Sage has been celebrating the Wheel of the Year for 25+ years, and being a holiday junkie, she just can't get enough of the sabbats!
At our house, nothing less than our traditional beef stew would do for our harvest dinner, made piping hot in our big cast-iron cooking cauldron. After sunset prayers, we sit down to this slow-cooked feast that warms the heart as much as it sticks to the ribs.
Start this dish about 4 to 4½ hours before you plan to eat. It doesn't actually take a lot of hands-on time—but it does require time to slowly cook while you go about other business. For me, that's great, so I can tend to last-minute details like setting the table, lighting the candles on the ancestors altar and passing out trick-or-treat candies while waiting for everyone to make their way home.
One thing you'll notice about this recipe is that I don't actually stew the meat; I braise it. I also start with a big cut of meat and cut it up towards the end of the cooking. I find stewing the small bits of meat cause them to lose their juices and get tough; I've found braising the whole chunk of beef, I'm just happier with the overall result.
- 2 + pounds boneless chuck roast, whole
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground, if you have it
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 large onion, cut in half and sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
- ½ cup balsamic vinegar
- ¾ cup broth (beef, chicken or vegetable)
- 6 all-purpose potatoes
- 6 carrots
- 2 bay leaves
- 8 cups beef stock
- ¼ cup flour
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Turn the burner on to medium-high. Put a cast iron pan (or your heaviest pan) on it and allow it to get searing hot. You'll know it's ready when you flick a few drops of water on it and they barely start dancing before they evaporate. While you're at it, preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
- Mix the cumin, salt, and pepper in a bowl and rub it all over the meat, both sides.
- Add about 1/2 the oil to the pan and swirl it around to coat. Put the meat slab onto the pan and wait 2 minutes. Turn it and give it another 2 to 3 minutes on the other side.
- Remove the meat and place it on a dish to rest. Lower the heat to medium. Add the remainder of the oil and put in the onions, stirring continuously because with the pan that hot they'll burn pretty fast. Let them begin to brown and caramelize (about 2 to 3 minutes) then add the garlic.
- Stir for about 20 or 30 seconds (garlic burns quickly) and add the vinegar and broth. Stir, bringing the mixture to a simmer. Lower heat to keep it barely at a simmer and let it reduce for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Now you have 2 ways to approach this. The first is to return the beef to the pan, baste with the pan juices, and cover the pan tightly with a lid or foil. If you don't have a cast iron oven-safe pan, the other option is to put the meat and all the onions and sauce over it into a medium baking dish and cover that with a tight fitting lid or foil. If using foil, double it and make sure to get a tight seal.
- Put the meat into the oven. Let it braise for for a total of 4 to 4 1/2 hours. You don't even have to worry about it for about 3 1/2 hours now, go about your business and don't open the oven door.
- About an 30 minutes before your beef will be done put a large pot or cauldron on the stove. Cut the potatoes into wedges (about the size of apple wedges). You can peel yours, but I just like to wash them well and keep the peel on for a rustic dish.
- Peel the carrots and chop them into 1 to 1 1/2 inch pieces. Put the potatoes and the carrots into the pot.
- Add 8 quarts of beef broth, 1 1/2 tsp salt and the bay leaves. Put the heat on high and bring it to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.
- When the beef is done, remove it from the oven and let it rest while the potatoes and carrots are cooking. After about 15 minutes, cut the beef up into chunks; it should be extremely tender, you could probably pull it apart with just a fork. Once the veggies are fork-tender, add the beef, all the pan juices and onions into the stew.
- Put the flour into a bowl or a glass measuring cup. Ladle some of the beef stock onto it, stirring vigorously with a fork or whisk to prevent lumps. You want it to be thick, like pancake batter, but not lumpy.
- Pour the flour mixture back into the stock pot, stirring to distribute the thickener. Bring to a boil, stirring sporadically. Once it reaches a full boil, you can see it will thicken. If you want it thinner, add more broth or water. If you want the gravy thicker, you can make a mixture of flour and cold water (again to pancake batter consistency) and pour more in, waiting for it to boil again.
- Remove from heat. Remove the bay leaves and serve with a crusty bread or some buttermilk biscuits. In a cast iron pot, this stew will keep piping hot for a good hour or more, especially if covered, even if it’s sitting on the table.
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Dessert is as much of an event as dinner. Our favorite follow-up for beef stew is mini apple pies.
Hey, I know all this isn't healthy—but it is a holiday, after all! And harvest season holidays are about indulgence!
Don't forget to put out an offering for the ancestors, and may you have a blessed Samhain this year!
© 2013 Mackenzie Sage Wright