“Dad!” I exclaimed over the phone. We exchanged pleasantries before I got to the root of the call. “I’m calling for your beef stew recipe.”
My father scoffed good-naturedly. “You know how to make it,” he said as though brushing the thought away. Maybe he assumed that a few years of culinary school mitigated my need for family heirloom recipes.
“But Dad,” I whined, like the kid I still am, “I want your recipe.”
He relented, giving me a quick rundown. I jotted down the key words. Stew meat. Onion, carrot, celery, brown thoroughly — “so they really stand up once they’ve been sitting in the broth” — and don’t skimp on the oil.
I knew at its core, the recipe was dead simple. My father, as wonderful as he is at many things, cooks only a handful of meals a few times a year. It’s usually beef stew in the winter, barbeque in the summer and the occasional split pea soup in between. His stew is by far my favorite, warm and savory. As a kid I have fond memories of eating it in front of our roaring fireplace as the Wyoming wind howled outside.
But he learned a few of his cooking techniques from his mother-in-law, my wonderful Abuelita, and also inherited her ability (or is in an inability?) to pass on recipes verbally. Or via pen and paper.
If I want a recipe from anyone in this family I must watch and learn. To ask or to transcribe is just asking for trouble. For one, the recipe changes depending on the mood of the cook. And more often than not, the unchangeable, rock-solid recipe instructions (“Fry the noodles first!” “Don’t forget the aji!”) tend to change every time I ask.
So, for all intents and purposes, this is the family recipe as quoted from my father on December 15th, 2015. If you were to call him up and ask him this very minute, it will have changed.
But that’s okay. It’s delicious and it will taste like home, every single time.
For your holiday warmth and enjoyment, here’s the recipe of the day! Enjoy with a helping of good holiday cheer.
Dad’s Beef Stew
1 – 2 lbs stew meat, diced – use tougher steak cuts, or check your grocery for stew meat, which is often packaged and ready to go!
2 carrots, diced
1/2 onion, roughly chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
3-5 potatoes, washed and diced
1 large can beef consommé
Aji to taste. [Optional. Aji is a hard-to-come-by spice usually smuggled into the states by my various family members visiting from South America. If you have some, use it! If not, don’t worry.]
- In a saute pan, heat several tablespoons of canola oil. (“Don’t skimp on the oil!”) Add all your diced vegetables and allow them to brown thoroughly so they withstand the long simmer ahead.
- Transfer vegetables to a crock pot. Using the same saucepan, brown stew meat until seared and golden on the outside and cooked through, seasoning with salt, pepper and other desired spice. Transfer meat to crock pot.
- Dump a can of consommé on top. Fill the rest of the pot with water.
- Lid your crock pot, set it to high heat and walk away for 4 to 7 hours.
- Come back, ladle yourself a heaping bowlful and enjoy!