This is the first weekend in almost a month that I had the opportunity to spend some time cooking. Even so, I had only a very small window in which to make something.
Of course with temperatures dipping into the 60’s during the night (what passes for cold in southern California) my mind turned to stew. Having satisfied my mushroom obsession, my mind moved to something different. Something earthy.
And with blueberry season almost at an end, I knew exactly what I wanted to make.
Now I know that blueberries are not the first thing that most people think of when stew is on the menu. But a little over a year ago, I came across a most unusual, Native American recipe that put the two together in an irresistible combination of sweet tart and meaty.
The blueberries melt into the stock producing the most delectable, mahogany colored broth and a fragrance the fills the house with the scents of fall.
Even my brother who was highly resistant to the idea of eating blueberries and beef together was unable to keep away from the cooking pot, dipping hunks bread into the intensely flavored pot liquor.
His example was shortly followed by my mother until I was forced to shoo both of them away with my extra-large wooden spoon.
The stew was just as rich and satisfying as I had remembered my first attempt, though I admit that it was far better with buffalo than it was with straight beef. Where as the beef held it shape even as it became tender, the buffalo shredded gently, absorbing the liquid into itself. The buffalo virtually melted in your mouth fusing with the other flavors rather than leaving a distinct flavor of its own.
Still, even with beef, it amazes me how so few ingredients produce something so decadent. It is the kind of stew that makes you want to lick the bowl. To sop up every last drop with a good crusty bread.
Or if you are really lucky and have been especially blessed, some fresh baked lavash that was brought to you still warm. And as I had the good fortune of having such delectable bread and even more delectable stew, I could not imagine eating it any other way than to spoon it directly into the bread so that it soaked up ever last bit of the heavenly stew. Even so, it was nearly impossible for me to resist pinching off large pieces of the fresh bread and scrapping my bowl clean.
And even though it is hard to mess with perfection, I am incapable of leaving well enough lone. I think it’s a disease. This time, in keeping with my sherry experimentation, I added a scant three tablespoons of Amontillado and a dash of cayenne pepper. Both welcome warming addition. Next time I might experiment with lamb or goat in this stew as I believe the flavor will hold up well against the blueberries, the gaminess playing off against the fruit.
Either way it is the kind of recipe that is well worth repeating.
1 ½ - 2 pounds buffalo, beef, or lamb stew meat
1 cup blueberries
4 cups chicken or beef stock
2 tablespoons canola oil (or bacon drippings)
1 ½ tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons dry sherry (optional)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut the meat into one inch chunks and season lightly with salt and pepper.
Heat a large Dutch oven or stew pot. Drizzle in oil or bacon dripping to coat the bottom. Working in batches, brown the meat well on all sides. Add oil as necessary. Do not over crowd the pan. Remove browned meat to a clean dish and cover.
Once all the meat is browned, return it all to the pan with any juices that have accumulated on the plate. Add stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and skim off any froth that has collected on the surface until the broth is clear. Add the blueberries, honey, sherry, and cayenne pepper and bring back to a boil.
Simmer for 2 hours or until the meat is very tender and the broth has reduced. Stir occasionally. This helps to break up the blueberries and incorporate them into the liquid. By the end of the cooking time the blueberries should be completely incorporated.
Serve with crusty bread and salad.