Most of my cooking inspiration comes when my cupboards and fridge are bare. I turn into Anne Shirley when I am scrounging around, trying to imagine (said in Megan Follows voice of course) what these humble ingredients could become. I am picturing the Lady of Shalott eating this last meal before she floats away…It has to be romantic. And the great thing about pantry staples like onions, potatoes and beans, is they can become pretty special! Think caramelized onions, silky smooth mashed potatoes or melt-in-your-mouth beans drenched in olive oil. That to me is better than any lobster. But what’s crazy about today is, as I was scouring, I discovered I had no beans! Not even a lone can of kidney beans who are known to hang around much longer than the rest. So I turned to the freezer and found the next best thing to beans. A chuck roast. Again, nothing fancy, but with time could be something very very good. Something to bring you out of the depths of despair.
What makes this beef and barley version “better”? Most recipes call for chuck meat that has already been cut into cubes. The reason I don’t go this route is because when you braise a larger piece of meat, you get the most amazing broth ever. So while this won’t be the quickest beef and barley stew recipe, it will be the most flavorful (and just as simple!).
BRAISED MEAT RECIPE:
Slightly adapted from Tamar Adler (Cooking with Economy and Grace)
1.5lb-2lb chuck roast
1 cup mixed veggies (onions, carrots, celery).
1/2 teaspoon dried fennel seeds
1 tbsp olive oil
5 cups broth (I used vegetable)
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
BARLEY STEW RECIPE:
1/2 cup barley
1 medium russet potato, diced small (or larger Yukon, red potato)
1 cup diced carrots
1 large onion, diced
1/2 diced celery
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Juices from braised beef (recipe above, should be about 4 cups)
COOK THE MEAT:
1. Heavily salt your meat at least an hour before cooking. Let it come to room temperature.
2. Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Heat oil in a large, oven safe pot over medium heat. Add the meat and brown it all over, about 3-4 minutes per side. The goal is to get a nice dark, crisp brown on all sides. Remove the meat and set it aside on a plate.
3. Add the vegetable scraps and fennel seeds to the pot, stirring them against the browned bits until they have softened. Add the meat back to the pot along with the liquids. Bring to almost a boil then quickly lower to a simmer, cover with lid and let it cook in the oven for about 2.5-3 hours. It’s ready when the meat falls apart when poked with a fork (or Tamar uses the back of a wooden spoon).
4. Remove the meat from the pot. Strain the liquid into a large bowl. Discard the small bit of veggies and taste the broth. If it’s too salty, add a bit of water. There will most likely be a fat layer on top. If you have the time, you can put the broth in the fridge where the fat will harden and you can remove it easily. You can also skim it from the top. OR you can just use the fatty part to the stew because that’s what I do and I have no regrets.
BEGIN THE STEW:
1. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil (or fatty oil from braised meat) over medium heat.
2. Add the onion, carrots and celery and a sprinkle with kosher salt. Cook until soft. Once softened, add the garlic. Cook for another minute or so.
3. Add the potato and barley along with the beef juices and dried thyme. Cook until the barley and potato are tender, about 30-40 minutes. If you don’t have enough beef juices, add a cup or so of broth or water.
4. Add the shredded beef to the pot and heat all together for about 5 minutes. Serve warm with some crusty bread.