- Turn off the heat as soon as sauce thickens – arrowroot breaks down and looses its thickening properties if it is cooked for too long
- 900g beef chuck, cut into 4cm pieces
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil (I used beef dripping)
- 1/2 onion (65g), peeled and finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme
- a couple of sprigs of fresh marjoram
- 2 whole bay leaves
- 1 bottle Burgungy red wine (Pinoit Noir)
- 1 cup (240ml) homemade chicken stock
- 200g button mushrooms
- 200g pearl onions (replace with small, round shallots if you cannot find)
- 1 teaspoon cooking oil (I used beef dripping)
- 180g pancetta, sliced into long, thin strips (replace with thick bacon if you cannot find – preferably slab bacon, but smoked streaky bacon is okay)
- 2 carrots (230g), peeled and quartered
- 1 tablespoon arrowroot powder
- 2 tablespoons cold water
- Brown the beef. Remove the beef from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking, so it has time to come up to room temperature. Mix the salt and pepper in a large bowl. Rub the beef all over with the seasoning in the bowl.
- Heat the cooking oil in a heavy-based casserole over a medium-high heat. When a few drops of water sizzle and evaporate upon contact with the pan, add the beef. Sear the beef in 3-4 batches until browned all over with a caramelised crust – about 4-5 minutes a batch. Add more cooking oil when necessary. Do not overcrowd the pan. Transfer the browned meat to the same bowl.
- Saute the onion and garlic. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion and fry until the onion is translucent but not brown, stirring occasionally – about 5 minutes. Add the garlic fry for another 2 minutes. Add the herbs (thyme, marjoram and bay leaves), and fry for 1 minute.
- Deglaze the pan. Add a little of the red wine, and scrape off all the tasty browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a spatula. Pour in the rest of the wine. Turn the heat up to high and boil rapidly for 10 minutes.
- Simmer the stew. Add the stock. Stir until blended, then return the beef to the casserole. The beef should be more-or-less submerged in liquid. Top up with a bit of extra water if this is not the case. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low. Leave to simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour 15 minutes. Meanwhile prepare the garnish.
- Prepare the mushrooms. Rinse the mushrooms under a cold tap, gently wiping off any soil. Transfer to a small saucepan. Add a tablespoon or so of cold water and cover with a lid. Heat over a medium heat until the mushrooms release their juices and are boiling in the liquid. Remove the lid, and increase the heat to high. Continue to boil until all the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms start to sizzle. Set aside.
- Peel the pearl onions. Bring a pan of water to the boil (you can use the same one that was used for the mushrooms). Trim off the root end of the onions, then drop into the pan. Once the water comes back up the boil, start a timer. After 90 seconds, remove from the heat and drain through a sieve. Run cold water over the onions for a couple of minutes to stop them from cooking further. Fill the pan with cold water and leave to cool. When cool, drain and then slip off the skins. Pat dry with kitchen towel.
- Brown the pancetta. Heat the cooking oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan over a medium-low heat. You shouldn’t need to add any more cooking oil, as the fat will gradually melt and render out from the pancetta. Stir the pancetta to stop it from sticking, and cook gently until brown and crispy – about 10-15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon.
- Saute the vegetables. Add the onion and carrot to the frying pan and cook until browned and caramelised – about 10-15 minutes. Transfer to the same bowl as the pancetta using a slotted spoon. Turn the heat up to medium-high and fry the mushrooms until browned – about 5-6 minutes. Turn off the heat.
- Add the garnish. When the stew has simmered for 1 hour 15 minutes, add the garnish (pancetta, onions, carrots and mushrooms). Simmer for another 30 minutes. Remove the beef and garnish from the pan using a slotted spoon, and keep warm by covering in a double layer of tin foil. Remove and discard the bay leaves and herb sprigs.
- Thicken the sauce. If there is excess fat on the surface, take the pan off the heat. Wait for the oil to separate out and rise to the top. Tilt the pan, then lower in a metal spoon or ladle and scoop up the oil from the sides. Place the pan back on the heat. Turn the heat up to high and boil rapidly for about 15 minutes to reduce the cooking liquid. Measure out the arrowroot powder and cold water into a mug, and stir to form a smooth paste. Pour the paste into the pan. Whisk constantly until the sauce suddenly thickens – about 1 minute. Turn off the heat immediately.
- Return the meat and vegetables to the casserole, and mix until evenly coated in sauce. Transfer into a serving dish and serve hot.