Beef stew was, sadly at the time, a staple of our childhood. My mom would buy stewing beef and my dad, clearly unaware of the benefits of cooking such cuts low and slow, would brown the meat, add tomatoes and potatoes and green things and serve it up for dinner – and it was a long, meaty chew.
Nowadays, I appreciate the flavour potential of inexpensive cuts of beef – and I love a good dark, sticky braise. A recipe that calls for a few hours’ cooking time sounds daunting, but dishes like beef stew and carbonnade can be slid into the oven after school and be done by dinnertime.
Of course, starting with the proper cut of beef is important, which is why so many people panic in the meat aisle, why Mike dreads me sending him to the store with vague cuts of beef on his list, and why having a good butcher is a very good thing. But when there isn’t someone behind the counter at the ready to answer any question you might have about what cut of meat is best for what, there’s an app for that. Of course there is! Everyone should have their own personal butcher in their back pocket. I was asked to take The Roundup for a spin, and so I sent Mike to the store with it to do some hands-on testing on a real-life stressed-out guy with minimal meat knowledge. He came home without that concerned scowl on his face, with a bonus pot roast and a request to cook it later.
The fact that apps are so compact and interactive makes them handy real-time resources. For those not so much in the know, The Roundup was created by Canadian Beef; it’s a well-designed, definitive guide to cuts of beef and how to cook them, with videos for those of us (all of us?) who find cooking very visual, interactive meat charts, recipes, nutritional info, and even the tenderness rule of thumb: the farther a cut is from the hoof, horn or hip, the more tender the meat.
But tenderness isn’t always the goal: the more inexpensive cuts tend to have more flavour once stewed, braised or otherwise slow-cooked, which allows the tough connective tissues break down to the point where the meat can generally be pulled apart with a fork or fingers.
Case in point: this super simple barbacoa beef – it’s far from authentic barbecue, but also the sort of throw-into-the-pot-and-walk-away dinner that I kind of love. Browning the meat quickly in a hot pan first adds a layer of flavour – then all you need to do is turn on the slow cooker. (It will work just as well in the oven – at about 300F for 2 1/2-3 hours.)
It’s also perfect for making large batches of – it takes exactly the same amount of time and effort to make twice or three times as much, which is ideal if you’re having a party or want leftovers to keep in the fridge or freeze for another day. And if you really want to doll them up, try filling crunchy corn taco shells and topping with salsa verde, chopped avocado, minced white onion and lots of cilantro.
Slow Cooker Barbacoa Beef Bites
You’ll need less liquid in the slow cooker than in a covered pot in the oven – the juice of two oranges (which was what I had) worked for me in the slow cooker. Adapted from The Roundup – the app guide to buying and cooking Canadian beef.
canola oil, for cooking
1 lb. simmering steak, such as blade, cross rib, or stewing beef
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2-3/4 cup orange juice
3 Tbsp. ketchup
3 Tbsp. soy sauce
1-2 Tbsp. grated ginger
1-2 garlic cloves, crushed
pinch dried red chilis
1 tsp. cornstarch (optional – I didn’t need it)
Set a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and when it’s hot, add the beef, sprinkling it with salt and pepper in the pan. Turn to brown on all sides – you just want to get some colour – then transfer to a braising dish or slow cooker.
Pour the orange juice into the pan and stir to scrape up any browned bits – pour over the meat. Add the ketchup, soy sauce, ginger, garlic and chili, stir to combine, cover and braise in the oven at 300F for 2 1/2-3 hours, or cook on low in the slow cooker for 6-8 hours.
If it’s too saucy and you’d like to thicken it up, stir the cornstarch into 1 Tbsp. cold water, add to the meat mixture and bring to a simmer until it thickens. Otherwise serve it as-is, with flour or corn tortillas, chopped purple or green onion, and fresh cilantro for serving.
If you go to serve your barbacoa and don’t have a package of tortillas in the freezer like you thought you did, it’s actually simpler than it sounds to make a quick batch of your own. (No need for special cornflour or a tortilla press.) These quick, plain flour tortillas are made from a super simple dough, rolled and cooked in a hot pan. That’s it. Being able to serve them warm is a total bonus.
Homemade Flour Tortillas
3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup warm water
1/3 cup canola oil
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the water and canola oil and stir until you have a soft dough. Cover and let it rest for half an hour.
Pinch off pieces of dough the size of a small egg and roll out on the countertop (don’t flour it – you need it to stick slightly to get it to roll out nice and thin) to 5 inches or so, then cook in a hot pan until deep golden in spots. Serve immediately.
Makes about a dozen flour tortillas.
* This post was sponsored by the fine beefy folks at Canadian Beef – but I was happy to take the app for a spin, and I’m always up for cooking some good local beef.