Friday, February 28, 2014

2-for-1 Crock Pot Recipes for Cuban Beef Stew

Cuban beef & potato stew
I grew up enjoying this kind of stew, called Carne con Papas in Spanish, lovingly cooked by my Cuban mother on the stove. I've adapted her traditional recipe to come up with a version for the crock pot or slow cooker. My crock pot Cuban beef stew has become one of my husband's favorite cold-weather suppers, and it's also received glowing praise (and requests for seconds & leftovers) from friends who have joined us for dinner.

I hope you and your family will give this a try, as well as the variation which uses Calabaza (West Indian pumpkin, similar to hubbard squash) and hot peppers for a slightly spicier but not too hot stew.  You can make the calabaza version without the hot peppers & spices if you prefer, using bell pepper and ground black pepper as in the original recipe.

I'm currently mulling over yet another variation for this recipe, using smoked paprika and a little bit of chipotle powder or chipotle paste, or possibly some dried chilies in place of the regular paprika and fresh peppers. If you try your hand at a version of this beef stew with those smoky ingredients, please do leave a comment below to let us know how it turned out.

4 large potatoes, cut into 2" chunks (I prefer unpeeled but you can peel)
2 1/2 to 3 lbs beef stew meat*
2 Tbs olive oil (preferably Spanish olive oil)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large bell pepper, finely chopped
6 large garlic cloves, minced
2 large (or 3 small) dried bay leaves
1 Tbs paprika
2 tsp Kosher or sea salt
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 cup dry sherry**
1 cup water or beef stock
1/3 cup Spanish capers packed in brine, drained
Generous 1/4 cup chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup frozen peas (no need to thaw), plus a little more (thawed) for garnish

Carne con papas
*I've also used venison, with just as good results. The meat should be cut into approx. 1" to 1 1/2" cubes. To save time, I usually don't brown the meat before adding to the crock pot, but you can certainly do so in the same pan you sauteed the vegetables.

**Please don't use "cooking sherry." If it's not good enough to drink, you shouldn't cook with it. You'll get much better flavor in recipes if you use even a low-end dry sherry instead of the swill that's passed off as "cooking sherry."

Heat the olive oil & bay leaves in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, peppers & garlic and saute until softened. While that's cooking, you can chop the potatoes and place in crock pot, followed by the stew meat unless you're going to brown the meat first. If you're going to brown the meat, add to saucepan as soon as the vegetables have softened and quickly brown the meat on all sides (you may want to raise the heat to medium high for a quick sear).

Add meat and sauteed vegetables to crock pot, followed by the paprika, salt, ground pepper, tomatoes, sherry and water or stock. Gently stir if needed, then turn crock pot to High and cook until meat & potatoes are tender, about 5 to 6 hours, stirring only once or twice at most (I generally wait until the stew has cooked on High for at least 3 hours before stirring). When you have about 30 minutes to an hour of cooking time left, stir in the capers, parsley and peas (except the portions reserved for garnishing), then cover and continue to cook until done. Note: You can also cook this on Low simply by doubling the cooking time but still adding the final 3 ingredients towards the very end. Serve in bowls and top with a little chopped parsley and a sprinkling of peas. Makes about 8 hearty servings, and tastes even better when reheated the next day (store leftovers in refrigerator). This stew also freezes well.

Carne con calabaza
Spicier Variation with Calabaza (Caribbean/West Indian pumpkin):
Substitute an equal amount of peeled & cubed Calabaza or Hubbard squash for the potatoes
Substitute 2 Cubanelle peppers & 1 Poblano pepper for the bell pepper
Substitute hot paprika for the mild paprika
Substitute cayenne powder for the black pepper

Using calabaza or Hubbard squash instead of potatoes adds a subtle, mellow sweetness to the stew, and the deep orange hue of the squash adds appealing color. Follow the same cooking instructions as for the original recipe above. Makes the same amount of stew, and also freezes well.

Zestfully yours,
Carolina Sauce Company

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