|Daube ... French for 'boozy stew'|
In a restaurant one lazy Sunday lunchtime, I witnessed a completely unguarded moment. At another table, a man speared a piece of meat and brought it absently to his mouth – a mouth that was more interested in the conversation it was having, than the food it was about to taste. As the forkful disappeared into that disinterested mouth, there was an instant of stunned stillness on the guy’s face, a tentative chewing, a look of disbelief. There followed in quick succession: a roll of the eyes, a deep sigh of satisfaction, and an ecstatic flinging back of his head. I could almost hear the man’s taste buds shout “Yes! Yes! Oh, Yes!”
Who could resist? So, of course I said to the waiter “I’ll have what he’s having.” It turned out to be beef cheeks in red wine. Errrr… yum… Actually, while it was good, it wasn’t (in my view) worthy of a food orgasm. Stew rarely is. It’s more of a platonic sort of dish that hits you with a big warm friendly hug - even more so, if it has been simmered in red wine.
While hugs should always be served up fresh the moment they are ready, stew is often even better the next day - the flavours melding in a delicious alchemy.
For 4 – 6 people, you will need…
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1.25kg braising/stewing beef cut into thick chunks (I had 10 pieces in total, serving one or two per person depending on appetite)
5 fat cloves of garlic, peeled but left whole
2 onions, peeled and cut into wedges – leave the root intact so that the pieces hold together
4 carrots, peeled and cut into sizeable chunks
2 sticks of celery, peeled to removed stringy bits, then finely chopped
250g smoked bacon lardons
750ml red wine
1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
3 bay leaves
a small bundle of thyme
the zest of half a lemon (yellow layer only) cut into thick ribbons using a potato peeler (tie the bay leaves, thyme and lemon zest into a little bundle with food grade cotton string to make retrieval easier)
2 handfuls of black olives, stones removed (from Provence if you can get them)
a pinch of sugar
a little finely chopped parsley to scatter over the top of the finished dish
Heat the olive oil in a large flame proof casserole dish or a large saucepan and brown the chunks of beef all over, being careful to give them enough space otherwise they will steam rather than fry and you’ll lose out on quite a bit of flavour. Do this in batches if necessary. When the beef is browned, remove from the pan and set aside. Reduce the heat and add the garlic, onions, carrots, celery and lardons. Fry gently for about 5 minutes.
Now, add the rest of the ingredients (except the parsley). Turn up the heat until the liquid begins to bubble. Immediately lower the heat, cover and cook at a very gentle simmer for 3-and-a-half hours (remove the lid for the last half hour so that the sauce reduces a little). The meat, when finished, should be almost tender enough to cut with a spoon.
Taste and add salt and black pepper only if necessary.
Serve piping hot with the parsley scattered over.
For me, this stew is hearty enough to serve on its own with nothing more than decent bread to mop up the sauce. It is also really good with celeriac mash.