My neighbors are taking care of one of their aged mothers. I went to speak with the wife and when she came to the door it was obvious that she as was exhausted. She was in clear need of a mitzvah.
Caretakers are the silent and usually forgotten heroes when there is a sick family member. The sick person is often so “out of it” that they are just kind of existing—I would apparently stare at a blank wall for hours without moving—while the caretakers suffer through every second. Who takes care of the caretakers?
Note: When I was going through chemo, 15 years ago, the doctors did not believe in “chemo brain.” At that time, the doctors thought it was impossible for the large molecules of heavy metals to get through the blood-brain barrier. My personal belief—from experience—is that the metal molecules get into the synapses between the neurons and short circuit their communication. As I sat there—staring at the wall—I was living in sensory memory—with the metals preventing anything from entering the short or long term memory. I was literally in a state of “being there.” The last time I saw my oncologist, “chemo brain” had apparently become an obvious fact.
My wife and I have come to the conclusion that, when someone in our sphere is in the position of being a caretaker, that it must be us to care for the caretaker—as a gift to God. When you are caretaking you often do not have any remaining strength to cook. A few pre-packaged, one dish, frozen meals may support them through another few days. When I approached the husband with the suggestion, he thought that they would enjoy a beef stew.
To boost the umami of this meaty dish, I decided to add soy sauce, tomato paste, and Worcestershire sauce. In small amounts these will subtly boost the flavor of the dish without making it taste like any of those ingredients. Browning the meat would also increase the beefy flavor. To make it a sustaining one dish meal, I decided to add lots of vegetables.
Karl’s Mitzvah Beef Stew
3½ lb. beef chuck roast
3-4 small oxtail joints
1 Tbs. light soy sauce
2 tsp. Kosher salt, separate uses
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely diced
4 stalks celery, separate uses
2-3 medium carrots, separate uses
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. tomato paste
32 oz. low sodium chicken broth
½ tsp. black pepper, separate uses
2 lb. new potatoes
1 cup petite peas, frozen
5+ Tbs. butter, softened
5+ tablespoons flour
1. Cut the chuck roast into 1-inch chunks, removing any large pieces of fat.
2. Score the silver skin that covers the oxtails.
3. Finely dice one of the onions and chop the other into large pieces.
Tip: Keep the finely and coarsely chopped vegetables separate and reserve for later.
4. Finely dice two stalks of the celery and chop the other two into large pieces.
5. Grate one of the carrots and chop the other two into large pieces.
6. Sprinkle the beef chunks lightly with the salt and soy sauce.
7. Toss the meat to distribute the seasoning and set it aside.
8. Add the oil to a large Dutch oven and brown the meat on all sides.
Tip: You may need to do this in 2-3 batches.
9. Remove the meat to a plate and sauté the diced onions with one teaspoon of salt until they are starting to brown, about five minutes.
Tip: The salt helps release the onion’s moisture and speeds up the browning process.
10. Add the diced celery and grated carrots to the pot and continue sautéing until the vegetables are soft, about another five minutes.
Tip: You want these vegetables to break down into the sauce, rather than to have big chunks of vegetables with beef.
11. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pot and sauté the garlic and tomato paste until the garlic is fragrant and the tomato paste has darkened, about 1-2 minutes.
12. Stir in the ruby port, thyme, bay leaves, Worcestershire sauce, and beef broth.
Tip: Scrape any fond free that is still stuck to the bottom of the pot.
13. Add the beef chunks and toss to coat the meat.
14. Bring the pot to a boil, cover, and transfer the Dutch oven to a 350º F oven.
15. Braise the meat for 3-4 hours.
Tip: Gently stir the pot every half hour—to bring the submerged pieces of meat up out of the sauce, so they can brown more.
Note: During the last hour of braising you may remove the pot lid. By now about half of the liquid will have steamed away, further exposing the meat chunks. The dry heat of the oven will brown any exposed surfaces of the beef. Keep an eye on the meat while you are doing this, you want browned not burned.
16. Add the chicken broth to the pot, but so not stir it in.
Tip: Cooks Illustrated has found that, if you use all beef broth your stew will taste sour. If you use have beef and half chicken broth it mellows out the flavor.
17. Add the chopped onions, celery, carrots, potatoes, and black pepper to the pot.
Tip: At this point the meat will be fall apart tender. Remove the oxtail bones—the meat should fall right off—and gently fold the ingredients into the beef.
Note: The baby potatoes are small enough that you do not need to cut them.
18. Cover the pot again and continues baking for 30 minutes, until the potatoes are almost tender.
Tip: After 20 minutes poke one of the potato chunks with the tip of a knife, the blade should get just a tiny bit of resistance in the middle of the potato.
Note: I used a very lean cut of beef and removed most of the visible fat. As a result I decided not to de-fat my stew, because fat equals flavor. There was little enough fat floating on top of the stew that I was not concerned about Jan’s dietary needs.
19. While the stew is finishing, mix the softened butter and flour together into a paste.
Tip: Make an estimate of how many cups of sauce are in the pot. Use one tablespoon of both butter and flour for each cup of sauce.
Note: This paste is called a beurre manié.
20. Add the frozen peas and gently stir the flour paste into the sauce, over low heat.
21. Continue cooking until the gravy has thickened, about 2-3 minutes.
22. Serve warm.
Note: In this case, I spooned the stew into four 2-3 serving containers—with the intention that they would eat one the first night and freeze the rest for latter meals.