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Catalan Beef Stew with Mushrooms

Here’s a new twist on stew from my favorite cooking magazine: Cook’s Illustrated. It uses two Spanish or Mediterranean recipes: Sofrito and Picada. The Sofrito is a paste of tomatoes and herbs that serves as a flavor foundation for many Spanish dishes. The Picada is a nut-based thickener that is used in place of flour in this stew recipe. When I tried this recipe, I modified it significantly, based on what I had on hand. Here’s the original recipe, with my modifications below.

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 large onions, chopped fine
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 2 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 bayleaf
  • 1-1/2 cups dry white wine
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1 large sprig of fresh thyme
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2.5 lb boneless beef short ribs, trimmed and cut into 2 inch cubes
  • ¼ cup whole blanched almonds
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 slice hearty white sandwich bread, crust removed, torn into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 3 tbsp minced fresh parsley
  • ½ lb oyster mushrooms
  • 1 tsp sherry vinegar

Make the Sofrito

Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat until shimmering. Add onions, sugar, and salt. Cook, stirring often, until onions are carmelized, 30 to 40 minutes. Grate the tomatoes through a box grater, leaving the skins behind. Add tomatoes, paprika, and bayleaf to the onions and cook until darkened, 5-10 minutes. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Cook the stew

Add wine, water, thyme, and cinnamon to the pot, scraping up browned bits. Season beef with 1-1/2 tsp salt and ½ tsp pepper and add to the pot. Increase heat to high and bring to a simmer. Transfer to oven and cook uncovered. After one hour, stir the stew to redistribute the meat, return to the oven and cook until meat is tender, 1-1/2 to 2 hours longer.

Make the Picada

While the stew is in the oven, heat almonds and 1 tbsp olive oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat until almonds are golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the almonds to a food processor. Return the now empty skillet to the burner, add bread, and toast until browned. Add to almonds in the food processor. Add garlic and parsley. Process until mixture is finely ground.

Return the skillet to the burner and add remaining 1 tbsp olive oil. Add mushrooms and ½ tsp salt and cook stirring often until tender, 5 to 7 minutes.

Take stew from the oven. Remove bayleaf. Stir picada, mushrooms, and vinegar into stew. Season with salt and pepper. Serve.

My substitutions and modifications:

  • Well-drained canned tomatoes for fresh.
  • Regular paprika for smoked paprika
  • Dried herbs for fresh (this is winter afterall!)
  • Round steak or chuck roast for short ribs
  • Homemade whole wheat bread for hearty white sandwich bread
  • Button mushrooms for oyster mushrooms (canned mushrooms even work if you don’t have fresh)
  • I added some carrots and potatoes—I can’t imagine stew without them!
Bill & Laura Paine,
Feb 11, 2012, 8:52 AM