Saturday Dinner: Beef stew with quick polenta

Saturday is when I typically put together the “Meal of the Week.” If I’m feeling good, this is the dinner I try hardest on. Not that weekday meals don’t get effort, but generally they are assembled from the freezer with a stop at Wegmans if I need some fresh produce. Saturday dinner starts with an early morning trip to the Central New York Regional Market and/or Wegmans with my daughter (who will be seven months next week) for the ingredients. For the most part, I have a plan in mind. Sometimes, I fly by the seat of my pants, buy a bunch of stuff and see what I can come up with.

None of that happened yesterday. I’ve been sick all week, so whatever was going to happen for dinner needed to happen with little fanfare at grocery.

Late in the morning, I decided I wanted stew. I had purchased stew beef earlier in the week with the plans to make it one night, but the aforementioned cold (and a related illness that hit The Wife) reduced my dinners to defrosted soup and store-bought soup (thumbs up to Wegmans’ Chicken and Dumplings).

I had everything in the house for a decent stew but onions. Late in the morning, I shuffled off to Wegmans to pick one up, as well as whatever base was going to hold the stew up. While wandering the store, I grabbed some mushrooms, leeks and instant polenta (as well as coffee at a nearby Tar-bucks, or a Starbucks inside of a Target). And then, there was dinner:

Beef Stew with Polenta
Adapted from Epicurious.com

  • 3 tb oil blend (I used 2 parts canola, 1 part extra-virgin olive oil)
  • 1# stew beef, trimmed to bite-sized cubes
  • 1/2 cup searing flour (my own blend…1 cup flour, 1 tb coarse sea salt, 1 tsp white pepper)
  • one small or medium cooking onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, trimmed, diced and leaves reserved
  • 1 large leek, washed and chopped into thumb-width chunks
  • 8 oz. white mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 4 cups beef liquid (I used one can of Swanson’s Beef Broth and topped the rest off with Wegmans’ beef culinary stock)
  • 2 dry bay leaves
  • Liberal sprinkling of herbes de provence (I make my own blend, which I’ll discuss shortly)
  • 8 ounces of instant polenta or coarse grain cornmeal
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup of parmagiano reggiano
  • salt
  • pepper
  1. Heat a dutch oven over medium-high heat. When the bottom of the pan is clearly to hot to touch, add the oil. Toss the meat with the searing flour to coat the meat white. When the oil shimmers, add the meat. Brown on all sides, 5-6 minutes.
  2. Add the onions and garlic. Stir to mix, so that the onion get contact with the bottom of the pan. Stir occasionally for the next 7-8 minutes, so that you have a good bit of grease worked up and the onions are soft.
  3. Add the wine and deglaze the pan. Use a good, heavy wooden spoon to scrape the stuck-on bits of food from the pan’s bottom. Cook long enough for the wine to disappear.
  4. Add the rest of the veggies and stir to mix. Saute for 2 minutes.
  5. Add the liquid, a liberal sprinkling of kosher or sea salt, fresh ground pepper, herbs and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cover. Cook for about 60 minutes. Check in on the pot every 15 minutes or so and stir. If the stew has lost too much liquid, add enough water to partially cover.
  6. Test the gravy at this point for flavor. If you need salt, add it now.
  7. Partially uncover the pan and allow to cook for another 30-40 minutes.
  8. With about 10-15 minutes to go in the stew, take a large, heavy saucepan and bring 4 cups of vegetable stock and 1 tb of salt to a boil.
  9. Using a flat whisk, mix the polenta into the broth, little by little. Stir continuously for three minutes, not allowing the mixture to settle or burn. Add the parmagiano reggiano. Stir for another three minutes. When the polenta can be stirred in the pan and unstick cleanly from the walls, remove it from the heat and let sit for two minutes.
  10. Using a large, flat spatula, remove the polenta from the pan to a large, warmed dinner plate. Allow to sit.
  11. Serve the stew hot over the polenta.

Now, had I thought about this in advance, I would have made the polenta the night before. I love cold polenta and how the dryness from an evening of refrigeration would reduce it to a crumbly mix.

Dinner went over well with The Wife, though I think my herbes de provence mix didn’t go well this time. I mix my own batch of herbs and this one is a little heavy on the fennel seed. I think I need to balance it off with rosemary or parsley to temper the strong bite from the fennel.

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