A Wintery Daube Provençale

Now that winter’s truly arrived in Provence we all enjoy warmer and richer food than we do most of the year round.  Contrary to popular belief it gets incredibly cold here (though not for very long) and a delicious warm stew makes everyone in the family happy. This one is a Provence Classic, but has some extra yum factor thanks to the chestnuts and chunky lardons.  All you need to make this a success is a bit of time, because a good stew simply wants to cook for a good old while.

To serve 4 you need:

  • 1kg of braising steak or a big chunk of chuck steak
  • 1 packet of lardons (chunky bits of bacon)
  • 5 shallots
  • 1 tin of chestnuts (dry if possible), or a small packet of frozen
  • 200 grams polenta
  • a couple of spoonfuls of double cream or mascarpone
  • a couple of glugs of red wine
  • a tiny piece of very dark chocolate (optional)

I prefer to cook the beef whole, but if you got in in chunks that’s no problem.  Get a big pot and fry the lardons in a tiny bit of oil.  Add the meat and brown it on all sides.  Follow with the peeled shallots and 1/2 the tin of chestnuts (a handful if frozen) and roast gently.  Add a couple of generous glugs of a reasonably good red to deglaze the pan and fill up with water to cover all the meat.  Put on a very gentle heat on the stove, or place it in the oven at 120 degrees Celsius.  Leave it there while stirring occasionally for a minimum of 3 hours, possibly more if you cooked the beef whole.  The beef should be very tender and virtually falling apart.

Put the heat up on the stove and leave the lid off to allow the sauce to reduce and thicken.  The chestnuts should have dissolved and simply integrated itself into the unctuous sauce.  I add a tiny piece of very dark chocolate to it all to give it some extra flavour and colour, but this is optional.  The sauce is ready when its reduced to about 1/2 of it’s original size and is nice, glossy and thick.  You can add the remaining chestnuts at this stage for some more textured bits. If you used a big chunk of beef this is a good time to cut it into bite size or slightly bigger chunks.

While the sauce is reducing you can start making the polenta which is best served really fresh.  Bring 400ml of water to the boil and salt generously.  Add the polenta and stir until it has become a creamy purée. Add a generous glug of olive oil and two tablespoons of butter, as well as a bit of double cream or mascarpone for an extra creamy texture.  Check that it is a good consistency and if need be you can add some more hot water- it should be soft to the bite, but not too runny.  Also verify the seasoning as polenta is a spice and salt muncher par excellence.

Put a nice dollop of the polenta on a plate and add some chunky bits of beef and lardons as well as plenty of the delicious chestnut sauce.  You won’t have a disappointed face in the house, promise!

As for wine this will be lovely with a voluptuous Red, like a good Rhône or a creamy and rich white and one of my favourites, a Mâcon Villages Blanc. Our gastronomic wine Etoile is also a good match.

Bon appétit and happy Christmas preparations to you all xx!

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