It was only when I finally moved to Cape Town to be with my partner that I realised I had, in fact, moved in with my own private flavourphobe.
From the very first meal I made us, it was abundantly clear that any thoughts I may have been harbouring about bringing about instant flavour-reform to his palette were a complete waste of time. His tastes preferences were set and I would simply have come to terms with the fact that there wasn’t going to be a belacan-epiphany or a glorious moment of garlic-redemption on the immediate horizon. Regardless how I felt about it, I had made my proverbial table so, for now at least, I was just going to have to eat at it.
For the first few months I dutifully made the plain dishes he enjoyed, but like all good spouses I was really doing what we do best – biding time. An errant garlic clove here, an extra splash of Worcestershire sauce there, little by little I tested the waters and after a while I began to introduce new dishes for his consideration. Some of these offerings were more successful than others, some were downright disasters, although with hindsight the roasted lamb with anchovies was particularly ill considered!
And then I discovered the recipe for this incredible stew.
On paper Idaho Stew fit the bill perfectly; it was a simple, old school beef braise with one small twist – it had coffee in it! It may seem minor now, but please remember that, culinarily speaking, South Africa was a very different place back in 2000. Back then the mere notion of sushi was downright provocative and the thought of cooking a savoury dish with coffee was considered, at best, daring to most South Africans (let alone my dearest flavourphobe)! So yes, back then this humble stew was a risk, but I had to try it, lest I be condemned to making sausage, peas and mash for the rest of my life.
So one night I bit the bullet and dished up my ‘daring’ new stew for dinner. With baited breath I watched as he eyed my latest offering with understandable suspicion. “What is it?”, he asked. “Oh, nothing weird, just a stew” I said, in what I hoped was my most casual voice. “Hmm, okay”, came the reply. Clearly he wasn’t convinced, perhaps the lingering trauma of that damn anchovy lamb was playing on his mind. In spite of his obvious suspicions he took a bite, albeit tentitively and after a moment of furrowed consideration he took another, then another – the stew was hit! It was only once his plate was cleared that I dared divulge the contentious ingredient.
“Coffee? Really? You can’t taste it”.
Wow, he was taking this surprisingly well.
“You can definitely make this again”.
Oh, sweet success!
“But next time may I have it with rice and not mash?”.
Sigh. Okay, so you’re still a freak, but I’ll take the win.
To this day Idaho Stew remains a firm favourite in his limited pantheon of acceptable meals and I still make it often, although he normally refers to it as “his coffee stew” suggesting a secret revelry in the kudos of his expanded palette. These days I usually have a couple of handy portions of this stew in the back of the freezer which I whip out for my partner when we have guests and the menu isn’t to his taste. Unfortunately, this seems to have given his much loved “coffee stew” a bad rep as one of “Brian’s meals”, which is, frankly, simply a byword for dull.
Nothing could be further from the truth! This rich stew is chock full of flavour and should appeal to the whole family…whether or not you dare to tell them that the secret ingredient is coffee is, of course, entirely up to you!
Idaho Stew (Beef Coffee Stew): Serves 6
- 4 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 4 large carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
- 1.5 kg beef shin, cubed
- 2 tbsp. flour
- 8ooml beef stock
- 1 cup black coffee (make it strong)
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 2 bay leaves
- 125g frozen peas
- Salt & Pepper to taste
- Place a large saucepan over a medium heat, add 2 tbsp. of the oil. Add the chopped onions and sliced carrots
- Sauté for about 10 minutes or until lightly browned
- Remove the vegetables from the saucepan with a slotted spoon and keep to one side
- Season the beef with salt and pepper
- Add another tbsp. of oil and then increase the heat. In batches, add the cubed beef and brown thoroughly. Make sure you don’t over crowd the pan as the meat will stew rather than brown
- Once all the meat has been browned, return all of the cubes to the saucepan along with the onions and carrots
- Add the last tbsp. of oil as well as the flour. Cook for at least a minute, stirring constantly
- Combine the stock, coffee, oregano and bay leaves in a jug
- Gradually add the stock mixture to the saucepan, stirring thoroughly between each addition of the stock
- Once all the stock has been added, bring the stew to a boil and then reduce the heat to a steady simmer. Cover the saucepan and leave to simmer gently for 1.5 hours or until the meat is tender
- Add the peas and simmer for another 10 minutes
- Remove the bay leaves and check for seasoning
Note: this stew is always better if it is afforded the chance to chill in the fridge overnight.