Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Stan's Czech-Style Butter Beer Meat and Mashed Potatoes

I honestly don't know what to call this dish. A guy named Stan, who happens to be Czech, made it for me and taught me how to do it. I've since modified it -- without guilt -- because another Czech guy that happened to be present looked right at the dish, tasted it, and said "that's good, but it's not Czech." Stan countered by stating that his grandmother, who only makes Czech food, makes it, so it must be Czech. I just ate it happily because it tastes good.

This recipe carries a butter warning: it contains a stupid amount of butter. So that doesn't daunt anyone, note that butter is delicious, is strongly backed by really great chefs, and is quite likely a contributing factor in the so-called French paradox, so it might not be as bad as its reputation. Did I mention that it's delicious? It's delicious. Really, seriously, butter is delicious, especially in the form of a buttery sauce.

Here's the ingredients. The way I did it last night is given, Stan's recipe (which I used as a skeleton for this one) is in italics. Everything in Stan's recipe is in my recipe. It fed all of us, so around 3-4 people will be served by this dish.

  • About a pound to a pound and a half of chicken or pork cut up into little pieces;
  • 1 leek or half of a small sweet onion, chopped;
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed (first) and finely chopped;
  • half a fresh, red Cayenne pepper, finely chopped;
  • a big handful of chopped green or red cabbage (I used red for the first time last night, and it worked well);
  • about a quarter of a cup of chopped sweet peppers (because I have a bunch of them from our garden);
  • the leaves of a few sprigs of fresh Thyme, chopped;
  • half a bottle of Czech beer (meaning Stan uses Czech beer and I don't care what beer I use);
  • 1-2 sticks of butter, depending on how you do things (I used 1 for the meat and some more for the potatoes.. I just dropped in the whole stick into the meat mixture at the proper time and said aloud "taken care of" with a grin on my face about how ridiculous it seems to do that kind of thing);
  • a little milk or cream (because more milk fat is what this recipe requires to be good);
  • a little oil;
  • approximately 10-12 medium sized potatoes or the equivalent, boiled and mashed;
  • salt (and pepper) to taste;
As with everything on here, this is really easy. Cut everything up first, starting with the garlic. Put the chopped up, peeled (that's Stan's way) potatoes into a pot of cold, salted water and start to boil them. Meanwhile, heat some oil in a rather deep pot over medium high heat, and put the meat in with some salt, cooking until it's just browned on the outside. Add the veggies to that. Let it cook for just a moment and then add the beer. Stir the pot and cover it, reducing the heat to about medium. Stan let's that cook until the potatoes are ready, so the meat gets quite tender, and then pours most of the liquid out of the pan and into the sink, adding most or all of a stick of butter to replace it. I don't do that. I pour it off into a pan, but about half a stick of butter in with the meat, and put the other half into that pan to make a sauce, like a loose gravy (which could be thickened by adding a slurry -- equal parts water and cornstarch mixed until relatively smooth -- or pouring the liquid into a blond roux -- combine equal parts flour and oil and cook over medium-high heat until it starts to brown just a little). There's too much flavor in that liquid to waste! I want that liquid to reduce. Then I add some of it directly to the potatoes with the milk (cream, what-have-you), a little more butter, and some salt and pepper to make proper mashed potatoes. To serve it, put the potatoes on a plate, put the meat over the top, scooping up as much of that meaty butter as you can get, and pour the gravy/sauce over the top of everything. It probably is served best with some steamed veggies like broccoli and a hearty chunk of (homemade?) bread (with butter, of course) on the side. Nice.

A note about Stan's way: Stan says that the proper Czech way to do this recipe is to make sure there's much less meat than veggies. In particular, there should be a lot of potatoes, outstripping the quantity of meat several times over. The Czech way is to have lots of potatoes with a little meat and sauce. Apparently he's serious about this because when he made it for us, I was in charge of the potatoes. I made what seemed like a nice pot of mashed potatoes, though nothing spectacularly huge, and Stan made me make another batch to add to it. He said I'd barely made enough potatoes for one girl to eat (this would have been for five adult men) and gave me a proper description of the mountains of potatoes that flow forth on every Czech plate. Maybe make more potatoes than I recommend. They also shouldn't be too fussed up with bacon, cheese, and all of that. The potatoes here should taste like potatoes, he says. I think I agree because the sauce is ridiculously rich what with the enormous amount of butter in it.

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