Sunday, November 14, 2010

Veal, cauliflower and tahini stew, and how memory works, and doesn't

Multitasking becomes difficult as one ages, and this can lead to culinary disasters, as I have noted in reporting on nearly causing a house fire when making kadaif.  One of the nice things about stews is that they are made for multitasking.  You can leave them simmer while you do other things, something very useful for those of us who work at home.  However, it is a mistake to try browning while multitasking.

The other day, I made this veal stew while working at home on a project that involved comparing several proposals and therefore a lot of attention to detail.  You have to brown the veal well, best done in a few batches so as not to crowd the pan and cause the meat to steam. The first batch of meat came out beautifully, and I got a bit complacent with the second batch and returned to my proposals while I left the veal to brown. I could smell the veal browning nicely from where I was sitting and then forgot about it as I was involved in work. Our friendly fire alarm screaming "Fire! Fire!" reminded me that this was not a good idea.    I removed the meat, which was slightly scorched but not burnt, though the meat glaze in the skillet was to far gone to use.  (The hard gunk that coats a pan after you brown meat is really heavily reduced and caramelized meat broth, and deglazing is the process of dissolving this with liquids to add lots of flavor to your dish.) Even though I couldn't use the meat glaze, and transferred the veal to a new pan while I soaked the skillet, the dish was still pretty good. 

What is funny is that even though I forgot  about my browning meat, this recipe is inspired by I dish that I had some time around 1975.  It was a veal with tahini served by a restaurant called Kineret that I think was located on 7th Avenue and Barrow Street in the Village.  I went with two friends who didn't really get along (I haven't seen either one in nearly 20 years) so it was not a particularly pleasant evening.  But the food was, and I remember it over three decades later.  I just couldn't remember that I had started browning meat in the other room a few minutes before.  Go figure.

Veal, cauliflower and tahini stew

  • 2 pounds stewing veal, ideally from the shoulder, cut in 1 inch cubes
  • olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, very finely chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, mashed
  • 1 head cauliflower
  • olive oil spray
  • tahini sauce:  1 tablespoon to 1/4 cup tahini, 1 clove garlic, coarse salt, the juice of one lemon, and some water
  1. Heat a large skillet (ideally not nonstick, since it produces better browning and glaze) on high and add 1 or 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
  2. Add half of the veal, drying the pieces as you put them in.  Turn with tongs to brown on all sides.  Remove the veal to a bowl and add the rest, adding a little more oil if necessary.  Don't leave the room while browning.  Bring a book if you get bored.  Remove the veal to the bowl with the rest and season it all lightly with salt and pepper.
  3. Add a bit more oil to the skillet, and add the onion and a bit of salt and saute until it is just starting to brown.
  4. Add the allspice, Aleppo pepper, and about 10 grinds of a pepper mill.  Saute a minute.
  5. Add the crushed garlic to the skillet and saute another minute.
  6. Return the meat to the skillet, cover, turn heat down to low and stew gently for about an hour. The meat should cook in its own juices, but check it occasionally to stir and if it dries out, add a few spoons of boiling water.  Check it after an hour to see if it is tender and succulent.  It should take between and hour and 90 minutes to get tender.
  7. While the veal is cooking, roast the cauliflower.  Preheat oven to 425, separate florets, put on a large baking sheet lined with foil and sprayed with olive oil spray, spray again, and bake 20 minutes.  Broil until nicely browned but not burnt.  (Again, it is a good idea to stay in the kitchen while you are broiling the cauliflower.
  8. Make the tahini sauce: smash the garlic with coarse salt to make a puree, and stir in the tahini.  Stir in the lemon juice.  The tahini will become very stiff.  Dribble in the water, a few drops at the time.  The sauce will stiffen some more, and then loosen to the texture of a thick cream. It is hard to tell exactly how much water you will use, but it is usually approximately equal to the amount of tahini, or a little more.  The quantity of tahini you will use is up to you.  A sauce based on 1 tablespoon of tahini will add a certain je ne sais quoi to the stew, but it will not be a noticeable tahini sauce.  The larger quantity will.  Both are good, and it is up to you.
  9. When the veal is tender, Add the cauliflower and tahini sauce and cook for 10 minutes more.  Taste and correct for salt.
  10. Serves 4 generously.  This is very good with roasted squash, rice, and pita or Uzbek bread.
Make ahead note:  If you want to make this dish in advance, it is a good idea to prepare the components separately. All can be prepared  a day or more in advance.  Combine veal, cauliflower and tahini when you reheat.

Variation with leftovers:  If you have some leftovers, you can try this variation.  Take 1/2 pound of cremini mushrooms, wash and slice.  (To wash mushrooms forget about washing them individually with a damp paper towel.  Just dump them in a bowl of water, swish them around, and when you take them out, dry them with the paper towel.  It is both faster and more effective than the other method.)  Saute the mushrooms on high until well browned in a nonstick skillet with a little olive oil.  Add the leftover stew, cover, and heat until warm.  The dish will have an entirely different character.  

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