Saturday, January 30, 2016

Hearty Pork Stew

I'm really happy with this Hearty Pork Stew, but it was arrived at with a wee bit o' trial and error.

My first attempt was made for our most recent gaming session.  My friend Janet, of Chuck Wagoneer, wanted to test a new recipe for her blog and I wanted to make a stew with something other than beef. I had a few ideas about what I wanted to do for the stew, but no specific recipe, which is the great thing about stew - as a coworker put it it's really a "kitchen sink" dish.  You can really include anything you have on hand and come up with something very tasty and satisfying. Here's my jumping off points:
1)  use something other than beef for the protein
2)  include beer in the sauce/gravy
3) add a vegetable to the mix that I haven't used in stew before

For the protein, my first choice was lamb, but the meat market was closed by the time I had an opportunity to shop, and the grocery store didn't have any lamb suitable for stew.  As I perused the choices at my local grocery store, I stumbled upon pork for stew.  I've never made stew with pork before.  I believe there are some Mexican dishes that use pork and qualify as stew - but I've never made them myself.  I was intrigued and nothing else was grabbing my attention, so I went with it.

I forgot to pick up the beer, so I asked hubby to pick some up for me - requesting an Amber or Stout and hoping for an oatmeal stout - but not being any more specific than that.  Steven really came through, showing up with a lovely, if hoppy, oatmeal stout.  It was super dark, but even to my not-really-a-beer-drinker taste, it was pretty tasty.

The first go-round had some great things going for it, the potatoes and carrots were the perfect texture, the pork was fall apart tender and juicy and the sauce was the almost-gravy consistency that I love in a good stew.  However, I used way, way, way too much of the beer.  The beer did an excellent job of deglazing the pan and I am a believer in beer and pork together, but I ended up using the whole bottle.  It was 10 am or so when I started the stew and I just couldn't bring myself to using only the cup or so that I needed for the deglaze, wasting the remainder of the beer - which was bound to go flat before anyone was ready to drink it.  The result was a fairly bitter gravy.  My husband and his brother really liked it (they are beer drinkers), but I found it too bitter for my taste. And last, but not least, the squash disappeared into the mix and was utterly unremarkable.   Back to the drawing board...

I made it again for last night's dinner and invited my lovely neighbors who are always happy to taste test my recipes.  I reduced the quantity of beer to about a cup and used chicken stock for the remainder of the liquid.  I added sweet potato and omitted the butternut squash.  I also simplified somewhat sweating the carrots, onions and celery but skipping the browning of the potatoes and instead went right to searing the pork.

Everything came out tender, the sauce/gravy was just the right balance of flavor and thickened to a nice consistency - not too thick, not too thin and the sweet potato was a really nice addition.  My neighbor's kids are middle and high school aged and they all loved it!

Please, give it a try - I'd love to hear what you do to make it your own!  Here's the recipe:

Hearty Pork Stew

1 lb pork stew meat
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
3 carrots, sliced
3 stalks celery, sliced
6 small gold potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 Large Yam, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup amber or stout beer (I used Oatmeal Stout)
2 cups Chicken Stock
2 TBLS butter, divided
1 TBLS Olive Oil
Flour, approximately 3 tablespoons, divided
ground cumin
ground coriander
3 bay leaves
3 sprigs thyme

Remove pork from refrigerator and allow to sit for approximately 20 minutes.  Place in a bowl and season lightly on all sides with salt, pepper, cumin and coriander.  Set aside.

Put chopped potatoes and sweet potatoes in the crock pot liner.  Turn your slow cooker on low.

Preheat cast iron skillet on medium-high heat.  Add olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter to hot skillet. Once butter has melted add onions, carrots and celery.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.  Sweat just until onions are translucent.

While the vegetables are sweating, dredge the pork with approximately 2 Tablespoons of the flour. Set aside.  

Remove vegetable mixture from skillet to crock pot liner or dutch oven.  Add more olive oil to the skillet if it's too dry at this point, you'll want about 1 tablespoon coating the pan.  Place pork in hot skillet, shaking excess flour back into the bowl and saving the excess flour for later. Arrange the pork in a single layer and let it just chill out (no stirring!) for a couple of minutes.  Gently lift the edge of a piece or two to ensure they are nicely caramelized before disturbing the whole pan.  Once nicely browned, you can give it a stir, then be sure to re-arrange the pieces back into a single layer, non-seared side down.  Once again, leave it alone at this point and allow it to cook about 2 minutes or until nicely browned.  Remove from pan and place in crock.  Note: If you have really big, cubes of meat, you'll want to sear all sides.  If the pieces are more stir-fry sized, searing 2 sides will be fine.

Place the last tablespoon of butter to the pan and let it melt, then add any excess flour that was left over from dredging the port.  Stir it around and let it cook for about 2 minutes, then add the beer to deglaze the pan, being sure to scrape up all the lovely brown bits.  Let the beer come to a boil and reduce slightly, turn off the heat and pour it over the ingredients in the crock pot. Add chicken stock, bay leaves and thyme and stir everything together.  Cover and forget for at least 6 - 10 hours.  10 to 15 minutes prior to serving, make a slurry with the remaining flour and enough water to make a thin paste.  Stir this into the stew and leave it alone for at least 10 minutes.  Serve hot with crusty bread or biscuits and/or salad.

NOTE: If you prefer not to use beer in this recipe, some great substitutions include apple cider, hard cider, all stock or wine.  I don't know about you, but I'm not a morning person - if you want to prepare this ahead and let your slow cooker do the work for you while you head off to work you can prepare and refrigerate the veggies, seared meat and deglazing juices the night before.  Just throw everything in your crock pot in the morning and add the remaining ingredients.  Add the slurry when you get home and dinner will be ready when you are.