Stifado: a greek-influenced beef casserole

There’s an understandable tradition to limit casseroles to cheaper cuts of meat. After all, that’s what slow cooking does best. But sometimes a casserole demands something more exciting than shin. My butcher provides something called ‘bucket meat’ which in his case refers to offcuts of beef fillet. And that’s what is used in this tender recipe.

To make a Greek influenced beef casserole for four you will need:

  • 1kg of the stewing beef of your choice
  • 600g pickling onions
  • 2 large onions
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 250ml tomato concentrate
  • 25ml red wine vinegar
  • 150ml dry red wine
  • 200mm whole cinnamon
  • 4 cloves
  • 10g brown sugar
  • Extra virgin olive oil on demand
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Fresh green herbs for garnish

We begin with a promise. This is not just another beef stew. The extraordinary combination of liquids and spices result in a flavour that is simultaneously sweet and sour, and a colour far more red than the standard brown. Preheat the oven to 160°C.Cut the beef of your choice into generous bite-sized portions. Avoid dicing the meat too small as this may result in a dried out and fibrous conclusion. Big is better, more moist and more flavoursome.

Select a heavy-based frying pan and pour in sufficient extra virgin olive oil to thinly cover the bottom. Bring this up to medium heat and brown the sections of beef. Browing is not just decoration; the process caramelises blood sugars to enhance the flavour of the final dish. Brown in batches to sustain the temperature, then reserve under cover in the ovenproof casserole dish you will use for the final process.

Meanwhile, back at the chopping board, there’s onion work to be done. Peel the pickling onions. Chop the two large onions and the garlic, and sweat them in the pan juices created by the beef browning process. Add a little extra oil if strictly necessary. Stir in the wine, red vinegar and the tomato concentrate. When warm, pour this over the browned beef already in the oven dish. Season with salt and pepper, the brown sugar and add the whole cinnamon.

The brown sugar compensates partially for the sharpness of the tomato concentrate, adding a hint of welcome sweetness to the overall effect. Place the casserole in the oven and let it bake for 60 minutes. At this point add the peeled pickling onions and let the casserole continue to bake until the meat is tender, the gravy thick and the pickling onions cooked right through.

This meal demands the kind of vegetables that soak up the delicious gravy. Make some plain boiled rice and while this is cooking, brown 100g of cashew nuts in a frying pan with a little oil. Place the browned cashews on paper towel to drain before mixing them with the cooked rice immediately prior to serving. Mashed yellow sweet potatoes are a splendid alternative.

To drink? A heavy red goes well with the complexities of the dish.

Contact David Basckin at [email protected]. Please state ‘Real cooking’ in the subject line of your email.