I'm not lucky. I can make the best smelling beef stew and still, the meat tastes stringy. No more. Using short rib meat makes Julia's stew fool-proof. The local supermarkets often sell boneless short rib meat on sale at a very reasonable price. However, you can make it on the bone or even cut the meat off the bone and roast the bones (with the meat leavings) for the base of an awesome beef stock. Now you can serve this right from the casserole but with a crowd I like to get a big platter and place the meat and any whole carrots and parsnips that are left in the middle and surround it with the boiled potatoes, braised onions and sauteed mushrooms (Julia's exact recipe - no messing with that), pour the sauce over and sprinkle with minced parsley. Pass extra sauce on the side. —Canned
8 with leftovers
thick slices of pancetta, about 1/2 to 3/4 inch (IMHO, you can skip the bacon boiling business and use pancetta)
olive oil, if necessary
English cut short ribs (don't be shy - point out the thick ones to the butcher and tell him you want those) or 5 lbs. boneless short rib meat or you can also use flanken cut if that's what's available - no worries
cloves of garlic, smashed
carrots, cut in two inch pieces
parsnips, cut in two inch pieces
medium onions, cut in half through the stem and root and then each half cut into slices in the same direction
If intending to make beef stock with the bones, cut the meat off the bones. Take boneless meat and cut into chunks of meat about 1-1/2" to 2" squarish. If leaving meat on the bone, leave as is. Salt the meat lightly. Dry each piece of the meat with paper towels. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Dice each slice of pancetta, about 1/4 inch, and saute in a large-size casserole - a 7.5 qt. Le Creuset is fine but I've been known to use the 13 qt. Leftovers are awesome.
Remove the pancetta from the casserole. If necessary, add olive oil - but I find this is rarely necessary. When the fat/oil is hot, brown the dried meat on all sides in the pancetta fat. Do not crowd the meat and do not be shy with the sear. Give it time and do it in stages if you have too much meat to comfortably fit it at once. If your meat is on the bone, you can skip searing the bone side but get every other side. Remove each browned piece of meat as you go and pile on a platter.
After all the meat is browned and removed from the casserole, add the garlic, carrots, onions and parsnips to the same pan and lightly brown the vegetables. If there is tons of fat left (rarely, I find), pour some off. If not, don't worry about it.
Add the meat (and any accumulated juices) and pancetta back to the vegetables and sprinkle the flour over the mixture. Toss the beef to coat lightly. Put the uncovered pot in the oven for 5 minutes. Remove the pot, toss again. Sprinkle a little more flour if necessary and return to the oven, again uncovered, for another 5 minutes. This is all Julia's trick and I do think it makes a big difference in the body of the stew. However, if you are rushed, skip it.
Remove the casserole from the oven and reduce the heat to 300 degrees. Pour in the two bottles of respectable red wine and add enough beef stock (if you made some the last time from the bones - even better!) to cover the meat. Add tomato paste, bay leaves, rosemary and thyme sprigs and push under the stock and wine mixture. Add ground pepper to taste. Cover and cook in the oven for three hours.
I cannot help myself but I need to make Julia's onions and mushrooms with this. No tampering with these recipes. This is when I do it.
After three hours, the meat will be falling off the bones (if you left the bones on) and the meat will be incredibly tender. Strain the mixture over a large bowl. Pick the meat and those vegetables still intact out of the strainer and return to the casserole. Toss the herb sprigs and bay leaves and any bones that may have separated.
Check out the sauce in the bowl. It should be rich and thick enough to coat a spoon. It almost always is. Decant the sauce into one of those handy fat separator measuring cups and pour the defatted sauce into the casserole (or else just tilt the bowl and try to spoon out any extra fat that rises to the top). If the sauce looks a little thin to you and you are feeling particularly virtuous, pour the sauce into a sauce pan and reduce it at high temperature for a few minutes. But don't obsess about it, it will taste delicious anyway. Return the casserole to the oven on warm - about 170 degrees - until you are ready to eat.