Thai Beef Stew with Lemongrass and Rice Noodles

ImageI have a few things to say about this stew that aren’t necessarily related to each other, except for the fact that they’re all relevant to this stew. So I’m just going to list them, not really in any particular order, because lists are the only way to organize un-organizable things.

1. Lemongrass is both far more sturdy than I expected and way more fragrant when you have it at hand than in a smoothie or whatever else you can find it in. Seriously though. I was legitimately worried for the integrity of the blade of my knife while trying to slice the lemongrass. My arms got tired. My hand got a cramp. But the smell…..it smells sooooo gooooood.

2. Cooking rice noodles is really easy. Perfect for lazy people like me who still haven’t figured out how to be woken up by an alarm clock. All you have to do is put the rice noodles in a heat-proof bowl, boil some water, pour the water over the noodles, submerge them, and make sure they don’t get too mushy. The Kitchn has a really helpful tutorial.

Image3. The first step of this recipe calls for the use of a food processor. Something I don’t have. But I remembered the time I made pesto without a food processor, using this great recipe from 101 Cookbooks, where you stand at the counter with a knife for about 40 minutes, chopping and chopping until your wrist feels to weak to keep your hand attached to your arm, until finally what your chopping is almost as finely chopped as it would have been in a Cuisinart. So I figured I could do the same thing for this stew. Yes, it’s a pain, and time consuming, but put some music on and have a dance party and just think of all the stress you’re letting out with all that chopping!

4. I’m not sure this stew qualifies as a Valentine’s Day recipe, given the lack of pink/red/whipped cream/strawberries/chocolate/champagne, but if you’ve got some time and want to impress someone without garlic breath overload, this is the recipe for you.

I’m not going to lie, this recipe takes some work and some time. Though significantly less if you have a food processor and don’t do it the crazy way like I did. Here are the ingredients:

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First, the lemongrass. Chop off the a couple inches at the bottom and about 4 inches at the top. Then, peel away a few outer layers.

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Then we’ll chop it up with some garlic, ginger, and peppers. And process until we get a paste or something close enough to a paste.

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Next we’ll brown the meat. I only have a picture of the end result because of all the boiling, jumping-out-of-the-pan oil involved. (And I now realize those silver tongs are a little menacing.)

ImageNow, that pepper-lemongrass paste? We’re going to cook it with a cinnamon stick and a couple anise pods.

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Then we’ll add the beef and some water and let it simmer for a couple hours. Meanwhile, we toast some coconut to put on top.

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When the meat is tender, we’ll add in some carrots and shallots and let it cook a bit longer.

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You’ll know it’s done when the meat starts falling apart. Then you’ll add in some scallions and it’s done! Sprinkle some coconut flakes on top and serve with rice noodles and a lime wedge.

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This stew is perfectly spiced and the meat literally falls apart. The coconut and cinnamon add just a touch of sweetness, and the anise a little licorice-y flavor that’s just what the stew needs. It’s worth taking Friday afternoon off. Promise.

Thai Beef Stew with Lemongrass and Rice Noodles

Adapted slightly from Bon Appetit, February 2014, original recipe is also here

Serves 6 (and makes great leftovers)

4 lemongrass stalks, trimmed, tough outer layers removed, thinly sliced

4 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tablespoons chopped peeled ginger

2 red Thai chiles, with seeds, sliced (I couldn’t find any 😦 so I used serranos which are too tame for this stew, I think)

3 pounds boneless beef chuck, cut into 2-inch pieces

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 whole star anise pods

1 cinnamon stick

1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

4 medium shallots, quartered

1 pound carrots, peeled, cut into 2-inch lengths, halved if large

4 scallions, cut into 1-inch lengths

8 oz wide rice noodles (I could only find skinny ones, wide ones will have to sit a little longer in the hot water)

lime wedges for serving

Place the lemongrass, garlic, ginger, and chiles in a food processor and process until a fine paste forms.

Season the beef with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. In batches, brown the beef on all sides, about 10-15 minutes. (I used my cast iron pot for this recipe and did not leave the beef in there for that long – once the pan got hot the beef browned in about 30 seconds per side. And since it’s going to cook for 3+ hours there’s no need to worry about it being undercooked.) Transfer the browned meat to a bowl.

In the same pot, cook the lemongrass paste until the lemongrass begins to soften, 5-8 minutes. (How you’re supposed to tell when the lemongrass is softening when it’s a paste, I have no idea, but that’s what the recipe says.) Add the star anise, cinnamon, soy sauce, fish sauce, brown sugar, beef with any juices, and 10 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer partially covered for 2 1/2-3 hours, until beef is tender and the liquid slightly thickened. Skim occasionally.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 F. Toast the coconut flakes on a baking sheet until golden around the edges, about 4 minutes. If you can smell it, it’s done!

When the beef is fork-tender, add the shallots and carrots to the stew. Cook partially covered another 35-45 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and the beef is falling apart. (Mine took a little less time than that.) Add the scallions at the last minute; they will wilt slightly.

While the stew cooks for its last 10 or so minutes, cook the rice noodles according to package directions.

Divide the noodles between bowls and ladle the stew over them. Top with toasted coconut and more scallions and serve with lime wedges.

Can be made 3 days ahead without the noodles. Let cool, cover, and chill.

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