I always look forward to Autumn, that time of the year when the trees change their colours and their golden leaves line the streets with their warm tones in contrast to the biting chill that is beginning to pervade the air. I also love Autumn because I can start to pull out my favourite trench coats, turtleneck jumpers and knee-high boots, a welcome change in wardrobe when I can start to cosy up with layers.
With the looming grey skies that threaten to hang around for a good 5-6 months, my thoughts often turn to stews and braises. I particularly love beef stews and make several versions of this dish through the cooler months.
Not long ago, an online foodie friend from the Netherlands, Joost, talked about his favourite beef stew for which he would travel to the other side of the city just to buy the right cut of meat. Such dedication resonated with me and suggested that there was something special about this recipe. This dish has now become a regular in our home, particularly as an alternative to the more usual beef in red wine stews.
The recipe comes from Good Food magazine and is essentially a beef stew with a few key Asian spices and ingredients to lift this dish from being just any ordinary beef stew to something quite wonderful. I’m not sure if it is an authentic Chinese dish, per se, thus explaining why it is called Chinese-style, but the Chinese flavours are really welcoming. The Chinese five-spice powder, ginger and chillies lend a gentle heat to this stew which is perfect if you are looking for a dish with a bit of kick. You might even want to bump up the chillies and Chinese five-spice powder, though I would suggest following the recipe first as much depends on the brand of Chinese five-spice powder that you are using; the brands that you can buy from an Asian grocer are usually stronger in taste than those from Western supermarkets. And please do not confuse Chinese five-spice powder for the French quatre épices - the latter is a completely different spice mix used in French cooking and is not a substitute for Chinese five-spice powder. As for chilli heat, you can always add more chillies upon serving.
I love to add carrots in my stews – lots of them! – so that is one main addition of mine to the Good Food recipe. Otherwise, I have altered the method a little to suit my (lazy) style in the kitchen.
1 kg (2 pounds) beef chuck steak, cut into large cubes
olive oil for frying
6 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
5-6 spring onions (scallions), thinly sliced and separated into white and green parts
1 red chilli, finely chopped
3-4 cm (1-2 inches) piece of ginger, peeled and coarsely grated
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder (or more, to taste)
3 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine (Chinese cooking wine) or dry sherry
2 tablespoons plain flour
500 ml (2 cups) beef stock
3 tablespoons light soy sauce, plus more to taste
2 teaspoons light brown sugar (or white sugar)
2 star anise
3 large carrots, sliced thickly
small handful of coriander (cilantro), finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F).
Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large, oven-proof pan (such as a Le Creuset pot) over medium-high heat. Brown the meat in batches and remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Add more oil between batches if necessary.
Once you have finished browning all of the meat, add to the pan the garlic, white part of the spring onions, chilli, ginger and Chinese five-spice powder. Cook for a few minutes until fragrant. Pour in the Shaoxing rice wine and let it bubble away for about a minute, scraping the pan with a wooden spoon to make sure that any bits which have stuck to the pan are dissolved in the wine.
Return the meat to the pan, together with any juices which have collected while it has been resting. Sprinkle over the flour and stir everything together until the flour is dissolved and the liquid in the pan starts to thicken.
Pour in the beef stock and soy sauce. Add the sugar, star anise and carrots. Mix everything together well. Place the lid on the pan and put the pan into the oven for about 1.5 to 2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes or so. Alternatively, you can cook this on the stove-top over low heat, making sure that you stir regularly.
The beef is done when it is soft and easily falls apart when pierced with a fork. Taste the sauce for seasoning and see if you want to add more soy sauce. If you would like to have more sauce, you can add some boiling water to the stew, though you might have to thicken it with some cornflour if the sauce is too thin.
I like to serve this stew with a good sprinkle of freshly chopped coriander (cilantro), green spring onions (scallions) and some finely sliced red chillies for more kick. Serve with steamed Jasmine rice and some steamed green veges, such as broccoli, on the side.