When a person who cooks has been cooking long enough (which isn't actually very long at all), an understanding develops about preparing food. A recipe is not about the joining together of a special group of ingredients, but how a group of ingredients are joined together. There are patterns that fit certain types of recipes, foundations that create a skeleton for cooking that lets a cook dance around any group of ingredients they happen to have on hand.
One of my favorite methods is called a braise, which at it's most simplistic is when you quickly sear a piece of meat over high heat, and then simmer it in liquid until the protein falls into tenderness. The key to unlocking a braise is to create a really beautiful crust at the bottom of the pan while browning the meat which then becomes the start of the sauce after it's scraped off using stock or wine. Then sauteeing aromatic vegetables adds depth and helps balance the meatiness. The last piece of the puzzle is to not fully cover the ingredients with liquid so that the top of braise caramelizes and becomes golden brown.
This recipe works well because I kept it pretty simple, with only four ingredients at play. The oregano adding a piney deep flavor that complimented the beef without overpowering it, and it was different from the typical rosemary based stews. Leeks added a bit more freshness than your normal onion. But again, you can switch out the beef for chicken thighs, the leeks for shallots, and the stock for white wine, then rise and repeat with sausage, onion and tomatoes. It's an ever rotating, ever evolving process. Structure yields freedom. Happy braising.
Beef with Leeks and Oregano
- 1 pound beef cubes, usually chuck
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1 cup of lardons or streaky bacon, chopped
- 2 leeks, cut into rounds
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- 1 bunch oregano, de-stemmed and chopped
- 1 bunch of flat leaf parsley, de-stemmed and chopped
- 1 cup of broad beans or green peas
- 2 cups beef stock, or any kind of stock that you have on hand. Water works, or wine.
- Salt and pepper, added to various stages of the cooking process
Take your beef cubes and give them a quick rinse. Then dry them thoroughly with paper towels, and toss them in the flour that has been salted and peppered generously. Heat some canola oil (or goose fat) in a dutch oven or heavy bottom cast iron pan and add the lardons/bacon and toss around until they are crisp and golden brown. Remove from the pan and set on a plate for later.
Add the beef to the pan in small batches so you can toss and make sure all sides get seared and golden brown. Watch your heat here, you might need to turn it down to keep the bottom of the pan from burning. Remove beef and set on a plate for later.
Add the leeks and the celery to the pan with a good pinch of salt. Toss around until soft. Add the beef stock and scrape up all the brown bits. Add the bacon and the beef, half of the herbs and the beans or peas. You don't want the liquid to cover everything, so I suggest adding half of it at a time.
Cover with a heavy lid and slide into an oven set to 275F. Cook for 45mins to 1hr. The top of the dish should be caramelized and golden brown. Toss in the remaining half of the chopped herbs. Serve with toasted sourdough rubbed with a clove of garlic.