Hello from Melbourne Australia
I could really use some help with my stews. I only have a stovetop, no oven, and I adore hearty stews that last for a few days. To try and avoid tough meat I have developed a technique whereby I tend to brown the meat first, put it to one side, then cook the vegetables etc in stock and reduce it all down before returning the meat to the pot, once the stew has gone off the boil.
This works really well for a number of dishes (particularly curries and stir-fries) where you can return the meat just before serving. However, I've found that no matter how 'gently' I heat the stew, any amount of time the meat spends in the hot stew seems to toughen it terribly.
I currently have a pot of 'roo stew' (kangaroo is much like a very lean, prime beef fillet) that I had high hopes for. I cut the meat into largish (1" - 2") cubes, browned it very quickly in a very hot pan and put it to one side. At this stage it was delicious (but very rare of course). After cooking the rest of the stew and turning the heat right down, I added the meat, and stirred it regularly over a very slow flame in the hope the meat would go tender and juicy like a slow pot roast or similar - but after about an hour it has gone tough, dry and tasteless.
So I have a couple of questions for any 'stew gurus':
1. Is it all down to the cut of meat? ie, do I need to buy the really cheap, tough 'braising' cuts or is it possible to make a good stew from fillet? (I had always been led to believe that any meat should turn out beautifully if it is cooked slow enough). I seem to get the same problem with beef and lamb, so I don't think it's just a peculiarity of kangaroo, but again I tend to use something like rump or fillet cuts.
2. Is it a problem with being 'bottom heated' over gas? Should I buy an electric slow cooker to get those beautiful, juicy meat stews?
3. Does the lid on or off make a difference to how the meat turns out? Often I will leave the lid off, in the belief that this will help stop the stew overheating (and toughening the meat) and also that it will help the stew to reduce;
4. Finally, is there anything I can do to 'fix' my stew now that the meat is tough? It contains some red wine so I've added a bit more and also a splash of balsamic vinegar, in the hope that the acid might help to break down the meat fibres a bit, but it isn't really working. The stew tastes delicious, by the way, just the meat itself is tough and has that 'dry-meat' taste, a bit like badly cooked liver. I don't know whether further slow-cooking will make it better or worse. I'm almost tempted to pick out all the meat and put it through a mincer or blender to break it up - what do you think?
All suggestions welcome - and sorry for the scroller