Football season is in full swing. College teams are hitting the gridiron and the World Series is only a few days away. It’s time to fire up a great meat stew for some tailgating or a sports bash at home.
It seems that forever cooks have been told that searing meat over high heat “seals in the juices” by cauterizing the pores of the meat.
Other factors account for meat losing its moisture in the presence of heat. What browning meat does do is create flavor compounds that, in turn, interact to add savory, complex flavor compounds to the meat in the dish itself. The process is called the Maillard Reaction, named after Louise Camille Maillard who discovered it in the early 1900s.
When the sugars and proteins on the surface of the meat meet the heat, they brown. (The same happens when caramelizing sugar for candy, or browning the bottoms of cookies, or crisping the edges on chunks of roasted vegetables. It’s all sugar.)
That’s why, when making a stew, you’re encouraged to brown the small pieces of meat in batches. If they crowd, they make the Maillard Reaction ineffective by lowering the heat and reducing the browning. In some cases, crowding creates steam; the surface of the meat “sweats” and the Maillard can’t work.
By the way, moisture loss in meat is a function of the fibers in the meat’s musculature squeezing out moisture because of too much heat too long.
If you think that the rich taste and texture of beef stew is commensurate with fat and calories, check out the nutrition data on this recipe. They’re both low. The recipe comes from a collection developed and published by the American Diabetes Association and is authored by a registered dietitian and nurse.
Burgundy Beef and Vegetable Stew
Recipe from “The Disease Prevention Cookbook” by Clara Schneider; makes 6 servings
1 1/2 pounds beef eye round
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
13 3/4 ounce can or box of beef broth
1/2 cup good quality red wine (see note)
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 1/2 cups baby carrots
1 cup frozen whole pearl onions
2 tablespoons cornstarch, dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
8-ounce package frozen sugar-snap peas
Trim fat from the beef and cut into 1/2-inch pieces. In a Dutch oven or large heavy pot, heat oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add beef (half at a time) and brown evenly, stirring or flipping occasionally. After second batch is done browning, pour off drippings. Season with thyme, salt and pepper. Stir in broth, wine and garlic. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low.
Cover tightly and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Add carrots and onions. Cover and continue cooking for 35-40 minutes or until both beef and vegetables are tender.
Bring beef stew to a moderate boil over medium-high heat. Add cornstarch mixture; cook and stir 1 minute. Stir in sugar-snap peas. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 3 or 4 minutes, or until peas are heated through
(Note: If you do not consume alcohol or use wine in your cooking, you may substitute an equal measure of 100 percent tart [not “black”] cherry juice for the red wine.)
Nutrition information per serving: 220 cal., 6 g total fat (1.4 g saturated), 50 mg chol., 567 mg sodium, 11 g carbo., 3 g dietary fiber, 29 g protein.
About Bill St. John: Bill has written and taught about restaurants, food, cooking and wine for more than 40 years, locally for Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post and KCNC-TV Channel 4, nationally for Chicago Tribune Newspapers and Wine & Spirits magazine. The Denver native lives in his hometown. Contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org