Tag Archives: Moroccan Stew

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 SeriousEats.com 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.

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