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Basque Beef Stew

Europe’s new top chefs are looking to the relatively unheard of Basque region for inspiration. A culture of gastronomes, Basques spend more than twice as much of their disposable income on food as we do in the United States, and the post modern cuisine coming out of the city of San Sebastian is approaching high performance art. Food to a Basque is not sustenance—it’s a religion. It’s exhilarating, dynamic fare that relies on fresh ingredients painstakingly prepared.

Basque country is nestled between France and northern Spain, and its rustic, cutting–edge cuisine is influenced by both regions. The hallmark of Basque fare is simple dishes with complex tastes derived from layering flavors. Corners aren’t cut—local, seasonal ingredients are prepared using traditional culinary techniques: grilling foods over hardwoods, braising foods at low cooking temperatures and marinating meats and fish for long (24hours) periods of time all coax out deep, hidden dimensions of flavor while spices are kept to a minimum.

This rustic, Basque beef stew is what comfort food is all about— flavorful, hearty, and filling. Rich, fork tender short ribs are the cut of choice for this braised dish since they deliver a much better flavor (and texture) than tougher, stewing meats. But it’s crucial to use boneless short ribs that have been trimmed of excess fat (saves time and money) and the meat must be seared at a relatively high heat before the aromatics and wine are added, otherwise, you won’t get the requisite depth of flavor of this regional dish. Moreover, this stew must be thickened with a whipped butter / flour mixture right before serving to balance the acidity and create the rich, luxurious sauce this dish demands.

Basque Beef Stew
Serves: 4 as an small entrée
Image of Basque Beef Stew
5 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 ½ lbs. boneless beef short ribs, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tsp. Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 10 ounces)
7 ounces shallots, diced (about 4 large bulbs)
1 small yellow onion, cut into ¼ -inch dice (about 6 ounces)
1 heaping Tbsp. garlic, diced (about 4 cloves)
1 lb. mushrooms caps, thickly sliced
4 boiling potatoes, cut into quarters
½ bottle good dry red wine, (about 2 cups)
2 cups beef broth
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
3 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
2 Tbsp. all purpose flour
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves

  1. Preheat the oven to 250°F.
  2. Dry the meat cubes on all sides with a paper towel set aside. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until just smoking. Add ½ of the meat in a single layer and lightly season with salt and pepper. Sear on all sides until browned. Remove the meat to a plate and set aside. Repeat with the second batch of meat and set aside.
  3. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the Dutch oven and add the carrots. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring several times with a wooden spoon. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the shallots and onions and cook till golden brown and lightly caramelized. Add the garlic and cook till soft – about 30 seconds. Add the beef broth, bay leaf, wine and tomato paste and stir until dissolved, then remove from heat. In a nonstick 10-inch skillet, add 1 tablespoon of oil and sauté the sliced mushrooms over high heat until browned. Add the mushrooms, the beef short ribs, potatoes and herbs to the stew mixture in the Dutch oven and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot and place in the oven for 3 hours.
  4. Place the butter and flour into a small bowl and whisk with a fork (or use your fingers) until incorporated. Remove the stew from the oven and place on a burner. Heat on medium heat and whisk in the butter mixture until incorporated and the stew is thickened. Taste and add more salt if needed. Pour the stew into bowls, garnish with fresh thyme and serve with crusty French baguettes and seasonal salad.
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