No Fry Zone

Swedish meatballs may have been my favorite food dish growing up. My mother had them mastered, but maybe that wasn’t surprising, given that she was the daughter of Swedish immigrants. While my Swedish grandmother didn’t need a recipe, my mother and I carefully worked one out, so that I would be able to carry on the meatball tradition.

Actually, the recipe itself was kind of basic. But frying the meatballs so that they browned beautifully and were perfectly round was – and is – challenging. A few weeks ago I decided to give into nostalgia and try my hand once more, hoping at last to develop the frying technique which resulted in the perfectly-browned little Swedish meatball. The result was….well, it wasn’t pretty. Actually, it was pretty damn scary.

Our foodie daughter, Sara, and I agree. Frying things sucks. Andy agrees that cleaning up the mess it makes sucks (but Andy has figured out a way to make cleaning up a game! See yet another Andy-esque post in today’s Andy’s Corner).

But what are you going to do when a recipe demands that you sear your beef for birria or your lamb for a tagine – or for just plain old carrot, potato, and beef stew? I am here to suggest a revolutionary yet calming approach. Just skip that step.

I promised Sara we’d do an actual taste test, and we did. We cut in half a boneless chuck roast and made two separate preparations of birria, one using the seared beef and one prepared without searing. And our test? Well, yes, you could argue that the seared beef cubes resulted in a slightly more intense flavor, but the difference was minimal. And aren’t we all about saving time and energy – and just enjoying our meals? We’re not looking for a French Laundry experience here (I could follow that up with a comment about Gavin Newsom and The French Laundry, but I’ve moved on).

Frying the beef for Birria de Res

If you’re wondering what the glistening dots are in front of the fried beef on our new Blue Star range – it’s splattered oil – and it’s all over the stovetop – and the griddle top – and the burners – and the backsplash. There’s even some on our wood floor.

You might suggest that putting meat in the oven at a high temperature to braise or brown it is the easy solution to this mess. We’ve been there, done that – and ended up with grease splattered all over the oven’s interior. That’s way more traumatizing to clean up than a stove top.

There’s a fancy foodie name for what browning can accomplish. It’s the “Maillard reaction.” Referencing that reaction, Josh Cohen, writing for Food52 (nice site, BTW – started by Amanda Hesser of NYTimes fame), verifies what our mini-experiment seemed to show: searing is a step you can skip. Another accomplished cook, John Willoughby of Thrill of the Grill cookbook fame, also chimes in about how we can safely omit that laborious step. And the always-popular Kenji López-Alt at maintains that “the more thoroughly you brown your meat, the drier and tougher your stew ends up.”

There are a few more recommendations from these folks that may be worth considering: López-Alt recommends that you never cook a stew-like dish on top of the stove but rather in a 275 degree oven with the lid ever-so-slightly ajar – and that you check carefully after two hours or so of cooking because the meat will tenderize very quickly at that point – and then start to get dry. Willoughby reminds us that Paula Wolfert – of Sonoma fame and The Food of Morocco fame – said that in her early years in Morocco it was common to start a tagine “cold,” i.e. without any browning, and that the result was “magical.” To accomplish the cold heat process, Wolfert suggested slowly heating the meat and the spices together in a little warmed oil or butter and then adding the liquid, covering, and doing the long simmer.

No frying/searing/browning. Just adding sauce to the raw beef cubes and slowly warming and mixing it together well – before adding water. Note the spotless range top.

We’ve got two recipes to make your stove clean-up fast and easy – and your dinner delicioso. There’s a riff on Paula Wolfert’s tangines; make it with lamb or make it vegetarian. Either way, it’s spicy and sweet and a little lemon-y and perfect. Or try our Birria de Res. Usually we think of Birria as being made with goat, but our recipe uses “res” – beef. Birria is SO “in” right now (see Eater and the NYTimes). Make it, and you‘ll be trendy and cool. You can use the birria two ways: serve it as a soup with tortillas along side to dip into the tomato-y beefy broth – or remove the meat from the broth and use the meat to make a taco, topped with some avocado, onion, cilantro, and, of course, lots of lime juice. And, just so you know, we tried the birria taco where the tortilla is first dipped into the broth and then the tortilla is filled and fried. It may be yummy but the mess it makes will put you right back to square one. And avoiding that mess is what this blog is all about.

