Tag: stew

Octopus Stifado, a Greek Stew with Octopus, Onions and Mint

Octopus Stifado

A spontaneous decision took me to the island of Naxos in the Aegean sea on a warm early autumn evening a few years ago. My summer holidays had been cancelled due to my work and in late September I felt an urgent need for a break. I had never been to Greece before and when I saw the photos of this dry, quiet island and it’s long and lonely beaches I knew that this was exactly what I had been looking for! Only a handful of the typical Greek houses in white and blue lined the coast, a picture of peace and seclusion. I’m a friend of quick decisions so in mid October I found myself on a ferry crossing the Aegean sea, passing all its beautiful small islands, Santorini, Ios, Irakleia and Paros before I reached the tiny harbour of Naxos in a golden sunset. I fell in love with this island there and then!

A bumpy path through a green valley dense with bamboo led me to my tiny hotel which turned out to be one of the most peaceful places I have ever been to. It was run by a lovely and caring couple from Athens who made me feel like I was part of the family. Most of the rooms were vacant at the time as it was well past the high season. My room was so close to the sea that I could here the soft waves reaching the shore all night, no city noise, no other hotels, no cars,  just the sea and a lonely beach! In the morning I found out that I wasn’t the only one enjoying this peaceful place on earth, as the sun rose on the horizon a sea turtle took her morning swim right in front of my hotel!

One night, the lady of the house asked me if I would like to join their dinner, she had made her traditional octopus stifado, a dark, rich stew with octopus and lots of red onions, garlic, tomatoes, red wine, bay leaves and vinegar. The octopus was unbelievably tender, the sauce thick and aromatic, I had to ask for the recipe! We had already enjoyed our dinner and sat together over a few glasses of wine when I wrote down a few notes as she didn’t have a written recipe. It was a beautiful night, unforgettable, under the dark Aegean sky, nearly as black as my stifado!

Octopus Stifado

Octopus Stifado

The octopus has to simmer softly on low temperature for 1 hour 45 minutes.

For 4 people you need

octopus, skinned and cleaned, 1.2kg / 2.5 pounds (around 2 octopus)
medium sized red onions, roughly chopped, 5
tinned tomatoes, 400g / 14 ounces
red wine 300ml / 10 ounces
garlic, peeled and quartered, 5 cloves
bay leaves 4
fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped, a small handful
salt and pepper
Balsamico vinegar to taste
olive oil for frying

In a large pot, heat a splash of olive oil and fry the the onions on a medium heat for 5 minutes till soft. Add a little more oil and the whole octopus, turn the temperature down and fry for a few minutes. Add the other ingredients, close the lid and simmer on a low heat for 1 hour. After an hour, take off the lid and let the stew simmer for another 45 minutes on low temperature. Season with Balsamico vinegar, salt and pepper to taste and add the mint. Cut the head and tentacles into bite sized pieces and serve with either white bread or spaghetti.

This recipe makes a lot of sauce, we usually eat the octopus with bread on the side on the first day and the next day we enjoy the leftovers with pasta.

Octopus Stifado

 

Octopus Stifado

 

Octopus Stifado

Daube de Boef Provençale, a most tender and aromatic Beef Stew

Daube Provençale

French food is on my mind! The creamy vichyssoise I wrote about yesterday put me in the mood for more treats from the French cuisine. I haven’t had a stew in along time so that’s first on my list. Meat braised for hours rewards your patience with the most tender and juicy meat. While it’s simmering slowly (for nearly 6 hours in the case of my stew) on low temperature it soaks up all the wonderful flavours, the red wine, herbs and spices. You just put it in the oven, forget about it and take out the finished meal. I like to use beef shank for stews, gelatinous with a bit of fat, it guarantees a succulent result, not dry at all and so tender that you could easily cut it with a fork.

This stew is called a daube because in Southern France, it’s traditionally made in a daubière, a clay pot with a round belly, a narrow neck and a lid with a well which is filled with water. The evaporating water causes the cooking liquids to condense inside the lid, simple physics but more importantly it makes a great stew! Unfortunately, I don’t have a daubière but I found out that a casserole dish with a tight lid works just as well.

