Sophie Tevlin makes the case for cooking with wine – and adding it to the food as well.
The starring ingredient of today’s Cupboard Love is the elixir beloved of poets, the true, the blushful Hippocrene, red wine. It might seem ridiculously ostentatious to keep a bottle of wine on hand for cooking - surely with alcohol prices being what they are, drinking it is the only sensible course of action? I promise you, a glass of the cheapest Aldi plonk will imbue your stews and pasta ragus with more flavour than a whole plethora of jarred condiments. Add wine to your cooking, and as the alcohol evaporates in the heat your kitchen will be filled with a beautifully complex aroma. (This is also part of the reason freshly baked bread smells so divine – it’s the alcohol produced when the yeast breaks down the carbohydrates in the flour.) I really think that sometimes the process of cooking can be as pleasurable and sensorily rewarding as the meal at the end of it. Put on some jazz, pour yourself a glass of red and pretend you’re running a small restaurant kitchen in the South of France.
This recipe is adapted from Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking, and I have to admit it is a dauntingly long one. But I assure you it’s really not very difficult when you break it down into steps. I’ve made it successfully for a dinner party of guests when I was so hungover I couldn’t form sentences. And you’ll win the undying love and respect of anyone lucky enough to taste it. I usually eat this with basmati rice, but it’s very good with pasta too. And a side salad, something fresh and dark green and zingy. Rocket leaves, or Ella Risbridger’s kale and coriander salad with pomegranate molasses. Bon appetit.
You will need: 500g of stewing beef (topside or chuck, the kind that comes pre-cut in chunks). 200g unsmoked pancetta. A large white onion. Thyme, parsley and a few bay leaves. About a third of a bottle of red wine. Olive oil. 500g beef stock. A few cloves of garlic. 200g baby mushrooms, and about eight shallots.
First off we’re going to marinade our beef – I usually do this overnight, but anything over three hours is fine. Put the beef in a glass or china dish, season with salt and pepper, and add the large sliced onion, the red wine, half the herbs and two tablespoons of olive oil. Cover it and leave it in the fridge.
Time has passed, the sun has set and risen again, and we’re ready to start cooking. Haul your container of beef out of the fridge. Put the kettle on. Pick the beef chunks out of the marinade, pop them on a chopping board and pat them dry with kitchen paper. Now strain the marinade through a sieve into a bowl or something. The leftover onion and herbs have served their purpose and can go in the compost. By now the kettle will have boiled, so make up your beef stock and have it ready in a jug. Crush and peel the garlic cloves. Top and tail the shallots and peel them, but otherwise leave them intact.
OK! Mise-en-place completed, put your biggest pot on a low heat and add some olive oil. Add the pancetta, and then the shallots. Take the pancetta out and set it aside when the fat turns translucent (use chopsticks or kitchen tongs) and do the same with the shallots when they’re a nice browny-purple colour. Turn the heat up, and then add your beef. We want to brown the surface of the meat to get that sweet, sweet Maillard reaction – that’s why it’s important to dry the cubes with kitchen paper first. Try and get an even colour on each side. Add the crushed garlic – let it sizzle for half a minute – add the strained marinade – let that bubble for half a minute - now add the stock and the rest of the herbs. (If you want to be fancy you can tie all the herbs into a little bundle with thread. This is called a bouquet garni and it makes them easier to retrieve when you’ve finished cooking.) Put a lid on the pot, turn the heat down to a whisper of a simmer and let it cook on the stove for about two hours. Wipe the baby mushrooms down with kitchen paper to remove any soil, cook them in butter for a minute or two and then add them to the stew along with the pancetta and shallots.
Cook the stew another half-hour – by now the aroma wafting through the kitchen will be making you near-feral with hunger, but hold your horses – and serve.