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Browning meat is an essential step when preparing a stew

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By Norm Harding, Reporter

Many years ago when I was single, I thought I knew everything about cooking, so I attempted to make my first beef stew.
I had friends coming over in about an hour or so and I was short on time. The recipe said to brown the meat, a messy and time-consuming step, so I thought.
I decided to ignore this instruction and just skip to the next step, just dumping the raw beef chunks into the stewing liquid.
What a major disappointment. My shortcut saved time, but the flavors developed by the browning reaction were never activated. My beef stew tasted flat and lifeless, in addition to being just a little tough to eat.

Secrets to browning
Whatever you brown on dry high heat, such as meat, poultry or seafood, you’ll need to use some type of oil. Without fat or oil of some kind, you won’t achieve any browning…only burning. The heat must be high enough and your pan must be heavy enough to retain an even heat.
There are two secrets to successful browning.
First of all, the food must be perfectly dry. If you place moist or wet food into a hot pan, the moisture from it will generate steam, which will quickly cool the pan. If the pan is not hot enough, the food will actually release more moisture, and then you end up steaming it instead of browning it. But don’t despair. If that does happen, just cook the moisture out and eventually the food will begin browning.
The second secret is to always add the food gradually to the hot pan to prevent too much cooling of the pan’s metal surface. Add pieces a handful at a time, if necessary, in two or smaller batches, on the highest heat you can get. This process may be time-consuming and messy, but it is absolutely essential.

On browning meat for a stew
Do not flour the meat when you brown it for a stew or a casserole. Browning floured meat means that you have browned flour, and the point here is to brown and color the natural sugars in the meat. Heat the pan, add a bit of oil. Sear or brown the meat very quickly, then add to the stewpot. The color and flavor will be much improved.

Beef in Burgundy
This is my favorite version of this classic recipe. I’ve tweaked it over the years, but the rich, flavorful sauce is still the same.
6 slices bacon
3 lbs. good stewing beef
Olive oil or peanut oil
3-4 cups burgundy or dry red wine
2 cups beef stock
2 Tbsps. tomato paste
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp. thyme
1 bay leaf
Salt to taste
16 oz. sliced baby portabella mushrooms
2-3 yellow onions, peeled, chopped
Roux of 1/2 cup flour browned in 1/2 cup butter
Cut the bacon into little strips and place in a large fry pan or kettle over medium heat. Fry bacon gently, being careful not to burn or to darken the fat. Remove bacon from the pan and set aside. Add a little olive oil or peanut oil to the pan and then add the beef. Brown the meat carefully and rapidly, so that is deep brown on all sides. Place meat on a platter and cover.
Deglaze the pan by adding the wine and soup stock, stirring up the browned bits clinging to the pan, over high heat, until wine is reduced, about one minute. Return the meat to the pan. Add the tomato paste, garlic, thyme, a bay leaf and a little salt to taste. Simmer on low heat for 2-3 hours.
In the meantime, sauté the mushrooms in a little butter and olive oil until brown. Remove mushrooms from the pan and set aside. In the same pan, add the chopped onions and sauté until browned. Remove and set aside.
Once the beef is tender, add the mushrooms and onions. Simmer an additional 20 minutes, and then thicken the casserole with the roux. Serve this dish with burgundy or dry red wine, along with some cooked green vegetables and a huge salad. Makes 4-6 servings.

Baked Sweet Potatoes and Apples with Pecan Butter
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup chopped pecans
2 Tbsps. orange juice
1 Tbsp. stone-ground mustard
1 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. freshly grated orange peel
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground red pepper
1-1/2 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled, sliced 1/2-inch
3 Granny Smith apples, sliced horizontally 1/2-inch, seeds removed
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Melt butter in 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Stir in all remaining ingredients except sweet potatoes and apples. Place sweet potatoes in butter mixture; toss to coat. Cover and bake for 25 minutes.
Add apples and spoon butter mixture over apples. Cover and continue baking for 15-20 minutes or until sweet potatoes and apples are tender. Makes 6 servings.

Brussels Sprouts with Mustard Sauce
2 pkgs. (10 oz. each) frozen Brussels sprouts
1/4 cup butter
1-1/2 tsps. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
1-1/2 tsps. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Cook Brussels sprouts in boiling salted water, following package directions. Melt butter in a small saucepan; blend in flour and remaining ingredients, stirring and heating until mixture is bubbly. Pour over the Brussels sprouts and stir gently to mix. Makes 6 servings.

Strawberry/Spinach Salad with Mandarin Oranges and Pecans
2 bags spinach leaves
1 can Mandarin oranges, drained
1 pint strawberries, sliced
1/2 cup raisins
1 small red onion, sliced
1 cup pecans (optional)
For the dressing:
1/2 cup dark currant jelly
3 Tbsps. balsamic vinegar
Melt jelly in small saucepan on low heat or in microwave. When cool, stir in vinegar. Clean spinach leaves, dry and remove stems. Mix all salad ingredients together, except for the pecans.
About 1-2 hours before serving, add the dressing to the salad ingredients to desired consistency. Keep chilled until served. Add one cup of pecans just before serving. Makes 4-6 servings.
Norm Harding is a cooking columnist for the Beacon. To send him recipes, e-mail him at nharding@brunswickbeacon.com.