The wine, herbs and spices have a big impact on the quality and taste of a daube just as much as the right kind of meat and cooking dish. As much as I love recipes that focus on single strong flavours, I accept that a stew follows its own rule, more is more! I prepared two different bouquets garni, one with parsley, bay leaf and orange peel and the other with rosemary, sage and thyme, combining all the aromas ripening under the sun of the Provençe. My open spice box inspired me to throw in a few cloves, allspice and cinnamon as well, they mixed in perfectly with the meat’s juices, the red wine, brandy, tomatoes, carrots and garlic.

I’ve praised the meat’s tenderness already and the sauce impressed me just as much. It was so concentrated that I just had to dip a piece of baguette into the dark red juices to taste the whole spectrum of aromatic flavours united in this stew. A sip of my glass of French red wine made the Provençe experience complete!

Daube Provençale

Daube de Boef Provençale

You need a big casserole dish with a tight lid. The daube has to cook in the oven for nearly 6 hours.

For 4-5 people you need

beef shanks, with the bone, 4 slices (around 1.8kg / 4 pounds)
(I didn’t cut the meat into pieces, I braised the slices with the bone to keep it juicy)
carrots, sliced, 800g / 28 ounces
medium sized onions, chopped, 4
garlic, chopped, 4
brandy 150ml
dark red wine 1000ml
broth 400ml
tinned tomatoes 800ml
cloves 8
allspice 14
cinnamon 1 stick
olive oil for frying
salt and pepper

For the bouquets garni

parsley, a small bunch
bay leaves 2
long strips of orange peel 8

Divide and bind with string in 2 bundles.

thyme, a small bunch
rosemary 2 sprigs
sage leaves 8

Divide and bind with string in 2 bundles.

Set the oven to 180°C / 355°F top/ bottom heat.

In a large casserole dish, heat a splash of olive oil and fry the meat for a few seconds on both sides (in batches), season with salt and pepper and set aside. Add some more oil and fry the onions, garlic and carrots for a few minutes on medium heat. Deglaze with the brandy, add the meat and layer alternating with the vegetables, add the tomatoes, spices, broth and wine, the liquid should just cover everything. Season with salt and pepper and add the 4 bouquets garni.

Put the casserole dish in the oven. After 45 minutes, turn the temperature down to 140°C / 285°F and cook for 5 hours.

When the meat is done, remove the bouquets garni and cinnamon stick and season the daube with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with baguette or cooked potatoes.

Daube Provençale

 

Daube Provençale

 

Daube Provençale

Labskaus, a Sailor’s Feast

Lapskaus

Whenever there was Labskaus on our table at lunch time, I was a happy child! It’s a traditional Northern European dish, sailor’s food with meat and vegetables stewed in broth, with a slightly sweet taste coming from gherkin, beetroot and potatoes.

It’s one of these recipes that evolved through the years, each region or country created their own variation on Labskaus and added or changed a few ingredients. It’s made with corned beef which is more common, sometimes with minced beef which I prefer. Some cities in the North of Germany, like Hamburg or Bremen, mix soused hering (Matjes in German) in, others have it on the side, or they add a fried egg like I do which is completely unacceptable for some. The beetroot causes the same controversy, I like it as it adds some sweetness and it creates a pretty colour. When it comes to the soused hering, I leave it out, it’s not my thing. You can find Labskaus in many Scandinavian countries as well but generally without the fish.

When I have this hot stew on my plate I’m still as happy to enjoy it as I was as a child!

Labskaus

Labskaus

For 4 people you need

minced beef 600g / 21 ounces
potatoes, peeled, cut into cubes, 600g/ 21 ounces
beetroots, peeled, cut into cubes, 500g / 18 ounces
medium sized onions, chopped, 2
broth 1 liter
bay leaf 1
garlic, cut in half, 2 cloves
cloves 5
pickled gherkin, chopped, 6-10
liquid from the pickled gherkin 4 tablespoons plus more
salt and pepper
olive oil for frying

organic eggs 4
butter for frying

In a large pot, heat some oil and fry the onions until golden and soft. Add some more oil and fry the minced beef for a few minutes until all the liquid has evaporated. Add the other ingredients (except the gherkin, their liquid and the eggs) and cook for an hour. Season with salt and pepper and add the gherkin and their liquid to taste.

Fry the eggs in a little butter, leaving the egg yolks soft, and put one of them on top of the Labskaus in each plate.

Lapskaus

 

Labskaus