How It All Started

Bob Phillips

The title of this blog was inspired by one of my Spanish professor's at Miami University of Ohio, Dr. Robert Phillips, who died in the e...

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Double Deglazed Stew

Pam and I met in French class, so it is appropriate that this evening's meal includes a bit of a language lesson. Autumn has been warm and slow in arriving, with leaves lingering longer than we ever remember them doing. But finally in the past week or two our thoughts have turned to autumnal favorites, and one of those is beef stew -- known in the Hayes family as WETS, which is STEW backwards.
The healthiest part of this dinner, and the only part that really would photograph well.
Pam found a NY Times stew recipe and jotted down the major ingredients for me. I was intrigued by one in particular -- cognac. And oddly enough, we were out of cognac, so I went off to a newly-expanded package store (packie) in our town to fetch some. It was a greater challenge than I expected, but I did find some. Good news for this dinner, and good news in general.

I followed the recipe more or less as written, though readers of this blog know that some exceptions are certainly following. The first of these was that I did not begin with salt pork; I used an equivalent amount of butter and a little salt instead, cooking the onions and shallots in butter, and transferring them to a bowl. I then added the lightly-floured cubes of beef (store-bought organic -- our farmers-market source for local beef is gone for the season) in two rounds.

While the aromatics and beef rested in the bowl, I broke out the cognac for deglazing, and in that moment realized what it is -- the use of any cool liquid in a hot pan to break up the bits that are stuck -- in a sugary glaze -- to the bottom. This is the beginning of many sauces, and as someone who loves the charred bits stuck to any pan, a very welcome step. Using a bit of cognac made it even more satisfying! From The Reluctant Gourmet, we learn that those bits on the bottom are called fond -- not because I am fond of them, but because this is the French word for bottom, like fundamental, foundation, and so on.

So this stew -- like other French beef stews we have made -- is as much a vehicle for sauce as anything. The use of cognac in deglazing was just the start. The Dijon made the sauce rich and flavorful, without a mustardish edge. I was curious about the second suggested mustard -- Pommery. A substitution post on Chow Hound taught me two things: 1) any whole-grain mustard would do in a pinch (we did not have any, and I was not going out again); and 2) this specific recipe is a popular use of Pommery mustard.

The final touch was a red wine, and regular readers will not be surprised to see that I used a small amount of Malbec, reserving the rest for a brilliant pairing. Together with some freshly-baked biscuits, we enjoyed this stew immensely. Our cognac should last until the next time we prepare it, and we have time to pick up that grainy mustard!

Oh right: the double deglazing! I almost neglected to explain the title. Our weekend galley has an electric stove, which I am trying very hard to learn how to use. My initial simmer on medium instead of low started scorching the stew before I knew what was happening. I moved the pan off the heat, scooped most of the contents into the large bowl that was on hand, and put it back on the heat with another splash of cognac. The back of the spoon liberated a second round of fond, perhaps making this even better than it would have been.

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