Thursday, April 14, 2011

Popovers Filled with Beef and Leek Stew

Popovers filled with Beef & Leek Stew
I'll sometimes describe a dish as being much more than the sum of its parts. That can be said about lots of foods really, though it's most impressive when there are very few parts to the equation in the first place.

Last night I made one of our favorite budget-friendly dinners, a three-ingredient wonder that never fails to render us both into silent, ravenous reverie. Just three ingredients, including the roast. That's right, including the roast. There's a pinch of flour, a splash of olive oil, a sprinkling of salt and pepper, but really it all comes down to three ingredients... chuck, leeks, and balsamic vinegar. That's all.

A Stew From A Few
What else is remarkable about this stew? Besides the fact that one of the three ingredients is leeks and my onion-hating husband wanted seconds? Or besides how it's terribly cheap to make and yet tastes rich and complex? Well, yeah, other than that, I guess it is pretty unremarkable (she said with tongue planted firmly in cheek). Truly, it's nothing less than kitchen-alchemy.

Stew On This
The accompanying popovers are equally simple to make. These were the first I'd ever made and they turned out like fluffy puffy rolls that were soft and airy on the inside and crispy on the outside. Did I mention that they were simple with a capital-S? Well they are. And they were perfect with the stew.

It may be the middle of Spring, but our nights here are still chilly and the days are often gray. And that, my friends, means stew-weather.

Popovers Filled with Beef and Leek Stew
from pg. 130-132 of the book Potager: Fresh Garden Cooking In The French Style (1992) 
reprinted here with kind permission from Georgeanne Brennan

3 large leeks*
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 to 2 pounds boneless beef chuck roast, cut into 2-inch chunks
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3 to 4 cups water

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter, melted
2 eggs
vegetable oil or melted butter for muffin tin

Cut the leeks in half lengthwise, then cut them crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Include all but the final 2 or 3 inches of the green shaft.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed flame-proof casserole or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the beef and cook until browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Add all but 1/2 cup of the leeks to the beef and cook for 4 or 5 minutes, stirring often. Sprinkle the leeks and beef with the flour, salt, and pepper and cook for another 3 or 4 minutes to brown the flour. Add the balsamic vinegar and deglaze the pan, scraping up any browned bits that cling to the bottom. Slowly add 2 cups of the water and bring to a boil, continuing to stir. Reduce the heat and cover the pan. Simmer the stew until a thick sauce has formed and the meat can be cut with a fork, about 2 hours. Add additional water, a little at a time, as needed to keep the meat moist.

Start to make the popovers about 1 hour before the stew will be done. Preheat an oven to 475°F.

Combine the flour, salt, sugar, milk, 1 tablespoon melted butter, and eggs in a bowl and beat with a whisk or electric mixer until thoroughly blended, 2 to 3 minutes. Brush a 12-cup muffin tin with a little oil or butter and heat it in the preheated oven for a few minutes. Fill each muffin cup one half to three fourths full with the batter.

Bake the popovers in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350°F and bake until they are deeply browned and puffed, about 20 minutes.

While the popovers are baking, arrange the reserved 1/2 cup leeks on a steamer rack over gently boiling water. Cover and steam until the leeks are limp but still retain their color, 4 or 5 minutes.

To serve, place 2 popovers on each warmed plate. Break open the popovers and spoon the stew over them. Top with the steamed leeks. Serves 6

My Notes: I used my Dutch oven, and because of it's size, I browned the meat in 2 batches so that it wasn't crowded. I added a smidge more oil with the second batch of meat.

*New to leeks? Check out this very handy tutorial on how to prep these surprisingly sandy onion-cousins.

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