I was reminiscing about my favourite restaurant on the happy isle of Oahu, John Dominis, where I ate the best lobster of my life. (Live to broiled in 15 minutes: the ONLY way to do it.) Which naturally led me to think about beef. Beef pie, beef stew, beef on the cow, cow briskly marched towards kitchen, waved at flame and served on plate. Beef pies are, especially in the instance of supermarket offerings, disappointing. Glutinous. Pastry that adheres to one's cheeks/gums/tongue, a shred of unpleasant meat cloaked by a thick slick of 'gravy'. Ditto beef stews (sorry, Sainsburys, but yours are NOT pleasant): gluey, sour, and indigestible.
Anything worth doing is worth doing well and taking lots of time over. MY beef stew takes, oh, approximately 4 hours from start to finish. 9 if you're slow-cooking it (to be recommended to those who work from home and don't take said work particularly seriously).
This recipe will serve four ladies or one lady + hefty chap.
2.5 lbs good diced beef (preferably a dark, delectable red-brown, not the kind of fluorescent jam-coloured hunks of meat served up as part of economy ranges)
2 bottle good red wine. The rule does apply. Don't cook with that which you'd never drink. Merlot works well, as does Casillero del Diablo; try to avoid blends.
Large bulb and a half of purple veined garlic. 2 bulbs is even better.
1 punnet of chestnut mushrooms.
Four ounces of either dried morels or porcini mushrooms, rehydrated (save the liquid).
6 medium red onions.
1.5 pounds tomatoes, roasted in the oven with mixed herbs, salt, pepper and a dusting of sugar; pinched out of skins and pounded through a sieve. Or a bottle of passata if you can't be bothered.
1 pint beef stock. NOT MADE FROM A CUBE. If you don't have time to roast your beef bones and spend three days working on a Larousse-approved demi-glace, Sainsburys does a quite decent Signature beef stock (found in the pasta/rice/sauces aisle).
2 tablespoons good balsamic vinegar.
1 tablespoon tomato puree.
Heaped teaspoon of maille mustard.
Mixed herbs: heaped teaspoon fresh rosemary, thyme, marjoram (or sage if you prefer), 3 bayleaves.
Freshly ground pepper; flaked salt.
Dice the onions. Attempt not to cry. Open both bottles of wine. Pour yourself a large glass. Gently sautee the onions in 2 oz butter (clarify it if you have time: it tastes so much more velvety without all those horrid proteins) in either a heavy-bottomed iron stockpot or an earthenware casserole (heat-safe, of course), lid on, for 10-12 minutes until they are soft and translucent. Using a garlic crusher, add the entire bulb or two of garlic to the pan and mix briskly. Add all the beef. Allow to colour; it doesn't matter if it is a little pink. But don't, for Heaven's sake, allow it to stick. Pour in an entire bottle of wine (and more into yourself), the stock, roasted tomatoes or passata, beef stock, puree, herbs, mustard, balsamic vinegar and half the liquid from the rehydrated mushrooms. Salt it, pepper it, and stick it in the oven on 100-110*. Stir once an hour for the next two and a half hours. Finally, add the quartered chestnut mushrooms and morels or porcini and cook for a further hour. Take stew out of oven and allow to rest while you finish off the wine (should there be any left), crack open another bottle, and prepare some mash with heavy cream, butter, pesto and grated gruyere, or a little buttered pasta or even walnut bread.
*If you're slow-cooking it, heat it at 130 for 30 mins and then turn the oven down to 70. It needs to be warm enough to kill virii, cool enough to very slowly tenderize the meat to an unbelievable degree.