Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.


Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Beef Daube, continued

Yesterday Hockeyman and I set about preparing Paula Wolfert's Crushed Beef daube for Early September, a recipe dating back to the days before collective SUV-driving and ignoring the Kyoto protocols. Back when September meant cooler weather.

I had my ingredients from my Friday Andronico's trip at the ready. I gave Hockyman the pancetta, garlic, and shallots. "Chop," I said.

He studied the cookbook. "This doesn't look like enough pancetta," he said.

The recipe calls for a pound. I fished the cryovac wrap from the trash. I'd bought only a quarter pound.

Never go to the supermarket after a bad day at the office. I apologized, sheepish, but felt better when I saw the per-pound cost of pancetta was $20.99--eight dollars more than I'd paid for three pounds of Angus bottom round.

We batted around the idea of adding bacon or smoked bacon to the recipe but ultimately decided to go with what we had. He set to mincing the aromatics while I trimmed the meat.

The interesting thing about Wolfert is her assumption of a certain level of kitchen expertise. if you're using her book, she reasons you have things like a food processor, good cookware, and the ability to trim all the fat from a piece of beef. I can, and did, but wondered about the bit of marbling. Leave it? Try and notch it out without wrecking the slices of beef? I notched as best I could, then turned to the minimal pancetta. Paula instructs you to put the meat through a meat grinder or food processor. I have neither. My two-cup mini-chopper did the job nicely:

You are then to layer the slices of beef with a mixture of pancetta, garlic, and shallot in a 3-4 quart casserole. We have only a five quart, meaning the meat covered the bottom of the pan. The pancetta mixture went over it, along with judicious pinches of salt, pepper, my version of quarte epices--ginger, cloves, cinnamon--and pinch of sugar. The bottle of Montepulciano was opened; two cups were set boiling stovetop, then poured over the meat. I added a slced onion and thyme. The result:

The dish is to supposed to go into a 225 degree oven for six hours. Knowing my oven runs hot, I set it to 210 and slid the meat in at 1:00. The parchment paper beneath the lid meant we weren't driven insane by the smell of slow-roasting beef.

Wolfert writes:

"In the old days, this type of crushed meat stew was served with the cornmeal and flour-based fried cakes called armottes, for which I offer a recipe on pages 357-8."

Armottes are a variation on fried polenta. Basically, you make polenta--here with adding flour to the cornmeal--spread it in a flat dish to chill overnight, then slice and fry it in duck fat. Variations on the recipe call for additions of onion, garlic, butter, cream or more duck fat. I think the combination of beef, pancetta, cornmeal, and all that duck fat might cause our hearts to seize (albeit happily), so I prepared the porridge with garlic (there is never too much garlic) a bit of butter and spread it in a pyrex dish, where it awaits cutting into neat circles. Wolfert says frying the cakes while they are chilled prevents fat absoprtion. I hope she's right.

We took the dish out at 7:00 and dipped our spoons in for a quick taste. The wine had melded with the pancetta and aromatics to produce a dark, deep sauce. The quartre epices added resonance without taking over. We let it cool and refrigerated it overnight, per the recipe. The final touch is cooking for another hour at 250 degrees whilst frying the armottes. We will feed our greedy camera more batteries and give the final report tomorrow.


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