A flavor that will take you home even if you are not Puerto Rican
This easy, no-fuss Puerto Rican-inspired beef stew is one of my favorite recipes. It has everything and it is flexible enough to transform into something completely different, more on that later.
There is something about beef stews or stews in general that in my humble opinion, is as close to perfection as we get. In one bowl we hold all the components to an amazing meal. You can pour it over rice, potatoes, even pasta, but it can also be eaten just by itself with a nice chunk of crusty bread. A nice, slow-cooked stew on a cold evening or a rainy afternoon that inspires the warmth of home.
You might ask, "But Zoe, isn't Puerto Rico a tropical island? What are you doing making stews?" Yes, Puerto Rico is a tropical island, but the mountains still get a nice chilly air in the evenings. Especially in the fall and winter months. It is not super cold, only in the 60s, which you might think is not cold at all, but remember when your body is used to 100-degree weather, 60 is quite chilly, and this Puerto Rican style beef stew hits the spot.
The Meats and . . .
This stew is built on layers. To begin, take the cubed beef and season it with salt and pepper. Seasoning as the cooking process develops for any recipe ensures that the final product will have flavor throughout. Allow the meat to rest for at least 10 to 20 minutes. While the salt and pepper permeate the meat, dice the bacon and begin to crisp on the stockpot.
Do not let the bacon burn. Cook the bacon to a fine crisp and remove it from the pot and set it aside, we will reuse them later on. Add the seasoned beef cubes, and quickly brown them. Do not add them all at once, for this creates a buildup of water and it will steam the meat, which will keep the meat from browning. Browning the meat will enhance the beef flavor. Once all the meat is brown remove it from the pot and set it aside. Add onions, peppers, and celery to the pot. Saute vegetables until translucent.
Add meat, bacon, and tomato paste. Saute all ingredients for a few seconds to marinate all the flavors together. Pour in the wine and with a wooden spoon, gently scrape all the brown bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pot. This process is called deglazing the pot/pan. As you cook each item they are leaving their flavor behind and introducing it to the next item. Adding all the ingredients together just before stewing seals all these flavors together. Making every bite burst with tones of the other ingredients
. . . Potatoes
Potatoes and corn on the cob are the starches of this dish. Which means they are going to soak up all the juices. This is why we season as we go. Add the beef stock, potatoes, corn on the cob, and ham bone. The smoked ham bone will add smokiness to the stew as well as some saltiness. Keep this in mind as you taste the stew throughout the cooking process. Allow for the potatoes and corn to do their magic sponge soaking of flavor thing and we will taste at the end of the cooking process.
Allow the stew to cook for about an hour at moderate to low heat. We want a playful bubbling, not a rapid vigorous boil. Check the stew every 10 to 15 minutes. We are looking for a few things:
Fat buildup. If you see that there is some fat accumulating towards the walls of the pot, take a soup spoon and press the spoon against the wall of the pot gently start removing the excess fat.
Look for liquid absorption. If you see that the liquid is being soaked up by the potatoes faster than expected. Add more beef stock. Why beef stock and not water? Simple, what does water taste like? Exactly. Always look for ways to add or to continue a flavor. Too much water could make a dish come out washed out and dull. As for the liquid, We are looking for a thicker consistency. Thick enough that could stand on its own or will give a generous covering to anything that it is poured on. Then again, the original version of this stew is actually two recipes in one. With added extra amounts of stock and noodles, this recipe can turn into a nice soup.
The potatoes and the corn. They should take about 15 minutes to start showing signs of doneness. Still, poke the potatoes with a fork. We want the fork to go in smoothly and be released quickly. For the corn on the cob, when poked with the fork, it squirts out juices when ready. Once we get to this point we should be close to the end of the cooking process and we can add the olives and the green peas. Let cook for another five minutes. Turn off and remove from the burner.
What I like about this recipe is that could be done early in the day and enjoyed later that evening. Put all the ingredients in a slow cooker before you leave for work and come home to dinner already made. There is something about stews that makes them very substantial and homelike. Stews and soups are like culinary blankets that warm you from the inside out. Pour any stew over delicious White Rice and they are a complete meal or eat them with a nice piece of crusty bread.
This is one of the recipes that a food meditation could be done with. As you eat it explore the flavors that burst with every bite. Look for how many flavors come forward. Take your time and savor your hard work. Truly enjoy the experience and slow down the moment. Food is nourishment for the body and we should dedicate time to truly enjoy it. I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I enjoy making it!
Keep the fire burning . . .
Easy, No-fuss Puerto Rican Inspired Beef Stew
- Two strips of bacon small diced
- Two pounds beef trimmed and cubed
- Two ounces lean cured ham washed and diced
- One can of diced tomatoes. I prefer the fire-roasted diced tomatoes with garlic
- One green pepper seeded and chopped
- One cubanelle pepper seeded and chopped.
- One onion peeled and chopped
- Three fresh culantro leaves chopped. Use cilantro if culantro is not available
- ¼ cup of red wine
- Two tablespoons tomato paste
- ¾ pounds potatoes peeled and quartered, or fingerling/baby potatoes
- ¾ pound pumpkin peeled and cubed
- One fresh corn on the cob shucked and broken into three pieces
- One small cured ham bone washed
- 1 ¾ quarts beef stock about 7 cups, use water if stock is not available
- One cup of frozen green peas
- 15 to 20 olives optional
- Season beef cubes with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and cumin.
- In a large stockpot cook bacon pieces until crisp but not burnt. Add cubed beef and brown. Do not fully cook meat, just quickly sear until it gets a nice brown color. About 10~15 minutes.
- Once browned, add onion, both peppers, canned tomatoes, and cilantro. Quickly saute to start to render the vegetable flavors. About 5 minutes
- Add red wine and deglaze the bottom of the pot. Allow the wine to reduce a bit while scrapping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon.
- Add beef stock/water, along with potatoes, pumpkin, and corn.
- Cover and boil over low to low-moderate heat for about an hour. we are looking for a gentle simmer
- From time to time, check the pot and look for any oil floating to the top. With a soup spoon gently scoop as much excess oil as needed.
- On the last 5 to 10 minutes of cooking, add frozen green peas and olives
- If stew reduces faster than potatoes are cooked, add more stock/water, one cup at a time.
- I prefer to sear the meat to seal in the juices in the meat and expand the flavor to the veggies before It begins to stew, but this recipe could easily be moved to an Instant Pot or slow cooker. I would reduce the liquid to by maybe a quarter or a half, as the liquid will accumulate as it stews. If using an Instant Pot or Slow Cooker, place all ingredients in the pot before starting pot or cooker.
- If you want to spice this recipe replace the cubanelle pepper with jalapeno or any other firey pepper you enjoy.