This is the worst beef stew I’ve ever made in my life, which is a bummer because it’s a terrible follow-up to the amazing pot au feu I made last week.
If you remember my last post, I mentioned I had pot au feu bubbling away on my stove. I’m happy to report that it turned out absolutely perfect. I served it with a parsley-caper sauce, which added a welcome tangy, salty brightness to the dish.
I mean just look at it! This is one of those plates that I am so happy to serve. It took me a while to get the broth clear; I had to strain it several times and through paper towels to remove as much of the sediment as possible. It was worth the effort because the broth looked so beautiful with the vegetables and just had a really savory, but clean flavor. I loved it.
The stew I made last night was very much not that. I’ll set the stage for you so you understand from where my concept is derived. Remember the tuccu recipe I made based on the recommendation of the chef in Genoa? To my delight, he sent me another ancient Italian dish that is one of his grandmother’s prized recipes. I was thrilled to try one of his dishes again.
This recipe is what he called “muscle alla Genovese” and is made with a lean cut of beef. In Italy, the cut of beef used is sottopaletta or priest’s hat. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an exact match, so I saw “muscle” at the butcher counter, and I grabbed two of them. I think what I got is actually beef heel muscle. Whether or not this is the same meat used in the Genoese recipe is irrelevant because I butchered the recipe regardless.
The gist of the recipe is simple: lean beef, white wine, cloves, carrots, onion, and celery, all thrown together in a pot and simmered for a few hours until very tender. It is served with silky mashed potatoes.
My first mistake is somewhat innocuous but also kind of a r/ididnthaveeggs moment…but, I didn’t have celery. I decided to forge ahead regardless. I thought I could just add celery the next day after I got back from the grocery store and everything would be fine.
The second blame of the game–and arguably the worst offender– goes to my heavy hand. Ste’s recipe says “some” cloves. My mind can’t fully interpret the word “some”, so I think I threw in something like 12 or 15 whole cloves. I don’t know what I was thinking. My house smelled absolutely putrid, but I thought the cloves might mellow out as they cooked.
The next mistake is really just overcooking the beef. While I think beef can be forgiving in terms of long cooking times, there can be a point where you reach beef mush, and I think that’s where I ended up. I put all the ingredients in a slow cooker for about 12 or so hours, so the beef was already very tender. Plus, more simmering during my attempt at redemption created the goopiest beef ever.
How I tried to salvage it
I started the beef in the evening. When I awoke the next morning to the intense and cloying smell of cloves, I knew I probably messed up. I decided to face my fear later in the afternoon and open up the Crockpot. I never thought I could be crop-dusted by cloves, but here we are. And it was even worse when I tasted it. Ultimately, I felt that whatever I made was just plain disrespectful to Ste’s grandmother and his entire family, if I’m being honest. I knew I’d have to abandon the sauce, but wasn’t willing to throw away the beef. I decided I would make a more traditional beef stew. Here’s what I used:
- I sautéed an onion and added quartered mushrooms. I had some leftover red wine, so I threw that in with celery and big chunks of carrots. I may have also thrown a parsnip in there, but I don’t remember.
- I added potatoes and the cooked beef.
- I poured in beef stock and brought it to a boil. I simmered it for about an hour to reduce the liquid.
- I finished with a flour slurry because I thought the broth was still a little too thin.
The lesson is that when you cook with too many cloves, it’s almost impossible to get rid of the flavor. We still ate it, but we weren’t exactly thrilled about it. Fortunately, the beef heel is a very cheap cut of meat, so I’m glad I didn’t waste a nice cut like short ribs.
I will definitely try Ste’s muscle alla Genovese again, but I will be much more careful with how many cloves I add, and I’ll definitely be adding celery. I think I’ll forego the Crockpot and cook it over the stovetop instead. I don’t know if I’ll try it with the beef heel again or not. On the one hand, it has an intensely beefy flavor which is nice. I’m wondering if I should maybe do one beef heel and maybe a top sirloin to offset it.
Fortunately, not everything I made was a disaster this week! I have some really tasty recipes that I just put up on the site. As always, you can find all my easy, elegant recipes here.
I learned a few lessons from this off-the-rails kitchen experiment, so that’s always worth something. I really have a bad habit of ruining dishes with way too many warming flavors. It makes me think of the time I decided to add something like a tablespoon of nutmeg to a pumpkin broth I made, and it was equally putrid. I still haven’t recovered and get a twinge of nausea if I get too close to nutmeg.
At any rate, as I mentioned above…I’ll be trying it again, and I will let you know the results!
That’s all for today. Hope everyone has a week full of delicious food.