During the later parts of pregnancy, my wife has had a thing for beef. Being the spectacular husband that I am, I happily catered to this craving. I kept getting stuck on stewy/braise kind of dishes, so in looking for something new and interesting to try, I came across something that fed my stew craze while bringing something new and interesting to the party. In this case, this beef stew (called a “seco”) has Ecuadorian/South American roots, flavored in a big way with tamarind.
My initial concern was that this would just greatly resemble chili and be nothing super exciting (and don’t me wrong–I am nuts about chili…its just not what I was aiming for this go around). Not so. This was very distinct and simply awesome. I am a lover of all beef stews, and this one really stood out for me. Why? The tamarind! I love the stuff–it has this sweet/sour/citrusy taste that’s very distinct and it really held its own in this dish (which is saying something in any heavy beef stew if you ask me). It brought a great sour tanginess and a surprising bit of complexity that played nicely off of the beer (I used a hoppy ESB rather than my usual go-to of Guinness). The spice, the heat, the sweet, and the myriad of flavors all really combined in a nice way in this rather full bodied dish and I definitely do it again. Also worth mentioning (in case you haven’t had much in the way of South American cuisine), I’d consider comparing it to Indian curries, not in flavor, but as far as consistency and how you’d eat this dish: surround the meat with rice so you can sop every last bit of that incredible sauce.
- 7 oz (~1 cup) tamarind pulp
- 1 cup water
- 5 strips bacon
- ~3 lb chuck roast
- 1 tbs ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground allspice
- 1/2 tsp ground coriander
- 1/2 tbs ground annato
- 3 shallots
- 3 red bell peppers
- 2 habanero peppers
- 3 large tomatoes
- 8 garlic cloves
- big handful of cilantro
- 12 oz (1 bottle) beer
- 1 Tbsp chili powder (to taste)
- 1 Tbsp brown sugar
The first step is to prepare your tamarind for use. Yes, you can buy pre-made tamarind paste/concentrate, but trust me, its not at all similar to buying the real deal and making the paste yourself. I bought a block of smushed up tamarind. To prepare this, you simply boil a cup of water in a saucepan and then add the somewhat broken up block of tamarind. Drop the heat to as low as it can go, cover the pot, and let this steep for 20 minutes, stirring once or twice just to ensure all of the tamarind gets wet. Once time is up, pick out the seeds, and then do your best to strain out every last drop of that delicious liquid, discarding the solids. This can be a messy task. I like to use a ricer for this.
Once you’re done with the tamarind, throw this in the food processor along with the tomatoes and beer. Make a puree and set this aside for now.
Now, in a dutch oven (or some other large pot), cook the bacon. Once cooked all the way through, remove the bacon and set aside, leaving the grease in the pan. Cube the beef (roughly 1 inch cubes) and season with ground cumin, ground allspice, ground annato (this is more for color than anything), salt, and pepper. Brown the meat for roughly 2-3 minutes per side, working in batches to avoid crowding (and therefore steaming rather than browning) the meat. Set the meat aside.
While that goes, finely mince the shallot, peppers, and garlic. Sauté the shallot and peppers for roughly 10 minutes in the grease that remains (if things are too dry, add a bit of oil) and then add the garlic for a minute further. Deglaze the pan with the tamarind/beer/tomato puree from earlier.
Raise the heat and get this mixture to a boil. Throw in half of the cilantro now along with the chili powder and brown sugar. If you want a smoother stew (like me–not liquid, just a smaller chunk factor), now is a good time to pulse this mixture in a blender/food processor.
Then, return the browned meat and cooked bacon to the pan. Give things a stir, cover the pot, and let this simmer in a 350 °F oven for roughly 2.5 hours or until the beef is tender. If, towards the later part of the simmering time, you think the stew isn’t thick enough, uncover and let it continue to simmer for at least a half hour.
With the stew cooked through, skim the fat off of the surface as best you can. Mix in the remaining half of the cilantro, give things a good stir, and serve. I had this with a side of rice, fried plantains (yum!), and avocado. Oh, and a nice beer–but that goes without saying, right? Enjoy!