Sunday, January 21, 2007

Waiter, there's something in my ... stew

When Andrew of SpittoonExtra announced the first theme for Waiter, there's something in my.. as 'stew' my first reaction was "nooo....that's winter food!" Of course, it would only make sense for Andrew to pick stew as a theme, it is winter in the other side of the world at the moment, not everyone one is as ungrateful as I am about summer down under.

For the record, I am not ungrateful that we are experiencing the beautiful summer weather. I did grow up in Malaysia, where it's hot and humid all year round except in the monsoon seasons, when it's hot, humid and raining! Give me hot weather any day vs cold winter days. It's just that.. it's.. very.. hard... to bring yourself to cook something like a hot stew (cold stew just don't do it for me) when it's scorching 30s every day...

Still, I am living in the city of four seasons, so I didn't give up hope that my city would bring me at least one miserable change of weather in the 15 days leading up to the entry deadline... and mates.. the City of Melbourne, ALWAYS delivers! I may sound like I'm exaggerating but ask any Melbournian/Melburnian (whichever is your fancy) and they'll tell you that the weather in our beautiful city is extremely unpredictable, even in summer.

And YES! I got my change of weather in the weekend of 13/14 Jan. It was a sunny but chilly weekend for summer but I could not ask for a better weekend :)


Nikujaga, literally meat and potatoes is the japanese version of a meat stew. According to Obachan, it's one of the dishes that all the young ladies in Japan are graded on as a measure of what sort of housewife one would make. The other dish is miso soup. (Phew, glad I'm not Japanese, I've only made stew once and that was by throwing everything into a pressure cooker!)

The recipe I chose to make from one of my favourite books, Yoshoku by Jane Lawson. I remember pouring through the book when I first bought it, bookmarking every single thing in sight that I was interested in trying. But you know how it goes with a new book, it always sits at the top of the pile (of books you were previously really keen on). You're always eager to try new recipes so the new book's would have all these post-it tags marking the pages and recipes to try...and then when the next new book comes along, a new favourite sits on top of the pile and the old favourite is soon forgotten. Those recipes that you had eagerly bookmarked never reached the kitchen for trial.

This was one of those forgotten recipes. I remembered that the only reason I bookmarked it was because the ingredients listed japanese beer and sake as two of the key ingredients for the stew. ;)

The original recipe was for lamb shank and potatoes. I'm not a big fan of lamb shanks, so I've substituted the lamb shanks with beef and added some carrots to the dish.

*adapted from lamb shank and potato stew in Yoshoku by Jane Lawson

700g all purpose potatoes*
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion, cut into thin wedges
1.5kg lamb shanks (approx 6 large lamb shanks)**
ground white pepper
1tsp sesame oil
2 tsp dashi granules
125ml Japanese beer (I used Kirin)
60ml Japanese soy sauce
125ml sake
2tbsp dark brown sugar
60g drained, sliced bamboo shoots
1litre of water

*I substituted 1/2 of the potatoes with carrots
*I substituted the lamb shanks with about 1kg of chopped scotch fillets because there weren't any chucks available.

Chop up potatoes into 3/4cm chunks and soak in cold water for 30mins. Drain potatoes after soaking and pat dry with paper towels.

Heat 2 tsp of vege oil in a dutch oven or a large saucepan over medium-high heat and cook onions until lightly browned. Remove and set aside. Add another 2 tsp of oil and fry the potatoes until lightly golden. Remove potatoes from heat and set aside.

Lightly season beef (or lamb) with salt and pepper. Add remaining oil into the pan and brown the beef on all sides.

Return onions to pan along with dashi granules, beer, soy sauce, sake, sugar and water and stir to combine. Increase heat and bring to boil, skim off any foam that rises to the surface. Cover and reduce to a simmer and cook for 1 + 1/4 hours.

After 1 + 1/4 hrs, add the potatoes and bamboo shoots and cook uncovered for a further 45mins or until potato and beef are very tender but not falling apart. Continue to skim off any foam from the stew. (I added my carrots when the timer had 30mins left)

Serve in bowls with a little of the broth in Japanese style with a bowl of rice and miso soup or with some hot bread rolls.

For a richer dish:

Remove the meat and potato (and carrots) from the pan, cover and set aside. Increase the heat to high and boil the remaining liquid for 20 - 25mins until it is slightly reduced. Return the meat and potatoes to the pan and coat in the sauce and let it heat through.

The verdict:

I actually prefer the less richer version of the stew. I tasted the stew at the first cooking point and thought that it was ok but could do with a bit more flavour. So I let it cook further and then found that it was a bit too rich for my taste.

I found that I could only taste a hint of the beer every now and then, the stew liquid was too sweet and salty because of the combination of brown sugar and soy sauce. The beef was very tender and the potatoes was probably a bit over cooked. The part I love most is the bamboo shoots, it adds a bit of crunchy texture to the stew.

The best part about this stew was that I managed to convince a non-stew eater to eat it! Alv doesn't like stews, he calls them try hard curries... because there's potatoes and onions in it, the meat's cooked til tender but the sauce is not spicy like curries. He changed his mind though after having it for dinner the next day. He said that he didn't mind it though he reckoned that I should tone down with the beer (I don't think so..). And.. he actually said that he wouldn't mind having it again.... SCORE one for Me!!!

Jane recommends beveling the edges of the potatoes with a sharp knife or vegetable peeler so that it's slightly rounded. This will soften the shape of the potatoes and prevent them from breaking up too much during cooking

If you prefer a less sweet sauce, reduce the amount of brown sugar to 1tbsp.

For a less salty sauce, try using light soy sauce.

Left over sauce from the stew

Waiter, there's something in my... is the new 2007 blog event created by Andrew of SpittoonExtra, Jeanne of Cooksister and Johanna of The Passionate Cook.


Ellie said...

Aww, I'd wanted to enter in this but I couldn't get organized in time! Looks extremely tasty - great photo work :)

Andrew said...

Hopefully the next theme will be more in season for you - a great entry mind and one I really must try. Thanks for taking part.

ilingc said...

Ellie: It was quite yum. Even the fussy one ate it and that says something! LOL

Andrew: Thanks. :)