Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Short Rib Tomato Stew

I made several versions of this stew last year. Those versions, looking back, were made in haste, without much planning, and without my new-borrowed Dutch oven. (I'm addicted to cooking in it. Can you tell?) Though the stew was still quite tasty, if I recall, the meat verged on tough and the flavor was slightly overwhelmed by all the tomato.

This time, it's new, and it's improved.

You see, this time I had a plan. Those of you that have known me for a while know that I used to be very fond of the maxim, "Those who fail to plan, plan to fail." And while I'm still fond of it, I've stopped saying it out loud to people so frequently, so as not to come off as, well, a total buzzkill. Furthermore, the merits of spontaneity and necessity - namely, creativity - are not to be disregarded. I will be the first to say that I am often inspired by sudden whim, or by the contents of our pantry and fridge. After all, that's pretty much how I began making this stew in the first place. That said, I have found that, for me, it's a bit easier (and the food comes out a bit better) when I have time to plan a meal and I can think for a while about what I want to cook and how to cook it.

Enter short rib tomato stew.

The idea for the stew sprouted in my mind just over a week ago. I had visions of something hearty and beefy, brought about by a delicious dish my coworker made for our weekly lunch co-op. I recalled my previous attempts at a tomatoey stew. As I thought about what I might include in my new and improved version of the dish, a few key ingredients stood out. Short ribs, of course, instead of plain old stew meat, would guarantee tenderness. Starchy potatoes for bite. A tomato base because, well, I favor tomato-based stews. Kale for some added color and nutrients. Beef stock to tone down the tomato and tie it all together. And bacon, for that rich, umami flavor. All the perfect components, in my humble opinion, for a perfect stew.

I have to say, I think the bacon really did the trick and brought this stew up from standard to utterly soul-satisfying. Rather than dicing the bacon, I left it in whole strips. Not only did the fat from the bacon practically melt into the liquid, the meat itself became oh-so-tender and magically fell apart into bite-sized morsels. Each shred of bacon that I encountered left me craving more - more stew, more warmth, more bacon. Perfect when you have a nice big pot of stew, all bubbly and waiting on your stove.

Short Rib Tomato Stew

1/4 lb sliced bacon, diced, or not
1 to 2 lbs boneless short ribs, cut into 2-inch cubes
flour, for dredging
half a yellow onion, trimmed and finely diced
1 carrot, trimmed and finely diced
1 lb baby potatoes, each potato cut in half
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes or tomato puree
2 cups low sodium beef broth or homemade stock
1 small bunch kale
olive oil
salt and pepper

Heat a Dutch oven or medium-sized stock pot over medium heat. When hot, add bacon and cook until crisp. Remove bacon and set aside. Meanwhile, season short ribs with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour. Add the short ribs to the pot and sear until browned on all sides. Remove short ribs and set aside. Add a turn of oil to the pot, if necessary, and add onions and carrots. Cook until onions are soft and translucent. Add potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 8 to 10 minutes. Add beef stock and, using a wooden spoon, scrape up the brown bits at the bottom of the pot. Add tomato puree, put the short ribs and bacon back in the pot, and bring the mix to a boil. Turn the heat down low, cover, and let simmer for about an hour and a half. Check for seasoning and adjust as you see fit. Add the kale at the last minute, cooking until just wilted. Serve with fluffy white rice or thick crusty bread.

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