Moroccan Stew with Couscous

Moroccan Stew

If making this with lamb, you might want to prepare this one day ahead of time so that the flavors blend and the fat congeals and can be removed from the top.  If you want a vegetarian recipe, just omit the lamb, reduce the water to 1 cup, and cook for only about 1/2 hr, adding the chickpeas and raisins at the beginning.  Should you happen to have the Moroccan spice mixture Ras el Hanout on hand, use 1T+ of it, rather than the ground spices listed. 

  • 2 lbs lamb shoulder, cut into about 1 1/2″ cubes (optional)
  • 3 T butter
  • 1 small onion, diced (about 1/3 cup)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp -1 tsp black pepper (to taste)
  • 1-2 tsp Diamond kosher salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 14-oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 c raisins – or chopped dates or apricots
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • Cooked couscous, for serving 

In a Dutch oven, melt the butter over low heat. Add the lamb – if you’re using it, onion, garlic, and all the ground spices and the pepper flakes, and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. (Do not allow the meat to brown.)

Add tomatoes and 2 cups water; bring just to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer gently until the lamb is very tender, about 1 hour 15 minutes.  If you’re serving it the next day, cool to room temperature; refrigerate overnight – then scoop off the orange layer of fat on the top.

When ready to serve, place the pot over medium-low heat, add the chickpeas, and bring the stew to a simmer. Continue to cook, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, then add the raisins and simmer a few minutes more – until the raisins are nice and plump; add a little more water, if needed. Remove from heat, stir in the parsley and lemon juice, add more salt, if needed.  Serve on top of couscous.

Recipe brought to you by and Andy and Ann.
Birria de Res with Ramen Noodles; multiculturalism at its best!

Birria de Res (Mexican Beef Stew)

If you happen to have goat meat needing to be used up, substitute it for the beef.  If you have birria broth left over, use it to flavor beans, or to make chorizo, or – the most-creative-and-trendy-ever – cook instant ramen noodles and add them to it.


  • 4 dried Ancho chiles
  • 4 dried Guajillo chiles
  • 1 T Diamond kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp dried oregano (use Mexican oregano, if you have it)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger (optional)
  • 4 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 1 14 oz can canned fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 2 T apple cider vinegar

For the meat: 

  • 1 1/2 – 2 c water
  • about 3-4 lbs boneless beef chuck roast (or use brisket), cut into about 3″ chunks
  • chopped cilantro and onions and sliced limes to garnish

Prepare the sauce:  give the chiles a quick 45 second roast on a hot, ungreased skillet, turning once; don’t let them burn.  It’s okay to skip this step…the depth of the flavor will suffer only slightly.  Cover the chiles with boiling water and soak them for about 10 minutes, being sure they stay submerged.  Remove chiles from the water, let cool slightly and then open the chiles with scissors and remove the seeds and stem.

Add the chiles to a blender or food processor, along with the remaining sauce ingredients.  Puree.

Put the meat and this blended mixture into a plastic bag, squeeze it all to distribute the mixture evenly with the meat and then marinate for 4 hours – or overnight, refrigerated.

Add the meat with the marinade and the water to an oven-safe pot and cover with aluminum foil or a lid and cook at 350 degrees for about 2 hours or until the meat is easy to shred.  Check near the end of the cooking time to see if it’s as liquid-y as you’d like.  If you’re going to serve this as soup, you may need to add more water.  Just add the water gradually, so you don’t dilute the yummy beefy flavor too much.

Remove the meat and shred it. Taste the broth and add salt, if necessary. Refrigerate the broth and meat, if you don’t intend to use them immediately.   After removing from the fridge, skim the congealed fat off the top of the broth.

You can make soup or tacos with your meat and broth.  For soup, return the meat to the broth, add more water, if needed, reheat, and serve, garnished with cilantro, lime, and onions; offer warmed tortillas to dip in the broth.  For tacos add a little broth to the shredded meat and fill warmed corn tortillas.  Top with cilantro, lime juice, and onions.   

Recipe brought to you by and Andy and Ann.


  1. Sara says:

    Finally the no-sear blog! We all need to be liberated from this messy myth that seating is worth it. You should include the pork chile verde recipe from Tlish because it’s great and doesn’t sear the meat.


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