Food: No searing leads to flavorful dish, less hassle

Kate Lawson
The Detroit News

I have long been a fan of Christopher Kimball’s successful ventures: His first, Cook’s magazine, founded in 1980 was a necessary reference for a young cook like myself looking to improve my skills in the kitchen. Then in 1993, Kimball launched Cook’s Illustrated and I collected each and every issue, filing the splatted and dog-eared ones by date in neat rows in my office. And while I often tired of Kimball’s home-spun homilies all neatly wrapped up with his signature bow-tie presented with every issue, what I learned from these publications can never be matched by any cooking class.

His other venture, Cook’s Country, it too published under the Kimball-founded America’s Test Kitchen, didn’t hold the same appeal for me, but when I learned of his departure from the wildly successful enterprise (including cookbooks, his newspaper column and TV show) , I wondered what would be next and how could it ever match what he had accomplished in the past 36 years.

Then my charter issue of Milk Street appeared in the mail and suddenly my cooking juices got flowing again. Named for the company’s address in downtown Boston, Milk Street has 32 pages of no advertising and plenty of recipes and techniques that I couldn’t wait to try. It was Cook’s Illustrated revived, updated and bolder.

So far, I’ve prepared Pinchos Morunos (a Spanish tapas of spice-crusted pork tenderloin bites), perfected the absolute best scrambled eggs (cooked in extra-virgin olive oil, creating creamier, fluffier and more tender eggs), discovered a fool-proof pie crust (at last!) and learned that carbon steel pans can beat any nonstick skillet at half the cost (which I used to scramble the eggs, and wow, what a difference).

But the very best discovery was that I could create a tender, flavorful beef or lamb stew and skip the annoying first step of searing the meat. How many times have I dreaded the first 15 minutes of hassle and splattering grease before a stew could become that unctous, flavorful dish.

The reason for browning is clear. With a process called the Maillard reaction, when you introduce meat to high heat, the proteins and carbohydrates interact to produce literally hundreds of new, distinct flavor compounds. When you then add liquid to the pot, these tasty compounds are diffused throughout the dish. There’s no argument there.

But Kimball wanted to skip the Maillard step, and instead took inspiration from a classic Middle Eastern dish, which combines aromatic vegetables with lamb or beef, a mixture of warm spices, a head of garlic, carrots, chickpeas and spinach to create a layered stew with less, time, trouble and much less mess.

I had a boneless chuck roast in the freezer just waiting for inspiration and here it was. Admittedly, I was skeptical but Kimball has never let me down. So, with no fuss nor splattering grease, I whipped up the best stew I’ve had since my mother’s boeuf bourguignnone (she would have so appreciated this recipe).

And, because I had saved some time, I was able to whip up some wonderfully light Parmesan popovers for sopping up all the fabulous juices. Next time company comes calling, this what they’ll be served.

Kate Lawson is a retired Detroit News food writer. You can reach her

No-Sear Beef or Lamb and Chickpea Stew

Recipe from Milk Street magazine.

1 tablespoon sweet paprika

2 tablespoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

/ teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons kosher salt

/ teaspoon ground black pepper

1 / pounds boneless lamb shoulder roast or boneless beef roast, trimmed of fat and cut into 3/4 inch pieces

1 head garlic

2 tablespoons butter

1 large yellow onion

2 tablespoons tomato paste

6 cups water

/ pound carrots, halved and cut crosswise into 1/2 inch pieces

15 / -ounces canned chickpeas, drained

3 cups baby spinach

1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped (can use flat-leaf parsley)

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Whole milk yogurt or sour cream to serve (optional)

In a bowl, stir together the paprika, cumin, cardamon, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Reserve half of the spice mixture, then toss the lamb or beef with the remaining spice mixture until well coated. Cut off and discard the top third of the garlic head, leaving the coves intact.

In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, until softened and just beginning to brown around the edges, 5 to 8 minutes.

Add the tomato paste and the reserved spice mixture, then cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add the water and bring to a boil over high heat, then add the lamb or beef and the garlic head, cut side down. Cover, leaving the lid slightly ajar, and reduce heat to low.

Simmer for 1 hour, adjusting the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle bubble. Add the carrots and continue to simmer, partially covered, for another 30 minutes.

Using tongs, remove the garlic head and squeeze over the stew to release the cloves. Stir in the chickpeas and the spinach and cook until the spinach is wilted, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the cilantro and lemon juice, then adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Top with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt and sprinkle with chopped cilantro if desired. Serves 4.

Per serving: 472 calories; 19 g fat (8 g saturated fat; 36 percent calories from fat); 36 g carbohydrates; 8 g sugar; 129 mg cholesterol; 1,602 mg sodium; 43 g protein; 9 g fiber.