The secret to cooking with wine, especially red wine, is to use one that you think tastes good when drinking it by the glass. Many people make the mistake of cooking with a wine that’s been open too long and has become a little bitter. I appreciate not wanting to waste it.. but if it tastes bad in the glass… it’s going to taste bad in your food. So, please – toss that sour stuff out. You don’t have to buy anything super expensive… the little Shiraz I used for this stew was only $7.99 a bottle!
For the Stew
2 pounds beef, cubed (I use locally-grown grass-fed beef from Whole Foods – Stew cut)
1-2 cups flour
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1/2 cup butter or olive oil
2 cups wine – I used a Shiraz (wait, make it 3 cups – 1 for drinking while cooking)
5 cups beef stock
5 stalks celery, sliced
1 medium fennel bulb – cored & sliced
1 medium sweet onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
5 medium red potatoes, cubed
2 bay leaves – whole
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
1 sprig fresh rosemary – whole
4-5 fresh sage leaves – whole
pepper – a pinch to taste
For the Dumplings:
2.5 cups flour
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup soft goat cheese
2 teaspoons each of fresh parsley, sage and thyme – finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
3-4 cups chicken stock (you can use beef stock if you have leftover, but chicken is lighter and doesn’t discolor the dumplings).
There is a lot of chopping and mixing required to prepare this dish. So it’s a perfect example of when Mise en Place would be a necessary discipline.
Ready To Cook?
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt and mix well. In a small bowl, beat the eggs. Add the milk to the eggs. Add the egg/milk mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in the goat cheese and the herbs. Season with freshly ground black pepper. Have the stock boiling in a small saucepan. Make sure the sauce pan is small enough that the dumplings will have room to float. Using 2 tablespoons, drop the dumpling batter into the boiling stock. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the dumplings float to the surface. Remove the dumplings from the stock and place on a plate. To finish: Place the dumplings into the stew.
*Note: This is a fairly messy process. Do not be discouraged if your chicken stock is full of goo and looks disgusting. It will. The key is to leave the dumplings alone for 5 minutes so they can cook. The more you mess with them the more they’ll fall apart. I suggest reserving some of the stock to add after each batch. It’s probably best not to cook more than 3 at a time. Give them room in the pot.
In a large frying pan, heat 1/2 the butter or olive oil and sauté the celery, onion, potatoes and garlic until slightly browned. Set aside.
Combine flour, paprika, parsley and some pepper in a shallow bowl - roll the beef in it until well coated on all sides. (TIP: Pat the beef dry with a paper towel and the flour mixture will stick better and your meat will brown. Meat will not brown if it is too wet. Julia Child was right!). Melt remaining butter or pour oil into in a large stew pot, and then add meat.
Sauté the meat until well browned. Make sure to have your pan well-heated – the key to a good sear is high heat. You only want the outside browned… not cooked all the way through. Add the previously prepared vegetables and sauté for about two minutes with the beef in the stew pot.
Add the wine, and sauté another three or four minutes.*
*This is when you would transfer the contents of your pot to a slow cooker if that is the method you’re using to make this stew. Otherwise, leave everything in your soup pot.
While the pot is hot, pour in the beef stock and the Bay Leaves, rosemary and sage and allow to simmer covered for about 2-3 hours in a preheated 300 degree oven. After this time the vegetables and beef should be very tender. You should be able to easily cut the meat using only a fork when it’s ready. TIP: I always thought I was cooking the meat too long which is why it was coming out tough – but actually I wasn’t cooking it long enough! It needs time for all those connective tissues to break down… so be patient!
At this point remove the lid, sift in any additional flour required to thicken to a desired consistency (use fresh flour – not from bowl), and allow the liquid to simmer roughly 30 minutes.
You may add pepper and salt to taste. But you shouldn’t have to if seasoned well. ;o) Serve with one dumpling per bowl of stew.
The Perfect Bite
The perfect bite for this stew consists of stacking your fork (yes, your fork… it’s thick enough to for-go the spoon if you’d like) with a piece of juicy meat, rich red potato, a bit of tangy celery and of course, be sure to include a chunk of the dumpling… so you can swirl it all around in the gravied-juices. I’m just sayin’… this may change your life a little.
The Perfect Pairing
There’s a fun little wine I recently came across called Luna Di Luna… it’s fun because none of their dual varietals are too overpowering or too weak. It’s kind of a wine you don’t have to worry about. Be sure to click on the link to their site and enjoy some groovy tunes. Each varietal blend comes in solid colored bottles that take people by surprise and look great on the table. I paired this stew with the Merlot/Cab blend… which went perfectly with the hearty roasted beef and tangy goat cheese dumplings. Here in East Nashville I can find it for about $8.99 a bottle.
The Perfect Health
Did you know that a 6-ounce steak from a grass-fed steer can have 100 fewer calories than a 6-ounce steak from a grain-fed steer? If you eat a typical amount of beef (66.5 pounds a year), switching to lean grass-fed beef will save you 17,733 calories a year! Read more here about the health benefits of eating grass-fed livestock. Also, I highly recommend seeing the movie Food, Inc. I can no longer just buy a hamburger at the drive-thru or pick up the cheapest chicken at WalMart or Kroger. It may be more expensive to get the grass-fed beef but it’s worth it and you can actually taste the difference! Keep in mind that when buying free range chicken this is not what you think it means in the U.S. The only way to know how the chicken was raised is to buy from local farmers that you can get to know and trust. That may not be an option for you… but just don’t be fooled into paying more by misleading labels and claims.