Even though our San Diego winters are nothing like those we experienced while living in New York City, they are nonetheless chillier and darker than our only other season “spring-summer-fall” and we find ourselves gravitating to hibernal fare like braises and stews. So with the arrival of daylight-saving time this weekend, I thought we’d have our last hurrah for winter cooking: a long braise of beef with loads of onions, anchovies, and green olives along with tomatoes and a full bottle of red wine.
The recipe, simply titled “Anchovy Beef,” comes from a cookbook by Canadian chef Laura Calder’s 2003 French Food at Home. Calder had a relatively brief run on America’s “Cooking Channel,” but I always admired her unaffected and lighthearted approach to French cuisine. Although this recipe may be one of the book’s most time consuming (almost an hour’s worth of prep), it’s relatively easy—especially with the help of a food processor to slice a load of onions.
The recipe did, however, present some challenges, especially when it came to the onions. I took its “6 medium onions, sliced” to mean “6 8-to-10-ounce onions, sliced ¼” thick, about 6 cups” and its 25-minute cooking time for the onions to reach the called for “very soft and melting” stage was way too brief. Since the recipe didn’t provide a heat setting, I chose medium low, and it took my onions almost 45 minutes to become meltingly soft. I also thought that Calder’s description of layering the ingredients in the casserole could have been a little clearer. My only other difficulty was finding good tomatoes, so, I substituted a 28-ounce can of San Marzano pelati for the recipe’s “2 pounds tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped.”
One final note about the recipe. It called for a full 750-ml bottle of “strong dry red wine.” While this may lead some to choose a high-alcohol California Cabernet or Zinfandel, I opted for a Côtes du Rhône with a 13.5% alcohol level, which I thought would be more traditional and appropriate.
Despite my problems with it, however, the recipe did yield an impressively delicious dish, with un-muddled beef flavors supported by the umami from the two tins of anchovies and the salinity from the cup of pitted olives. As recommended, I served the dish with mashed potatoes which served as the perfect accompaniment for the sauce.
Anchovy Beef (adapted from French Food at Home by Laura Calder)
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 medium onions, sliced (about 6 cups)
4 ounces anchovies in oil, drained, patted dry, and cut into pieces
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 large bunch parsley, chopped
A handful of fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 28-ounce can imported Italian whole plum tomatoes, crushed
1 cup green olives, rinsed and pitted
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds stewing beef, cut into chunks ½-inch thick
1 750-ml bottle strong dry red wine (I suggest a Réserve Côtes du Rhône.)
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
2. Heat the oil in a large ovenproof casserole and cook the onions on medium-low heat until very soft and melting, about 40 to 45 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, mix together the anchovies, garlic, parsley, and thyme. Set aside.
4. When the onions are soft, mix together with the tomatoes and the olives in a bowl and season with salt and pepper.
5. Now layer the ingredients in the casserole as follows: Start with one-fourth of the onion mixture. Season with salt and pepper before layering on one-third of the meat and sprinkling one-third of the parsley mixture over it. Season well with salt and pepper between the layers.
6. Continue making layers, ending with onion mixture.
7. Pour in the wine along the edges of the casserole.
8. Cover and braise in the oven until you can crush the meat between your fingers, about 3 hours.
9. Serve on heated plated with mashed potatoes (remembering, of course, that kept and reheated the next day, this is twice as good).
Wine Pairing: Côtes du Rhône, Cabernet Sauvignon