Beef Daube is three days in the making

Classic French stew prepared with wine features intensely flavorful, fall-off-the-bone meat

March 01, 2006|By SANDRA PINCKNEY | SANDRA PINCKNEY,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The first time I tasted Beef Daube, I was shooting a segment on French foods for Food Finds, the show I host on the Food Network.

The daube (pronounced dobe) arrived frozen from a California gourmet market. There was no time for gentle defrosting. The production assistant simply scraped some into a bowl and zapped it in the microwave for me to eat on camera.

Even under these crude conditions, I could tell this was no ordinary beef stew. The taste was amazing - the flavors more intense, the meat more tender.

No wonder. Boeuf en Daube - as it is known in Provence, where it was perfected - is made by braising beef and vegetables in an entire bottle of red wine.

It takes three days to prepare: one for marinating to infuse the meat with flavor; one for cooking; and one, or more if you can hold out, to allow the daube to rest.

One bite, and you will find the flavors of this classic worth every minute.

Provencal cuisine is almost always prepared with tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and fresh herbs - all of which are found in daube. Traditions for preparing it vary from one village to another, one family to another. Some versions are made with red wine, some with white. Vegetables vary as well, from carrots to artichokes to celery. Some recipes call for olives.

Braising tenderizes the meat and brings out the flavors. The slow, moist heat turns tough cuts of meat like shank, chuck and short ribs fall-off-the-bone tender, with lots of flavorful gravy.

A pot with a tight-fitting lid is essential for braising. To make daube, you can use a regular Dutch oven or one of several new braisers on the market.

Le Creuset has an enameled self-basting oven called a Doufeu pot, with a well in the lid for ice to help condense the cooking liquid in the braise. All-Clad offers a braiser pan with a sloped lid. Staub's La Cocotte (which means French oven) has spikes underneath the lid to ensure continuous natural basting. Lodge cookware makes an already seasoned cast-iron Dutch oven.

In France, this beloved dish still is prepared in a potbellied casserole called a daubiere, from which daube gets its name. It can be made of earthenware, stoneware or copper. If you want to give the daubieres a try, you can find them online at frenchgardening.com.

In the days of wood fires, the meat, wine and spices were put in the daubiere and the lid was sealed with a paste made of flour and water. The pot was placed on the hearth, covered with coals and allowed to cook slowly for most of the day.

You could avoid the work of making a daube by ordering one online (juliennetogo.com is one source). But I wanted to reproduce the taste of my first daube experience at home. To do so, I spent a lot of time looking through recipes. I ended up combining several, using one I found in a 1999 issue of Bon Appetit as the base.

I learned that time and patience are essential qualities for preparing homemade daube. It's not a dish you can throw together after work.

Most of the effort comes before you start cooking - in the "mise en place," which means "setting in place" in French. Ingredients are washed, chopped, measured and placed in individual bowls.

Choose a good piece of lean meat. Beef chuck or beef round both work well, as do boneless short ribs. Beef shank is short on meat, but the marrow and bone add great flavor, as does browning beef in the fat rendered from salt pork.

Make sure you brown the meat over medium-high heat. You want it to brown quickly, but not cook. The dark-brown coating that will develop on the bottom of the pan is gold - as long as it doesn't burn. The browned bits add richness to the gravy.

Choosing the right wine can make or break this dish. Make it a young, full-bodied wine you would enjoy drinking.

Another flavor enhancer is the bouquet garni, French for bundle of herbs. If you are mixing both fresh and dry herbs, as in the daube recipe, place them in a bag made of a square piece of cheesecloth and tie it with a piece of kitchen twine.

Once you put the meat, vegetables, wine and herbs in the braising pot, the magic begins. Molly Stevens, author of the award-winning book All About Braising, explains it this way: "As the liquid around the beef begins to simmer, it vaporizes into steam that swirls around the pot and begins to cook the beef and vegetables. As the beef and vegetables heat through, they release flavorful juices that combine with the wine."

The dish is traditionally served over broad egg noodles or polenta, but mashed potatoes also could work.

Set the table with the colors of the region - yellows, blues and ocher. Think Van Gogh or Gauguin. Set the mood with candles and music, and let this be a feast for all of your senses as you enjoy French comfort food at its best.

Sandra Pinckney writes regularly about food for UniSun, an African-American lifestyle section of The Sun.

Beef Daube

Serves 4 to 6

2 pounds boneless beef chuck or boneless short ribs

2 onions, minced (divided use)

3 carrots, cut into 1/2 -inch pieces (divided use)

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