Saturday, January 16, 2016

Alcatra (Portuguese Beef Stew)

When I first looked at this recipe, I was very skeptical as it seemed to be violating two major things normally associated with making a beef stew. First, the recipe did not call for searing the beef. In fact, there is no pre-cooking required at all. This is basically a "dump it all in the pot and walk away" recipe.

While I was concerned about not searing, that was totally unfounded. The flavors were so warm and bright...I was astounded. And that was surprising because the second rule it violated for making stew was to eschew use of beef or chicken stock. Yep. You read that right. The only liquid in the recipe was white wine. In my case, chardonnay.

The key to this stew was the blend of spices. Smashed garlic. Allspice berries.  Bay leaves. Peppercorns. While the recipe called for tying them up in cheesecloth, I prefer to use a Spiceball (pictured above). You just throw all of the spices in there and sink it into your pot. Afterwards, you can just rinse it and toss it in the dishwasher.

While this delicious Cook's Illustrated recipe is pure Paleo, we could not eat stew without some bread to dip in our bowls. A warm loaf of artisan bread (rosemary and olive oil) fit that bill. I really encourage you to try this ever-so-simple stew. It is so different from anything else. One always thinks of stews as so hearty and heavy. This one is at the other end of the spectrum...still hearty...but light and vibrant on the tongue.

3 pounds boneless long-cut beef shanks
Salt and pepper
5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
5 allspice berries
4 bay leaves
1 ½ teaspons peppercorns
2 large onions, halved and sliced
2 ¼ cups dry white wine
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
ounces Spanish-style chorizo sausage, cut into ¼-inch-thick rounds

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325ยบ. Trim away any fat or large pieces of connective tissue from exterior of shanks (silverskin can be left on meat). Cut each shank crosswise into 2 1/2-inch pieces. Sprinkle meat with 1 teaspoon salt.
  2. Cut 8-inch square of triple-thickness cheesecloth. Place garlic, allspice berries, bay leaves, and peppercorns in center of cheesecloth and tie into bundle with kitchen twine. Arrange onions and spice bundle in Dutch oven in even layer. Add wine and cinnamon. Arrange shank pieces in single layer on top of onions. Cover the pot tightly with aluminum foil and pot lid and cook until beef is tender, about 3 1/2 hours.
  3. Remove pot from oven and add chorizo. Using tongs, flip each piece of beef over, making sure that chorizo is submerged. Cover and let stand until chorizo is warmed through, about 20 minutes. Discard spice bundle. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Wine pairing: If you are a fan of Malbec and Brunello di Montalcino, I would suggest that you pair this stew with a nice bottle of Portuguese Douro. If you don't have access to Portuguese wines, try a domestic Petite Sirah.

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