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Brazilian Fish Stew
Most people would never think of using fish in a stew, but the French have been doing it for hundreds of years. So to have other cultures. Heck, New Orleans Gumbo is a kind of Cajun fish stew. And I have had some killer Thai fish stew infused with curry on more than one occasion. The secret to making delicious fish stew is to use the right kind of fish. You want something that won't dissolve in the sauce. One of my favorites is a Brazilian fish stew called Moqueca, which can be made with tilapia, pollack or catfish.
To get started, take a couple pounds of your favorite fish fillet (at least 4) and cut them into 1-inch chunks. Then, get a bowl and add the following ingredients: 3 tablespoons of lime juice, 1 tablespoon of ground cumin, 1 tablespoon of paprika, and 1 teaspoon of garlic powder. Stir the sauce and then add the fish to the bowl, gently tossing the fish to coat them. Refrigerate from 1 to 24-hours.
I usually add about a 1/4 cup of green olives with pimento to the pot next, followed by the fish in sauce. Talk about a Brazilian air freshener! Last but not least, you need to add a 16-ounce can of coconut milk and a 1/2 cup of white wine. Put a lid on the pot, turn the flame down to low and let the stew simmer for 20-30 minutes. That's all there is to it. Garnish with a little cilantro and serve.
Where's the Boeuf?
The hard part about making beef stew is to have the beef cubes come out tender and not like little golf balls. To achieve this effect, you need two things: marinade and no salt. Marinades, which can have either vinegar or citrus juice as their prime ingredient, can tenderize beef provided you give it enough time to work. I usually put my beef in marinade 24-hours ahead of time. While you can make your own marinade, any off-the-shelf Italian dressing will work in a pinch. Just remember to rinse the beef chunks off prior to popping them into the stew pot a day later.
To make Boeuf Bourguignon, which is simply a booze-infused beef stew, you will need the following ingredients:
2 pounds of beef cubes
1 pound of mushrooms
3 cloves of garlic
1/3 pound bacon
1/2 cup of flour
Herbs de Provence
1 bottle of red wine
I usually start by sauteing the bacon and onions together until the onions are translucent. Then I add the thyme and Herbs de Provence along with garlic which I will cook for a minute. This helps wake up the dried spices. Next, pour in a 1/2 cup of red wine to deglaze the pan. This will also infuse the onions and bacon with wine. Add the mushrooms and cook over medium heat for about 5-minutes until the shrooms have cooked down a bit. Remove from the fire and transfer the mixture to a bowl.
Speaking of bowls, you will need a big one for the next step. After rinsing the marinade off the beef cubes, you will put them and a 1/2 cup of flour into a bowl. Toss with a spoon to coat the cubes. In the same pot that you used to cook the veggies and bacon, you will sear the coated beef cubes in 2 tablespoons of oil.
Once the beef cubes have browned, pour a cup of red wine over them and using a spatula, deglaze the pan again in order to get the gravy started. Add the bacon/onion/garlic/mushroom to the pot, along with another cup of red wine and stir for 30-seconds. Drain the potatoes and carrots in a colander and add these to the pot as well. I usually add another pinch or two of the thyme and Herbs de Provence to the pot as well at this time. Give the whole mix one more stir, then I pour all the contents of the pot into the crockpot.
Slow cook the beef stew for at least 6-hours, checking mid-cook that the stew doesn't get too dry. If it does seem a bit dry, add another 1/2 cup of red wine. Remember, we're making stew here, not soup. Don't add too much liquid.
Just before serving, taste the gravy and add salt as needed. Cut up with some crusty french bread and pour yourself a glass of red wine. You'll think you've died and gone to Paris.
Coq Au Vin
Here is another French stew that will wow the crowd. Just like Boeuf Bourguignon, this dish starts with a base of bacon, onions, garlic and mushrooms. The difference iwith coq au vin is to eliminate the carrots and potatoes. (I usually serve the dish atop Bavarian noodles called Spatzles. (View Spatzles video here.)
Start by procuring either a whole chicken cut into pieces, or a double order of chicken thighs. Rinse the chicken and dust with flour. Brown the chicken in olive oil, then remove to a plate. In the same saute pan, cook the onions and bacon, then add 3 cloves of chopped garlic at the last minute. Top with mushrooms and cook for 5-minutes before adding the chicken back to the pan. Season with thyme and rosemary. Last but not least, add 2 cups of red wine to the pot and cover. Cook on a low heat for 1 hour.
Open the lid after an hour and add a 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Then make a roux using 3 tablespoons of butter and an 1/2 cup of flour. Use a ladle to remove at least a cup of broth, which you will add to the roux. Add a 1/2 cup of milk to the roux/broth mix and bring to a slow boil. When the gravy thickens, transfer it onto the coq au vin pan. Stir the pot and turn the flame back to its lowest setting. Cover the pan and make a batch of spatzles in a separate pot. To serve, place a scoop of spatzles onto a plate or into a bowl. Then ladle the chicken stew over the noodles. Serves 6.
It's Nothing to Get Stewed About
The beauty of stews is that there are a hundred variations. Every ethnic persuasion has a stew or two to call their own. These dishes started off as peasant food that over the years have been transformed into a gourmet treat that relies on local herbs and vegetables. Recipes like Hungarian Goulash that you can view below, are designed to turn lesser cuts of beef into a melt-in-your-mouth meals that are guaranteed to make you and your friends stew crazy.
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