Sunday, March 30, 2014

Aunt Marja's Maastrichts Zuurvelees (serves 5-6)


This is my first Dutch recipe for this blog.  A few years ago my husband and I visited relatives in the Netherlands.  His lovely aunt, Marja made us this unforgettable and delicious beef stew, known as Maastrichts zuurvelees on our last day.  I must say it was the best meal that I have ever had in Holland.  I remember the stew had a very flavorful thick gravy.  I could not pick out all the subtle flavors that day.  Recently she shared with me her recipe and I believe the key ingredients to her stew are apple syrup and gingerbread, to which she said give "a nostalgic old Dutch touch".  I also find incorporating the gingerbread helps this stew with not only the unique flavor but to thicken it.  I admit her stew was much better than mine!  Thank you Aunt Marja for a memorable dinner and your recipe!!

After making the stew and giving it a taste there is a hint of the Vietnamese beef stew called bo kho.  Although, this stew appears to have slightly more complex flavors than bo kho.  I especially like the thicker sauce.  

I made this special stew for my father-in-law's 80th birthday.  He left the Netherlands, his family, and friends when he was a young man to study and work in United States.  He rarely travels much these days and I hope this stew will transport him back to the Holland he left so many decades ago, even if it's just for one small meal.  Happy birthday to one extraordinary man whom my husband and I highly admire and adore!! 

Eet smakelijk as he would say!

Ingredients:

3-lbs beef, cut into 1 to 1 1/2-inch cubes
About 1/2 C all-purpose flour (for dredging beef cubes), optional
Oil for browning meat
1 onion, peeled, chopped (about a cupful)
10-oz water
3 carrots, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces 
2 beef bouillon cubes
3 bay leaves
5 whole cloves
1/2 tsp dried or 2-3 fresh sprigs of thyme
1/4 to 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper (depending on your taste)
32-oz low-sodium, low-fat beef broth
2 Tbsps smooth mustard
2-3 slices of gingerbread (depending on how large the size of your slice)
3 Tbsps apple syrup
1/4 tsp salt (or according to taste), optional

Method:

1) Dredge the cubed meat in flour.
2) Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large pan over medium high heat, once the pan is hot brown the meat. May use more oil as you continue to brown the rest of the meat.  May turn heat slightly lower if pan gets too hot.  Set browned meat aside in a large pot (use one that you will use later to cook the stew).
3) Add onion to the pan and sauté until the onion is translucent.  Place onion in the pot.
4) Add water to the pan and gently scrape up the brown residue stuck to the bottom of pan.  Once the residue has been lifted off the bottom, add this liquid to the pot.
5) Place carrots, bouillon cubes, bay leaves, cloves, thyme, black pepper, and broth to the pot.
5) Spread the mustard on the gingerbread slices and put them on top of the meat.  Drizzle the apple syrup on top.
6) Turn the heat to medium high.  Once the liquid comes to a boil, turn heat to low, cover the pot and cook for 2 hours or until the meat is tender.  Stir and scrap up the bottom about every 20 minutes during this step.
7) After about 2 hours of cooking, increase the heat slightly, uncover the pot and let the liquid cooks off for about 15 minutes.  This will reduce the gravy to a slightly thicker consistency.
8) Add salt if desired.


*You may use a bag, bowl or plate to dredge a little meat at a time.  However, it is not necessary to dredge the meat with flour.  The flour helps thicken the sauce slightly.  You may brown the plain meat as Aunt Marja does with her stew.  Browning the meat helps keep the moisture in the meat and also prevent each piece of meat from disintegrated into bits at the end of cooking.
*When browning the meat, place enough meat just to cover the surface of the pan; avoid overcrowding.  Once browned I place them in a large pot that I will use for stewing the meat later.  After all the meat is browned.  I use the same pan and sauté the onion.  I then add water to the pan to help lift the thick brown residue that stuck to the bottom of the pan--that has a lot of flavor so don't discard this!  Once all the residue is removed from the bottom I pour this into the pot.
*You can use any oil or butter to brown the meat.  I used olive oil since I have this available and it's healthier for consumption. 
*You may use any large pot you have available at home.  I like my cast iron pot.  I have a large one that I use regularly.  I find that my food cooks faster and it's more energy efficient.  If you use other types of pots the stew may take longer.  Aunt Marja said it normally cooks roughly 2.5 to 3 hours to get the meat tender.
*It's better to make your own beef broth from scratch.  However, if you don't have any on hand or the time, you can use store bought broth.  I prefer to use one that is low in sodium and fat; this way I can control the amount of salt that goes into in my food.  If you don't have beef broth you can also use water.  However, you may add a few more beef bouillon cubes if you are using water.
*You may purchase apple syrup in a market (if it's available for sale).  Aunt Marja mentioned you may substitute with pear syrup.  If you cannot find these items you may make some on your own.  See Home-made Apple Syrup or Aunt Marja's Appelstroop for the recipe. She also specifically said to use smooth mustard for this stew.   I had some honey mustard in my refrigerator so I used this.
*Use any gingerbread available or make one using your favorite recipe.  If you need a gingerbread recipe check out kingauthurflour.com.  This website has a very good gingerbread recipe.  In fact I used it for this stew!  I made the gingerbread a few weeks ago.  I saved a few slices, wrapped well in plastic and kept them in the freezer to be used in this stew.  It turned out well. 
*You may remove and discard the bay leaves, cloves, and thyme stems prior to serving.
*You can serve this stew with pretty much anything you want.  I like this stew over noodles with extra vegetables on the side or simply by itself with toasted baguette or crusty bread.

Maastricht, Holland
home-made gingerbread
home-made apple syrup

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