Sunday Dinner: Dijon and Cognac Beef Stew

I’ve looked forward all week to an afternoon of cooking. It’s cold and gray outside, and I wanted to make something warm and comforting. A from-scratch stew–rich and deeply savory–is about as comforting as it gets. This recipe from the New York Times Cooking website is an exercise in the meditative process of quality time spent with a cast-iron Dutch oven and a long, wooden spoon. It is as satisfying, in some ways, as the end result.

Here’s what I did differently:  I substituted pancetta for the salt pork–1/3 of a pound–and I added it back in with the mushrooms. Also, I used Maille Old Style mustard instead of Pommery. And I used only 2 tablespoons of that instead of 4.

Regina Schrambling brought this recipe for Dijon and Cognac Beef Stew to the Times in 2001–after the World Trade Center attacks. I remember cooking many dishes like this stew in my own kitchen. I cooked almost constantly in those dark, scary days, taking portions to neighbors next door, inviting friends for impromptu dinners. It was how I coped and how I showed love to those I love the most.

As Schrambling pointed out:  “… long before there were antidepressants, there was stew.”

Amen to that.

Dijon and Cognac Beef Stew

INGREDIENTS

¼ pound salt pork, diced

1 large onion, finely diced

3 shallots, chopped

2 to 4 tablespoons butter, as needed

2 pounds beef chuck, in 1-inch cubes

2 tablespoons flour

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons butter, as needed

½ cup Cognac

2 cups beef stock

½ cup Dijon mustard

4 tablespoons Pommery mustard

4 large carrots, peeled and cut into half-moon slices

½ pound mushrooms, stemmed, cleaned and quartered

¼ cup red wine

PREPARATION

Place salt pork in a Dutch oven or a large heavy kettle over low heat, and cook until fat is rendered. Remove solid pieces with a slotted spoon, and discard. Raise heat, and add onion and shallots. Cook until softened but not browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a large bowl.

If necessary, add 2 tablespoons butter to the pan to augment fat. Dust beef cubes with flour, and season with salt and pepper. Shake off excess flour, and place half the cubes in the pan. Cook over medium-high heat until well browned, almost crusty, on all sides, then transfer to a bowl with onions. Repeat with remaining beef.

Add Cognac to the empty pan, and cook, stirring, until the bottom is deglazed and the crust comes loose. Add stock, Dijon mustard and 1 tablespoon Pommery mustard. Whisk to blend, then return meat and onion mixture to pan. Lower heat, cover pan partway, and simmer gently until meat is very tender, about 1 1/2 hours.

Add carrots, and continue simmering for 30 minutes, or until slices are tender. As they cook, heat 2 tablespoons butter in medium skillet over medium-high heat, and sauté mushrooms until browned and tender.

Stir mushrooms into the stew along with remaining mustard and red wine. Simmer 5 minutes, then taste, and adjust seasoning. Serve hot.

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