Friday, November 9

A Savory Beef Stew in Cast Iron

Cast iron is so superior for cooking utensils to our modern aluminum that I not only cannot grieve for the pioneer hardship of cooking in iron over the hearth, but shall retire if necessary to the back yard with my two Dutch ovens, turning over all my aluminum cookers for airplanes with a secret delight.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, "Cross Creek" (1942)

Whenever I cook in my cast iron dutch oven, it's as if the pan exudes a life all its own.  As if, deep within its soul lies a remnant, a recollection, of every meal I've ever prepared.  Its warm heart beats life into every stew, soup, or casserole held within its iron walls, and it adds that 'certain something,' which you can't explain, but which only seems to come from an age-old, well seasoned iron pot.
I know this all sounds mystical and, perhaps, a little psychedelic - in fact you're probably wondering, What did this girl smoke before she began writing.  (Was it Ernest Hemingway who suggested we Write drunk; edit sober?)  The truth is, I've thought this way about pots and pans since I was a little girl helping my grandmother wash and dry her ancient vessels.  As I ran my dish towel along the inside of each pot I would ask myself, if this pan could talk what marvelous recipes would it share?  That one with the wooden handle, precariously loose so that it twists every time you pick it up - what amazing bisques and broths have stewed within your walls!  This one, dented here on one side and charred on the bottom from a small kitchen fire decades ago - if only I could again taste that hearty, bolognase sauce that simmered within you for hours upon hours one cold Sunday afternoon.
Ancient beyond description, I'm sure some of my grandmother's pots were from the mid-ninetheeth century.  They were used daily to feed my ancestors and passed down through the generations.  Oh, if only I could hear their stories!
Cast iron is truly the best material in which to cook. Sure it's heavy and cumbersome, but nothing heats as evenly nor retains its heat quite like cast iron.  If you don't own a cast iron pan, I highly recommend that you buy one. They're inexpensive and nearly indestructable. I promise you'll never go back.  If you wash it carefully with very little (if any) soap, and season it after every use on the stove top with a little oil over very high heat, it will last forever.

I have several cast iron skillets and pots in my kitchen without which I could not cook:
  • My large Le Creuset oval skillet in which I make the perfect roasted chicken.
  • A small enamel coated cast iron sauce pan with a cast iron lid (that can be used as a small skillet) that makes the most fluffy, moist rice you've ever had.  I won't cook rice in anything else.
  • An 8 inch Lodge® Cast Iron skillet which creates the absolute best crust on steak au poivre.
  • And my dutch oven, which I use not only for stews and roasts, but also for roasting stuffed peppers. The heat of the pan caramelizes the flesh of the peppers while the tight lid seals in all the moisture.

Food is so much more than fuel for our bodies. Food is about love, about intimacy, about self-sacrifice, about creating something out of raw, unrefined ingredients that will ultimately nourish another's body both physically and emotionally.  This is why I love cooking the way I do, this is that 'certain something' that's absorbed into the rich patina of my worn and well-loved cast iron pans, and it's this abstract notion food (and my cast iron collection, of course) that I hope to pass down to my kids someday.

I always wait to start cooking with root vegetables until after the first frost. It's said that the first frost of the season makes root vegetables sweeter. Well, here in Colorado I wake every morning to a world glazed in ice, and I know it's the perfect time to share this recipe.

Savory Beef Stew with Root Vegetables and Sage

2 lb chuck roast, cut into 1 in. cubes
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 Tbsp coconut oil
1 white onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup dry red wine
2 cups beef stock
2 medium red potatoes, cut into 1 in. cubes
4 carrots, cut into small chunks
1 celeriac, peeled and cut into 1 in. cubes
1 turnip, peeled and cut into 1 in. cubes
1 bay leaf
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
8 medium sage leaves, minced

Toss the meat with the flour, salt, and pepper.  Heat the coconut oil in a large cast iron dutch oven over medium-high heat.  When the oil shimmers add half the meat and cook, turning occasionally until brown on all sides.  Remove to a plate and brown the remaining meat.  Remove all the meat to the plate and add the onions.  Stir scraping up some of the browned meat on the bottom of the pan.  When the onions are soft add the garlic.  Cook a minute longer, then add the wine and simmer scraping up any browned meat that is left on the bottom of the pan.  Reduce the wine by half, then add the beef stock, potatoes, carrots, celeriac, turnip, bay leaf, and Worcestershire sauce.  Bring to a boil and add the meat and the accumulated juices back to the pan.  Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for one and a half hours.  Add the minced sage and taste for seasoning.  Add additional salt and pepper if needed.  Simmer 5 - 10 minutes longer.  Serves 6


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