- 3 pounds trimmed boneles stewing beef, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon crushed black peppercorns
- 2 fresh thyme sprigs or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 3 cups thinly sliced onions
- 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced carrots
- Several peeled and smashed large garlic cloves
- 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil or vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 4 chopped fresh Italian plum tomatoes
- 2 imported bay leaves
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 cup strong beef stock or broth, plus more
- Young red wine, such as Chianti or Zinfandel
- All-pourpose flour
- Toss the cut meat in an enameled or stainless casserole with 1 tablespoon salt blended with 1 teaspoon crushed black peppercorns and 2 fresh thyme sprigs or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme. Add 3 cups of thinly sliced onions, 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced carrots, several peeled and smashed large garlic cloves and 1/4 cup olive oil or vegetable oil. Toss thoroughly, then toss again with 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- Dry the beef chunks in paper towels. In a medium frying pan, cook the marinade vegetables and any accumulated liquid over moderate heat until the onions are translucent.
- Meanwhile, set a large heavy frying pan over moderately high heat and add 1 tablespoon oil. Add the beef in batches and cook until the chunks are well browned all over. Return the meat to the casserole and strew the cooked marinade vegetables on top, along with 4 chopped fresh Italian plum tomatoes and 2 imported bay leaves.
- Discard the fat from the pan in which the meat was browned. Deglaze the pan by pouring in 1/4 cup of water and simmering it for a moment. With a wooden spoon, scrape all the flavorful brown bits from the bottom of the pan into the liquid and pour over the beef. At this point, pour in 1 cup of strong beef stock or broth and enough good young red wine to almost submerge the ingredients. Cover and refrigerate the stew overnight; the wine marinade will only improve the flavor.
- Bring the stew to a simmer on top of the stove, then set it, covered, in a 300° oven so that it barely bubbles. You can stop the cooking at any point and continue the following day. It will take about 2 1/2 hours for the meat to become fork-tender; take an occasional small bite to be sure. Let the stew cool, then cover it and refrigerate overnight.
- Using a spoon, skim all the solidified fat from the surface. Reheat the stew, then strain the hot cooking liquid into a large nonreactive saucepan, pressing on the cooking vegetables, which will have disintegrated considerably by this point. Taste the sauce very carefully for strength and seasoning, and boil down rapidly if it seems weak; you should have about 2 1/2 cups.
- If the sauce seems too liquid, thicken it with a slurry: for each cup of sauce, you'll need 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour blended in a bowl with 1 1/2 tablespoons cold beef stock. Whisk dribbles of hot sauce into the slurry, then whisk the slurry mixture into the sauce. Simmer for several minutes, then pour the hot sauce over the warm stew and simmer for several minutes before serving.
You can keep the stew warm in its covered casserole on a hot plate for about half an hour. If dinnertime is still some hours away, let the stew cool, then press a piece of plastic wrap over its surface and put it in the refrigerator. Rewarm it slowly.
Choose flavorful cuts, such as chuck and round, that benefit from long, slow, moist cooking and won't fall apart.
Don't try to rush when you're browning meat for a stew. It's a very important step that will take at least 10 to 15 minutes to do right. Make sure you dry the meat thoroughly on paper towels before browning it, and don't crowd the pan. Damp meat won't brown, nor will pieces that are too close together in the pan.