Autumn Beef Stew

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Making this stew wills fall to come. To me, this variation of a beef stew is very distinctly autumnal. It uses lots of not-so-starchy vegetables, herbs, has no spices, and is actually relatively light on meat. It cooks down to somewhere between a ragù and a true stew, and I like to serve it over egg noodles. I highly recommend you freeze a couple servings worth and serve later in the season over pasta like fresh tagliatelle, paccheri, or campanelle — it’s that velvety and rich. This recipe is a master class in layering flavors and is overall quite adaptable. Just try it this way once, then put your own spin on it…I can’t wait to make it again with lamb. Yields 6 hearty servings, 8 regular servings.

Stew Ingredients:

  • 1 large leek

  • 2 small or 1 large bulb fennel

  • 1 to 1½ pound head celeriac

  • 1 large parsnip

  • 6 bulb green onions or 6 small (2 inch long) shallots

  • 6 ounces mushrooms, mixed varieties or all one kind (I like shiitake)

  • 8 big or 12 regular cloves garlic

  • 3 inch finger ginger

  • ½ cup neutral high-temperature oil (such as grapeseed, avocado, or canola)

  • 3 pounds oxtails, fresh or frozen

  • 3 pounds bone-in beef short ribs

  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt

  • 1 heaping teaspoon ground black pepper

  • 4 bay leaves, fresh or dried

  • small handful or package fresh sage

  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme

  • 28 ounce can whole plum tomatoes

  • 1 cup red vermouth

  • 1 cup red wine (such as Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon)

  • 32 fl oz (4 cups) beef stock

  • 1 pound wide egg noodles. Note: 1 pound egg noodles will serve 4, so adjust this amount according to how many you need to serve at the moment and only cook that much; egg noodles don’t keep well.

  • Flat-leaf parsley to garnish

Fried Garlic Chips Ingredients:

  • 4 big or 6 small cloves garlic

  • 4 tablespoons high-temperature oil

Prepare the vegetables:

  1. Remove the topmost three inches or so of the leeks, then halve lengthwise. Chop into half moons about a quarter of an inch thick and place in a colander submerged in a big bowl of cold water (a salad spinner works great). Swish the leeks around then let sit while you prepare the rest of the vegetables.

  2. Remove the stalks (save the fronds for garnish) then core and dice the fennel. Place in a large bowl.

  3. Top then peel the celeriac and remove any rotten spots; dice then add to the bowl with the fennel. If the head had any usable celery stalks on it, cut from the head, rinse and dry, then slice very finely and add to the bowl with the fennel.

  4. Quarter the parsnip lengthwise, then slice; thinly nearer the thicker top part and thickly near the thinner bottom. Add to the bowl with the fennel and celeriac.

  5. If using bulb green onions, remove the stalks (save for garnish), and trim any roots right up to the basal plate. Halve the bulbs and add to the vegetable bowl. If using shallots, peel then halve or quarter them. Add to the vegetable bowl.

  6. Clean the mushrooms either by wiping with a damp towel or briefly agitating in water and then drying them off. Remove any stems if necessary and slice or chop roughly. Add to the vegetable bowl.

  7. Smash the garlic and discard the skins. Smash again to break up. Add to the vegetable bowl.

  8. Peel then mince the ginger. Add to the vegetable bowl.

  9. Without agitating the water, remove the leeks from the water and drain well. Add to the vegetable bowl.

  10. Crush the tomatoes (mind the squirting juice!) into a separate smaller bowl. Pour off a cup of the juice from the can and reserve for later; freeze or discard the rest.

Sear the meat:

  1. In a dutch oven or heavy-bottomed stockpot over medium-high heat, heat the oil just until it smokes. Add the oxtails, so they stand up vertically in the pot. If the oxtails are frozen, be prepared for them to splatter oil violently — cover the pot slightly or use a splatter guard. Add the short ribs, fat side down. Sear about 5 minutes, until deeply browned but not burnt.

  2. Flip everything and sear another 5 minutes. Remove all the meat to a plate.

  3. Drain all the fat from the pot into a clean and dry glass or metal measuring cup. Return ½ cup of the fat to the pot and set back over medium-high heat.

Cook the stew:

  1. Once the fat is just smoking, add all of the vegetables, the salt, and the pepper. Stir well and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are starting to brown, well softened, and a fond (a golden brown crust on the bottom of the pot) has formed, anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. If you find the vegetables are expressing a lot of water, increase the heat to high, stirring more frequently. You do not want to let the vegetables and fond burn so check the bottom of the pot often once it starts to get crusty.

  2. Once the vegetables are ready, add the bay leaves, sage, thyme, and cook another minute until fragrant.

  3. Add the crushed tomatoes, reserved tomato juice, vermouth and wine, stirring hard to scrape up the fond on the bottom (this is called deglazing); a flat bottomed spatula will help greatly. If your heat was high, reduce to medium-high. Continue to reduce the wine until it’s greatly thickened and a spoon dragged through it draws a line.

  4. Add the beef stock and beef then stir to combine. Cover and bring to a strong boil. Reduce the heat to low and partially remove the lid.

  5. Simmer for 2 hours and 30 minutes, stirring every 30 minutes or so to make sure the bottom doesn’t scorch. The stew should be just barely simmering in order to get the most tender meat.

Make the garlic chips:

  1. Carefully peel the garlic, making sure not to smash it at all. Thinly slice the cloves and spread them out a bit.

  2. Prepare a small plate with a folded up paper towel on it.

  3. In a very small pot or egg pan, heat the oil over the lowest possible heat. Add the garlic slices to the cold oil.

  4. Fry about 6 to 10 minutes, until they start to brown, then gently stir the oil continuously. You want the chips to be evenly browned but not too dark, which can easily happen. Once ready, remove the pan from the heat and immediately transfer the chips to the paper towel to drain. Let the oil cool and seal in a small airtight container to use later — it’s garlic oil!

Finish the stew:

  1. Once the time is up and the meat is falling apart, carefully remove the meat to a plate to cool at least 15 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Keep the lid completely off and let the stew continue to simmer and thicken for the remaining 15 minutes. Taste for salt and adjust accordingly. The stew will be a little fatty — the egg noodles will fix this.

  2. Once the meat is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bone and membrane on both the short ribs and oxtails. Your fingers and a fork are best tools for this job. Either put back in the stew or set aside to distribute among the bowls.

  3. To cook the noodles, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Egg noodles produce a lot of starch so the larger the pot the better. Cook at least 3 minutes, no more than 4 and drain immediately. Distribute among the bowls.

  4. Top the noodles with the meat and stew then garnish with the fennel fronds, small parsley leaves, and a few garlic chips (a little goes a long way). Enjoy immediately!