Beef and Carrot Stew is one of those pre-nouvelle cuisine era hearty dishes, difficult to find in restaurants and apparently also becoming rare home food. The banality of the name might induce you to think it’s just another boring beef stew, but I can guarantee unique “rustic” French flavours and, anyway, isn’t every stew different? Looking at the photograph above you might not believe me, but, although still filling and warming, this stew is actually not a high-fat dish (unless you use a fatty beef cut or add lots of bacon).
The recipe comes from Ripailles by Stéphane Reynaud (I have just learnt there is a translated English version!), a beautiful originally designed book packed with French traditional home dishes. I have slightly tweaked the stew throughout the years, the main change being the use of smoked streaky bacon instead of fresh pork belly because I always do it (undeniably due to my Polish food heritage). I love crunchy vegetables and the author’s suggested 45 minutes to cook carrot pieces are too much for me, so I made some modifications, inspired by another beef recipe presented by Thierry Marx, a famous French chef. I cook only a third of carrots from the beginning and mash them before adding the rest. Thus,I thicken my sauce and make sure it absorbed the carrots’ flavours from the beginning. I cook the remaining carrots for about 15 minutes, so that they stay crunchy and fresh (even reheated the are soft, but not mushy). Obviously, you don’t have to follow my instructions if you don’t mind mushy carrots.
TIPS: Some people think wine’s addition is just a fancy snobbish ingredient one can easily skip, but I don’t advise it. From my experience here (and it’s the case of many dishes, not only French), it greatly improves and changes flavours, giving a certain je-ne-sais-quoi you don’t want to miss. If you don’t have the habit of stocking cheap wine for cooking purposes, buy a bottle (not expensive, but it must be drinkable!) and freeze leftovers in two- or three-glass portions which will be easy to use in cooking afterwards. Do it whenever you have leftover wine or when you open a bottle that proves not as good as you expected… (but it cannot be spoilt either, of course!).
I always use dried rosemary and dried thyme, but if you have them fresh, use less.
Preparation: about 2-3 hours, depending on the beef cut
Ingredients (serves 2-3):
500 g (about 1 lb) beef (choose a cut which is adapted to long slow cooking; my favourite are beef cheeks, though they might be difficult to find, unless you order at your butcher’s)
2 tablespoons oil or duck fat or pork fat
3 big carrots
5 thin slices of streaky smoked bacon or about 50-70 g smoked streaky bacon cubes
300 ml red wine (or a half white half red, as the author suggests)
5 big shallots, sliced or 2 big white onions
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 branches of celery, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 medium bay leaves
dried thyme (about two heaped teaspoons or more)
1/2 flat teaspoon dried rosemary
1 tablespoon tomato paste
(chilli powder or dried chillies torn into pieces)
fresh parsley, chopped
Cut the beef into big cubes (about 4 cm).
Heat oil or fat in a big pan and stir fry the beef at medium-high heat until browned.
Add the streaky bacon cut into small pieces, sliced shallots and stir-fry for several minutes.
After five minutes add the wine and, stirring from time to time, wait until it almost evaporates and everything starts to stick.
Now add the garlic, the herbs, 1 teaspoon salt, celery, 1 carrot cut into three pieces, tomato paste and, if using, chilli.
Cover with water, give the whole stew a stir, put the lid on and let it simmer for at least two hours (it will depend on the meat).
Check if the meat is tender and if it’s the case, take out the carrot pieces, mash them (or mix in a mixer) and add it to the stew together with the remaining thickly sliced carrots.
Cover and cook until the carrots are still crunchy but not too soft (it takes from ten to fifteen minutes and much less if you have young carrots).
Taste, adjust the saltiness, add some ground pepper and serve with chopped parsley and lots of good quality crusty bread.
This dish can be stored several days in the fridge and it freezes very well too.