Wednesday 4 September 2013

Braised beef in tomato sauce

With the night-time temperatures back down in single figures again, it's time to start thinking about some more substantial food than the salads of Summertime!

At present I have huge quantities of tomatoes available, so I decided to make an enhanced version of a dish that I have successfully produced several times before. My culinary repertoire is not (yet) extensive, but I consider myself to be fairly competent with the long slow-cooked techniques, where timing is not critical. Braised beef is an old favourite - I remember liking it when my Grandma made it, back in the 1960s!

Using my normal method I cook the beef for about three hours, in a gravy made from beef stock, onions, garlic and thyme, but on this occasion I added a generous quantity of home-made tomato sauce (about 50% of the liquid), which I had made the previous day. The important thing is to use lots of liquid, so that the meat is submerged and doesn't get the chance to dry out.

Normally I would serve this dish with boiled or mashed potatoes, but this time I decided to do soft polenta. But not just any old polenta:  following what I have learned from my culinary hero Yotam Ottolenghi, I added to the polenta a mix of fried onions, mushrooms and thyme, cooked in advance and stirred into the polenta at the last minute. It certainly makes a rather ordinary ingredient into something quite special.

Onions, mushrooms and thyme, frying

When I first started cooking polenta I had big difficulty in stopping it going lumpy, but these days I have no such problems because I make the polenta into a sloppy paste with some cold water before adding it to a pan of boiling water. It comes out lump-free every time.

The polenta mix before cooking
With a garden (and fridge) full of beans at this minute, it would have been wrong not to serve some with this meal. I chose a mixture of green Runner Beans and golden "Meraviglia di Venezia" ones.

To finish the dish I made another type of tomato sauce. This one was made from lightly-cooked shallots, chopped, skinned fresh tomatoes, and a splash of Balsamic vinegar, simmered gently and briefly - a combination aimed at bringing to the plate a fresh look, a different texture and a slight touch of sharpness. You can see it here, at the top of the photo (completely covering the meat - as was intended, though it wouldn't earn me any credit as a food-stylist!)

Well, now that you've seen the finished dish, let me give you the recipe:

Ingredients: (serves 2)
Approx 300g stewing beef (e.g. Shin) - left in large pieces
One large onion, peeled and sliced
500ml beef stock
500ml home-made tomato sauce (bottled passata would be fine)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
3 large sprigs of fresh thyme
Salt and pepper to taste

Brown the meat briefly in some hot oil, and remove from pan
Soften the onions in the oil and meat juices remaining from the browning
Return the meat to the pan, putting it on top of the onions in a single layer
Add garlic, thyme and seasoning
Add tomato sauce and sufficient stock to amply cover the meat
Cover the pan, and place in a medium-heat oven (about 160C) 
Cook for approx two and a half hours, adding more stock if required (don't let the meat dry out)
About 30 mins before serving time, remove the pan lid to allow the gravy to reduce a bit
Serve - with plenty of the dark, unctuous, flavoursome gravy spooned on top, and accompanied by your choice of vegetables etc.
Enjoy! (Best done with the addition of a bottle of good red wine...)


  1. Mmmm, looks delicious. I'm not giving in to autumn quite yet though, I've still got my grasp firmly on summer.

  2. Looks like a wonderful meal!

  3. You need some of those little rings Mark, Having said that for me it is taste always rather than prettiness

  4. Such a pretty and tasty looking Autumn dish, Mark.

  5. Looks delicious! A great way to use your tomatoes! It reminds me of a dish that used to be popular over here called swiss steak (although why it was called swiss is beyond me!)

  6. I just love this kind of's so warming ;D
    I made a Lancashire Hotpot last night too. It's definitely casserole season ahead.
    We'll be lighting the Aga soon which will be wonderful. I can't wait!
    Enjoy your Autumn produce :D


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