The other day, one of my chefs posted this article from Esquire, titled “Nobody is Cooking Anymore.”
The quick and dirty summary of the article is: the state of American cuisine is such that plates at restaurants feel “composed” or “assembled” rather than “cooked.” What I got from the article is that the author feels that dishes are presented as edible works of art: each piece wondrous and perfect on it’s own, but then simply arranged on the plate in a pleasing manner, and he wants to see a return to things being cooked as a union of flavors- mentioning specifically stews, dirty rice, bagna-cauda, and cassoulet.
While I disagree with some points of his article, there is one point there that I wish he had discussed more. It’s something I have brought up on this blog before, and I daresay I will again, but here it is:
You don’t need to go out to eat well, and the best food doesn’t necessarily go for $80 a plate.
If you grew up in a cooking household, this is likely a “duh!” moment for you. The very best, most timeless recipes we have today are old recipes from the poorest and most desperate times in our culture- or else deviations of them. The formula went simply thus:
What You Have or What’s Cheap and Plentiful + Preparation Permitted in your Situation = Tasty Something That Fills You Up
From this formula though, we get matzah ball soup, sausages, Vietnamese pho, Scottish haggis, shrimp and grits, tarts, tripe soup, ratatouille, beef and Guinness stew, corned beef and cabbage, cassoulet, and many others. The best food in the world doesn’t need to come with a four figure bill- many travelers (including myself) have found the best meal of their trips standing on sidewalks, coming out of a cart, or slapped into their hands for pocket change.
Cooking and baking have many facets. Some of the best wisdom I’ve ever heard is that cooking is about “taking the very best ingredients, and not screwing them up.” The addendum to that is “and let them work together.” It takes phenomenal art, skill, and education to make one of the plates you’ll find in a three Michelin Star joint in Manhattan. It will likely be wonderful. Wonderfulness, however, can also be found in a simple bowl of something hot, made right.
In testament to this fact (and since I haven’t included a recipe on here in a while), below you’ll find my recipe for Beef and Guinness Stew. The most expensive thing you might find in this recipe is either the meat or the beer, but if you make it right (and enjoy it on a cold winter night, with a bottle of dark, heavy, malty porter or stout), it won’t matter at all- because sometimes a bowl of something good and hot, and bottle of something good and cold, puts you right where you belong.
Beef and Guinness Stew
1lb. boneless chuck beef (some places label it for stew)
1 large onion, roughly chopped
3 large carrots, sliced into thick coins (about 1/3″-1/2″)
2 tbsp flour, seasoned how you like (I used a pinch of cocoa, chili, coriander, parsley, thyme, and paprika)
12 oz. Guinness (I used Extra Stout, but you can use any porter or stout you want)
3 oz. tomato paste (plain, no spices – this is half of one of the tiny cans)
1 tbs. minced garlic (about 3 cloves or so)
Rosemary, salt, pepper to taste.
1. Toss the beef in the season flour to coat and brown in pan with a bit of hot fat (Pam, veg oil, whatever.) When browned, remove the beef to a bowl and use the same pan to fry the onions until translucent. If they burn slightly, perfect. I used the same large pot for this step as I did for cooking the stew- any burned bits get deglazed by the beer and go into the stew.
2. When onions are ready, add beef back in, along with the carrots and Guinness. Bring JUST to a boil, and then add the paste, garlic, and rosemary. Bring JUST to boil again, and immediately cover tightly and reduce heat down to a gentle simmer (medium low to low).
3. Let it simmer for 1 1/2- 2 hours. Check regularly (every 30 min. or so) to make sure it doesn’t dry out. If needed, after 45 minutes, add 6 oz.water and stir.
After 2 hours, if the carrots and beef are tender, serve with boiled potatoes on the side, or a dollop of mashed potatoes right on top with each bowl.
NOTES: Spices were used without measurement and were to my taste. If it tastes good on beef, it’ll work here
Also, 2 hours is a ballpark figure. As with most stews, this is low and slow cooking- if you can get this going 4 or more hours ahead of time and keep an eye on it, it will only get better, and everything more tender.