Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Quick "beef" (or beef) ragout

Ragoût is French for "stew," but it's useful to bear in mind that the French culinary vocabulary is akin to the purported Inuit vocabulary for "snow":  They see variations and nuances that we do not.  A ragoût, for example, is not at all the same as a daube: The latter is tough stew beef, long-simmered until it falls apart in a procedure beloved in Provence; a ragoût is relatively quick and light and may be more Parisian or Lyonnaise.  And then there's the Italian ragù, which sounds similar but is yet another kind of stew in its own right.

The advantage of a ragoût is that it's a natural when you want a comforting stew-like dish for a wintry night, but you don't want to spend a tremendous amount of time on it.

Here's how it went together:

I started with a package of Gardein brand "beefless tips," a plant-based beef analogue made from soy and gluten and natural not-meat flavors. You could do this just as well with real beef, if that suits you, using either steak or stewing beef cut in cubes. (If you choose steak, start with raw meat and cook it for this dish. Cuts that need low-and-slow cooking might be cooked in advance before using them in this dish. Either way, I urge you to consider locally grown, hormone-free and humanely produced grass-fed beef. Friends don't let friends eat industrial meat.

Either way, brown the beef (or "beef") in a little olive oil, drain excess fat and keep warm.  Then saute a whole sliced onion in the same oil until it's good and brown; add minced garlic, red and black peppers and kosher salt to taste. Then stir in a whole tomato (or a cup of chopped good quality canned tomato) and its juices, reduce heat to very low and simmer until the flavors blend. Put the beef back in to the sauce, stir and simmer gently for a few minutes more, check seasonings, and dinner is done.

We served it with mashed potatoes, which went beautifully with the "beef" and savory sauce, and a bowl of steamed fresh spinach on the side.  It would work well, too, over egg noodles or even rice.