Sunday, July 19, 2009

JB's Beef and Potato Stew

JB is a Chinese friend of mine that has cooked an awful lot of meals for me now, and I'm in the process of trying to recreate some of those. Tonight's goal: JB's beef and potato stew, which I've had many times but never actually tried to cook. The big treat I had while staying with JB was that he learned that I can cook, so he had me peel the potatoes for this every time he made it. Oh, the honor and glory. Like everything JB has made for me, the recipe is pretty simple. It feeds about three hungry adults or stretches to five or six folks with sufficient bread.

  • Roughly a pound and a half of nice quality beef (JB prefers steaks, I used a chuck roast) trimmed of the fat and cut into bite-sized pieces roughly in the shape of cubes (vary this by as much as a half a pound either way for more or fewer people);
  • Six to ten medium-sized Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into pieces that are roughly the same size as the pieces of meat;
  • Six or eight white or baby portabella mushrooms, quartered;
  • Optional (meaning I added this tonight since I'm so excited to be able to get it in the store now and because I figured it would work): 4 oz. roughly chopped maitake mushrooms (substituting sliced shiitake would work well too);
  • Six small green onions, washed and peeled, sliced in half lengthwise and then into inch-long sections;
  • One or two inches of fresh ginger, cut into thin, flat pieces lengthwise;
  • One or two cloves of fresh garlic, minced;
  • A small handful of Szechuan peppercorns if you have them or some freshly ground black pepper;
  • One or two tablespoons of soy sauce (preferably dark);
  • Two to four tablespoons of peanut or canola oil;
  • Salt to taste.
The process is also simple. Cut up the meat, garlic, ginger, onions, and mushrooms first and begin heating the oil in a large wok or other stewpot over medium-high or high heat. Add all of those ingredients and some salt and stir occasionally to try to brown the meat. Add the soy sauce and pepper and cover, reducing the heat only slightly (still higher than medium). Wash, peel, and chop the potatoes while the meat begins to stew. When the potatoes are prepared, open the wok or pot and stir the ingredients. Add the potatoes and stir again, adding a little more salt. Cover and lower the temperature again to just below medium. Stir it occassionally until the potatoes are cooked through and fork tender, perhaps about twenty minutes. Adjust to taste with more salt and pepper, if needed. Serve in bowls with bread (hopefully some kind of good sourdough, especially if it was stone-baked and kind of tough and crusty on the outside) and enjoy it.

Here's what it looks like. For my wife, please ignore the messiness of my kitchen.
Asian Chinese beef and potato stew
A fun way to serve this stew is the way that JB does: Chinese style. Everyone gets a bowl with some bread in it, and then the wok is placed on a heat-resistant surface in the center of a small or medium table. Everyone sits around the table and takes what they will from the pan, either adding it to their bowls or putting it straight in their mouths. This goal is best accomplished with chopsticks. Eating it that way really helps the diners bond with one another, though I'm not convinced it's the most hygenic way to go about it. Oh, for what it's worth, it's acceptable to avoid eating the slices of ginger or the Szechuan peppercorns if they're too spicy for your tastes.

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