Especially during the colder months, I always love a great stew. And it's not hard to understand why.
Just imagine the ultra-tender, succulent, bite-sized pieces of meat, poultry, or seafood, all swimming in flavorful liquid. Every spoonful offers soul-satisfying pleasure. The aromas alone that fill the kitchen as a stew slowly cooks make my mouth water with happy anticipation.
But let's be honest. Achieving an ideal stew usually takes time, something most of us lack in the busy rush of our lives not only on weekdays but often weekends as well. Who can take several hours out of the day to cook stew?
My answer is that anyone and everyone can make stew quickly and easily -- if they have a pressure cooker.
Now, don't let those last two words make you anxious. The rumbling, hissing, scary-looking pressure cookers our parents and grandparents used are things of the past. Today's pressure cookers are safe, quiet, easy, and foolproof. (Though you still should carefully read and follow the instructions that come with yours for the best, safest results.)
Use a pressure cooker and you can have a delicious main course like my Moroccan Lamb Stew ready to serve in just about an hour, start to finish. (That doesn't include leaving the lamb in the refrigerator for several hours to marinate in its spice coating, an optional step that will deepen the already excellent flavor.)
Why do I feature lamb in this recipe? Mild, sweet, and just slightly gamey, it's an ideal meat for robust cold-weather eating. Boneless lamb shoulder, used in this recipe, is relatively inexpensive and widely available in markets, often already cut into chunks for stewing. You could also use lamb shanks. Or substitute a good stewing cut of pork or beef if you prefer.
Speaking of substitutions, you can easily transform the nationality of the recipe itself. Replace the cumin with chili powder and the dried fruit with drained canned hominy, for example, and you have a Mexican stew. Or leave out the cumin, add more garlic and some oregano, and substitute pitted black olives and sun-dried tomatoes for the fruit and the stew becomes Italian.
You can even change how you cook it. If you don't want to use a pressure cooker, prepare the stew in a Dutch oven, cooking it in a 325 degrees F. oven until the lamb is tender, 1-1/2 to 2 hours, adding the dried fruit for the last 30 minutes or so. Or use a slow cooker, cooking the stew for about 4 hours on the high-heat setting or 8 hours on the low-heat setting.
Any way you make it, I promise you the results will be exactly what you want to eat for an autumn-into-winter dinner you'll love.
MOROCCAN LAMB STEW
Serves 4 to 6
2 pounds boned and trimmed lamb shoulder, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 teaspoons ground cumin
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large organic carrot, peeled and diced
1 organic celery stalk, diced
2 large garlic cloves, sliced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 cup dry red wine
2 cups organic chicken broth or beef broth
6 ounces peeled, seeded, and chopped tomatoes
1/4 pound pitted prunes
1/4 pound dried apricots
1/2 cup blanched almonds, lightly toasted
Steamed rice or couscous, for serving
Put the lamb in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon pepper, and the thyme. Toss the lamb and knead in the spices. If time allows, transfer the meat to a resealable plastic food storage bag and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
In a large, heavy skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over high heat. Working in batches to avoid crowding, brown the lamb on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes per batch. As the lamb is browned, transfer it to a pressure cooker.
Pour off all fat from the skillet and add the remaining oil. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onion, carrot, celery, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and saute until the onion is tender and has colored slightly, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon and scraping the skillet to deglaze the pan deposits. Add the garlic, remaining cumin, and the rosemary, and stir for 1 minute; then, add the tomato and continue to cook until the tomato has given up a lot of its juices of begins to stick to the skillet, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the wine, raise the heat, and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom and sides of the skillet to deglaze the pan deposits. Pour and scrape the contents of the skillet into the pressure cooker. Add the broth, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
Secure the pressure cooker lid, set the cooker to "Meat" or an equivalent setting (see the manufacturer's instruction book), and bring the pressure to high. When high pressure has been reached, set a timer for 22 minutes.
When the cooking time is up, turn off the heat and let the pressure return to normal on its own, without using the quick-release valve. When the pressure has returned to normal, use the quick-release valve to make sure all the pressure has been released; then, carefully remove the lid. The lamb should be fork tender. If it is not, bring back to pressure for 5 minutes, turn off the pressure cooker, let the pressure return to normal, and proceed with the recipe.
Transfer the meat to the skillet or a casserole. Using a hand blender, puree the sauce. Scrape into the skillet or casserole holding the meat. Add the prunes and apricots and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer gently until the dried fruit is soft, about 15 minutes. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings. Sprinkle with almonds and serve with rice or couscous.
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