Pearl onions (Recipe: root-vegetables-with-beef stew)
When Ted and I first started dating, a hundred million years ago, he seduced me with a very romantic dinner of beef bourguignon. Chunks of beef, mushrooms, pearl onions, red wine sauce....
One bite, and I was smitten. (Truth? I was smitten long before that, but I'm not sure he knew it.)
I've never made beef bourguignon, and Ted's never made it again, either — after all, he got the girl — but over the years we've experimented with many variations on beef stew.
The only thing I don't like about making stew is peeling the dozen or more little onions that, for some reason, absolutely have to be in there. My eyes start to burn, and the onion skins get stuck to my skin. I love Ted, and he loves stew, so we've both struggled for years to peel through the tears.
A few months ago, quite by chance, I watched an episode of Barefoot Contessa that changed my cooking life. There was Ina Garten, one of my kitchen idols, dumping a bag of frozen pearl onions into her beef bourguignon. Wow! That was the permission I needed; if it was good enough for Ina, it was good enough for me.
I'm a very recent convert to frozen vegetables, but I do understand the concept of IQF: freeze things at their peak of flavor. I keep a few vegetables in the pantry freezer to add to soups and stews when I can't get fresh veggies during the winter months, but why go back to peeling little onions, when I can open a little bag?
Thank you, Ina!
Heavy on the root veggies, this is a wonderful stew that can accommodate your personal preferences in the vegetable department. Like all stews, it improves with age, so make it a day ahead if you have time. Can be frozen, but it rarely lasts that long in our house. Serves 8-10.
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 lb beef stew meat (chuck, bottom round, etc.), cut in large chunks
1 cup flour
1 medium onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, whole
1 Tbsp thyme leaf, or a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 bottle red wine
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp oyster-flavor sauce
1 tsp honey
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, or more to taste
1/2 tsp paprika
4 large carrots, cut into chunks
1 package (16 oz) frozen pearl onions
8 small red-skinned new potatoes, cut into chunks
1 large rutabaga, wax coating removed, cut into chunks
2 small purple-topped turnips, peeled, cut into chunks
4-5 parsnips, peeled, cut into chunks
Heat oil in a very large stockpot (12 quarts or larger). Dredge meat lightly in flour and, adding a few pieces at a time, brown meat thoroughly on all sides (remove the pieces as they're browned, into a bowl; when all of the meat is browned, add back the reserved meat and juices).
Add sliced onion, and the garlic, and cook for 2-3 minutes, until the onion becomes translucent. Then, add the thyme, bay leaf, wine, mustard, tomato paste, oyster sauce, honey, peppers and paprika. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to lowest simmer.
Cook for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
Add all of the vegetables and cook, covered, for another hour until all of the vegetables are tender (the potatoes will start to fall apart a bit). The sauce will thicken nicely, but if you'd like it thicker, stir in a solution of 1 Tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 3 Tbsp water.
Serve in large bowls with some crusty bread.