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Eric Akis: Beef stew has a robust, Spanish flavour

Tender, stewed cubes of beef are given a Spanish flavour with olive oil, onions, peppers, garlic, smoked paprika, oregano and olives.
Hearty, richly seasoned, Spanish-style beef stew is rich with tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, olives and garlic. ERIC AKIS

If you enjoy beef stew, but fancy one with a more robust, southern European flavour, try my Spanish-style version of the dish.

Its preparation, like many beef stews, begins by searing cubes of beef in hot oil until richly coloured. The beef could be cubes of store-bought stewing beef, or blade, chuck, round or sirloin tip steaks that you can cube at home.

It being a Spanish-style stew, I, of course, used olive oil to sear the meat. Before doing that, I patted the cubes of beef dry with paper towel, as any excess moisture on the meat would cause it to steam, rather than sear, when set in the hot oil. And when you do sear the meat, do so in batches, ensuring each piece of beef has some room around it. If you overcrowd the meat in the pot, moisture seeping from inside the meat won’t have room to evaporate and it, again, will steam, rather than sear.

Once the meat is seared and out of the cooking pot, you make what’s called sofrito for the stew in that pot. Sofrito is a cooked-down vegetable base, made with such things as onions, peppers, garlic and tomatoes, that’s used in a variety of Spanish dishes, providing them with a backbone of flavour. Later in the cooking process, I also added oregano, smoked paprika and pepper flakes to the sofrito, further enhancing it.

To finish my stew, I added some red wine and beef broth, along with some potatoes, carrots and sliced green olives. The seared cubes of beef were returned to the pot, the stew was brought to a simmer, covered and then cooked in the oven until the meat was very tender.

To serve the stew, I spooned it into shallow serving bowls, sprinkled it with chopped parsley, and enjoyed it with some slices of crusty bread. Any leftover stew will taste great reheated in the next day or two. It could also be frozen, to thaw and enjoy at another time.

Spanish-style Beef Stew

Tender, stewed cubes of beef flavoured Spanish-style, with such things as olive oil, onions, peppers, garlic, smoked paprika, oregano and olives.

Preparation time: 35 minutes

Cooking time: About two hours

Makes: Four servings

1 2/3 pounds (about 750 grams) store-bought cubed stewing beef, or blade, chuck, sirloin tip or round steaks, cut into 1 1/2- inch cubes

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 medium green bell pepper, halved, seeded and diced

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp smoked paprika

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

3 Tbsp all-purpose flour

2 Tbsp tomato paste

1 cup red wine (see Eric’s options)

2 cups beef broth, plus more if needed

1 (14 ounce/398 mL) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes (see Note 1)

10 small (about 2 1/2-inch round) red-skinned or white-skinned potatoes, unpeeled, each quartered (Note 2)

1 large carrot, halved lengthwise and then cut, widthwise, into 1/2-inch thick slices

2 bay leaves

12 large, pitted green olives, sliced

• chopped fresh parsley, to taste (optional)

Pat the pieces of beef dry with paper towel, and then season with salt and pepper. Place the oil in a Dutch oven or other ovenproof pot set over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, cook the pieces of beef, in batches, until nicely seared on all sides. Remove the seared pieces of beef from the pot as you go along and set them on a plate.

When all the beef is seared, preheat oven to 325 F. Add the onion and bell pepper to the pot you seared the beef in and cook and stir four to five minutes. Add the garlic, oregano, paprika and pepper flakes and cook and stir one to two minutes more. Now mix in the flour and tomato paste and cook another one minute.

Slowly stir in the wine. When the mixture is very thick, slowly stir in the two cups of beef broth. Add the seared cubes of beef, diced tomatoes, potatoes, carrot, bay leaves and olives and stir to combine. Bring the stew to a simmer, and then cover and cook in the oven 90 minutes, or until the beef is very tender. Add a bit more beef broth to the stew, if you find it too thick. Taste the stew and season with salt and pepper, if needed. If desired, sprinkle servings of the stew with chopped parsley

Note 1: Fire-roasted diced tomatoes, which add a slightly smoky, rich tomato flavour to the stew, are sold in the canned tomato product aisle of most grocery stores. If you can’t find them, use regular, diced, canned tomatoes, instead.

Note 2: It’s important to use red- or white-skinned potatoes in the stew. That’s because these waxy-types of potatoes, unlike starchy russet potatoes, will hold their shape well, even after being cooked for 90 minutes in the stew.

Eric’s options: If can’t have or don’t wish to use wine, simply replace it with 1 cup more beef broth.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.