A Provençal Daube
Turns out that, traditionally, a daube is prepared with the meat of a bull recently killed in a battle to the death. I didn’t know that until a little while ago, otherwise I might have sought out some bull beef shank. However, I wouldn’t say that I settled, necessarily, because I used this incredible stew beef from Piedmontese. If you click through the link, you will clearly see that these Myostatin breed cows mean business. Clearly, beef is not beef is beef. It’s an art, a science–it’s an attitude!
I love doing a good braise, and there is absolutely nothing more satisfying than your apartment (or house, ya’ bastards!) slowly giving way to the intensely rich aroma of a slow cooked stew. It’s a perfect way to spend a cold, dreary day because it warms your home in so many ways. That’s why I could not delay in making this recipe for A Provençal Daube from The River Cottage Meat Book, not that we host dreary days here in the Pacific Northwest, or anything.
(click on this picture for measurements, quantities, and preparations)
The above picture shows all of the ingredients that go into the Daube: beef, bacon, pork rind, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, peeled tomatoes, bay leaves, thyme, minced orange peel, white wine, beef stock or water, and salt & pepper–all relatively pedestrian ingredients, with perhaps the exception of the pork rind. You could definitely find all of these ingredients in any supermarket, but I encourage you to seek out and buy from a good quality butcher, selling sustainable, and clean products if you are able to. One of the reasons to buy better quality beef is because of a stage in the harvesting process known as hanging. I never even considered this when buying meat until I started reading this book. Hanging is important because it allows the beef to release a good deal of it’s water content; essentially it dries it out a bit. However, perhaps the more important aspect of hanging is the promotion of certain enzymes that act to relax and tenderize the meat. You’ve probably seen the stickers on the more expensive beef at the supermarket that advertises it as being ‘Dry-Aged’—that’s what this is. It used to be par for the course, but has been more-or-less eliminated by industrialized beef. The process is simple enough, you hang the carcass in a cool, climate-controlled environment for a month or two, but the only thing it really requires is also the problem it presents to those producers: it takes time, and these guys are interested in getting it onto the market, and making way for the next wave of cattle. Instead, they charge a premium for something that should be par for the course. All of this is probably less pressing when it comes to a braise, but it is never-the less critical in that it is the correct way to prepare the meat. To me, making the product the best that it can be is an honorable tribute to the animal.
One of the things that blew my mind about this recipe was the inclusion of pork rind a.k.a pig skin, however, it seems to be a key ingredient in this type of dish; it’s right there in Juia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon, after all. You can see it frying up there in the picture to the left. Looks real good there, don’t it? Frying up in the pan, all greezy and what-not. I’m at the stove trying to brown these little squares of pig skin up, you know, and when I would try and flip ’em, they would *pop* back up out the pan, and land on where they started. The damn things were incorrigible! There is more commentary to come on the pork rind, but, in the meantime, let’s say a word for Bacon. If you’re like me, than you like bacon with just about everything. The bacon I used is made by Neuske’s, a company that specializes in Applewood-Smoking. This is a consistently delicious bacon that I buy regularly, and highly recommend it. In the case of the daube, it imparted a delicate smokiness to the over-all flavor profile, which was actually an unexpected, though welcome, surprise.
Once you have all of your ingredients together and a large casserole or dutch oven handy, this is indeed where the cooking begins. . . with a handful of pig-skin squares. Pre-heat the oven to 250º, and I recommend having a good-sized splatter screen to hide behind. Take those bad-boys and start to frying them in two tablespoons of olive oil in a pan large enough to spread ’em out, so that there’s not any over-lapping or crowding. If yours are like mine, they’ll be jumping and bouncing all around the pan in a debaucherous pork dance. Remove them from the pan to the dutch oven before they crisp up too much. Next up, leaving the fat from the pork rind, take the bacon pieces and carefully add them to the pan, and fry them up till they’re a nice golden brown. The bacon should be a bit more tame than the rind. Once it’s finished, remove the bacon to the dutch oven as well.
Next up is the beef. We are leaving the fat in the pan for this stage, also. If you think it’s necessary, pat the beef dry with a paper towel before adding it to the pan in order to remove any excess moisture. Three pounds is a lot of beef, so it is of the utmost importance to brown it in batches. If you throw it all in at once, it will drastically reduce the temperature of the oil and the pan, and will not fry up well at all. The goal here is to put a beautiful dark brown crust all around the meat, or most of it anyway. So, lay the pieces of meat in the pan with a good amount breathing room between each of them. Once the pan is full, up the heat, until they’re really sizzling, flipping the pieces once they’re nice and brown, and lower the heat a bit as well. Do this in batches until all the meat is browned, removing it to the dutch oven as you go.
Once all of the meat is cooked, all of the work of the dish is basically finished, all that is left is to de-glaze the frying pan, and add all the rest of the ingredients to the pot. Turn the heat up on the pan, with all that fat and grease in there and everything (this is the porkroids part), and add about a quarter of the wine. Scrap up all the little bits and pieces, and once you think you’ve got them all add the rest of the wine, and bring to a boil, reducing it just a touch. In the meantime, add all of the other vegetables and herbs to dutch oven. Once the wine is ready, pour it into the pot. Then, heat up the beef stock, or water, in the same manner, and then pour that into the pot also. The liquid should come to about 3/4″ above the ingredients. If not, than add a little more stock or water. All that remains is to put a lid on it, and put in the pre-heated oven, and let all go to work for 3 to 4 hours.
Let me tell you, this dish was amazing! Gabrielle and I managed to allow it to ‘rest’ overnight, indulging in just the smallest taste, before devouring at least half the pot the following evening. The rest is optional, but it’s universally believed that allowing a braised stew such as this one to rest overnight allows the meat to settle down from the cooking, and to re-absorb the juices to the point of saturation. I always let it rest, but it certainly isn’t necessary. However, if you do, allow it to re-heat very slowly, and bring just to a gentle simmer. We enjoyed this with some pappardelle pasta, and a crust french bread, perfect for sopping up all of the tasty juices! Some type of potato would be a good choice, too. The beef was beyond tender, it simply crumbled under the knife in a rich avalanche of lusciousness. The large pieces of braised bacon were a revelation. They remained whole, intact, and unbelievable tender. And then the sauce. . . it was just perfect. Down the road, I would definitely make this dish again, but with one caveat. Next time, I would prepare it with the pork rind in big pieces, rather than the small squares, so that I could remove it and discard after it was finished. They just became too soggy, and I just didn’t care for it, personally. Gabrielle, on the other hand, thought it was fine. Finally, I came too far to front. I prepared some fresh vegetables for the picture below. It was the third re-heating, and the other ones were spent, color-wise. I needed that fresh, vibrant look, and few more veggies wasn’t a bad deal either!
Resources: Beef from Piedmontese and pork rind purchased at Laurelhurst Market; Neuske’s Applewood-smoked bacon and San Marzano tomatoes from Pastaworks; carrots, onion, celery, orange and garlic from Limbo; Napa River Sauvignon Blanc and pappardelle from Trader Joes
Link to Recipe only blog: Catastrophysicist Cooks