At this point it's no secret that George R.R. Martin's epic "A Song of Ice and Fire" series has succeeded "The Lord of the Rings" as the fantasy property du jure and, akin to the latter title, a host of 'companion' products have cropped up in the wake of the former's surging popularity. To be sure, the crossover of the saga from tome-like books to HBO series is both accredited with and to blame for the legions of new fans and the significant alterations made to the source material in order to win/keep said fan base (whether or not this is the price we, as nerds and consumers, pay to see our favorite stories and characters realized outside their original medium will probably be fodder for a future post). While I'll admit that I contribute to that stereotype of nerds-as-nitpicking-fanboys/girls, I know I'm not alone when I say that the show has gone off the proverbial rails and has arguably entered into the pantheon of nerdy shows/movies that bear resemblance to, but are fundamentally divorced from, their source material.
Given that context, it's especially refreshing to see 'companion' products that cleave to the original text and the upcoming book A Feast of Ice and Fire holds itself to the highest possible standards of accuracy. An amalgam of medieval manuscripts and the luscious, often mouth-watering descriptions of food in the books, A Feast of Ice and Fire aims to bring the Westeros dining experience to your kitchen, minus the bloodshed. You can check out the blog of the authors, which documents the painstaking efforts taken to make the cookbook as authentic as possible (and won the blessing of Martin himself).
While I'll definitely try several of the recipes featured in A Feast of Ice and Fire, I also wanted to share my own attempt at re-creating some of the food featured in the source books. This meal is more time-consuming than difficult and at least half of the cook time is inactive (just waiting around while the stew simmers). It's simple, hearty food that will warm you to the core, regardless of the approach of Winter.
Availability of Ingredients: Common
Feeds: 2-4 nerds
Time Till Noms: 1-2 hours
Required Equipment: A large pot, a medium-sized pot, a sharp knife, a cutting board, a colander
Optional Equipment: A garlic press
1 pound [0.45kg] stew beef
2 medium-sized carrots
4 medium-to-large potatoes (or parsnips/turnips)
3 stalks celery
1 medium onion
1 bottle of dark red wine
5-6 medium mushrooms
1 crown of broccoli
Salt & pepper
3-4 cloves of fresh garlic
At least a teaspoon of the following spices: oregano, parsley, cumin
A pinch of red pepper flakes or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
1 Tablespoon of oil
*Trenchers → see prelude notes
Prelude: Trenchers are technically large hunks of stale bread used in place of plates. You can still attempt this (I'd recommend cutting a loaf of Italian bread lengthwise and leaving the halves to 'ripen' in the air for a day or two) but, if you don't have the time or inclination to wait for your bread to go stale, feel free to use fresh bread or bread bowls.
This meal cooks slowly enough to allow for the prep work to be done in stages. I'd recommend reading through the descriptions below and arranging your ingredients accordingly (cuts down on potential stress once the cooking gets going).
Stage One (A Game of Thrones): Wash your potatoes and cut them into 1/2 inch [1.27cm] pieces. Peeling them is optional, though I'm a nutrition nerd and usually leave the peel on. Fill the medium-sized pot with cold water and add a few ice cubes, then add the potato pieces. Knead the pieces in the ice water for 30 seconds or so, then drain with a colander. Why? As soon as you cut into the potatoes, the carbohydrates inherent to the tuber start reacting with the oxygen in the air (and the potatoes will turn a pink or brown color). The ice water stops the reaction and will cause the aerated potato to slough off, leaving you with the tastiest possible starches. Refill the pot with cool water, add the potato pieces and a few solid shakes of salt. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and have the potatoes simmer in the background while you tackle stages 2-4.
Stage Two (A Clash of Kings): Add the oil to the large pot and raise to a medium-high heat. As the oil warms, dice the onion, peel the garlic (and dice if not using a garlic press), and chop the celery and carrots. Once the oil has come to temperature, press or add the garlic, stirring gently, then add the diced onion (and thank the Seven for your fingertips). Sauté the onion and garlic until both are just beginning to turn gold, then add the celery and carrots. Immediately after adding the celery, begin cutting the stew beef into 1 inch [2.54cm] pieces if necessary.
|Almost ready for celery/carrots when it looks like this
Stage Three (A Storm of Swords): Once the garlic/onion mixture has begun to brown and the celery goes slightly translucent add the beef. Sauté the beef until no pink surface area remains. As the beef is cooking, add the herbs listed above, including several hefty pinches of salt, so they get the chance to express all their essential oil goodness.
|Try the wine (if your noms look like this)
By this point there should be very little moisture left in the pot and the ingredients should require a little coaxing to move around. Add the wine (taking care to keep your face clear of the pot while doing so). I recommend using at least 2/3rds of the bottle, then estimate how much more you'll need in order to cover the rest of the ingredients that you'll add later. It's perfectly normal to need the entire bottle to ensure sufficient coverage for your ingredients.
Stage Four (A Feast for Crows): Let the stew simmer rapidly, just a hair under active boiling if you can, for at least 30 minutes. In the meantime, check your potatoes (poke 'em with a fork and see how hard they are). If they're at all soft, turn the heat off and drain with a colander. Return the potatoes to the pot they were cooked in (move the pot away from the heat source though) and cover to keep them warm while the stew continues to cook. If they're not, let them continue to simmer until they are, then follow the preceding steps.
During this time (post potato-poking), chop up the mushrooms and broccoli and add them to the stew. Fans of more al dente broccoli should wait until the stew is nearly finished to add this cruciferous veggie.
|That's some stage 5 stew you got there
Stage Five (A Dance with Dragons): Let the stew simmer for another 15-30 minutes (your rate of evaporation will vary), then add the cooked potatoes and broccoli if you're the aforementioned al dente aficionado. Stir regularly for the next 3 minutes or so, letting the starches from the potatoes thicken the stew. If the broth is not thick enough for your liking, then add flour a tablespoon at a time in 30 second intervals until the broth thickens. Note: there will be more evaporation between the time you turn off the stove and the actual consumption of the stew. It's best to err on the side of caution and add too little flour (since you're going to add more starches once the stew is served in the bread) than to toss in too much.
Once you've adjusted the broth, turn off the heat and gather your trenchers (or trencher substitute). Ladle the hot stew into the trenchers and WOOT, you are done!
You just list 'dark red wine'...what kind of wine are we talking about here?
Ideally, a cheap red that lists 'beef' or 'lamb' as a good pairing on the back of the bottle. I've tried this recipe with a couple of different varieties but found that merlot works best (specifically Kenwood 2009 Merlot). It's worthwhile to browse your local package store and look over the labels, as the wine is the foundation for the stew itself. Key words to look for on the labels include 'earthy', 'full finish', and 'medium' or 'full bodied'.
While we're on this train of ingredient thought: what kind of onion/mushroom/spice blend did you use?
As with all my recipe posts, I try to allow for a certain amount of wiggle room with the ingredients. This serves the twofold purpose of permitting substitutes as necessary (in case you're allergic or don't care for a particular ingredient) and encouraging a degree of experimentation. Cooking: it's Science!
That being said, I tend to use a yellow onion or 2 large shallots and crimini (or baby bella) mushrooms for this recipe. That's merely because I try to get a deeply savory, earthy flavor out of this stew. Changing out these ingredients, and the wine, can result in several different flavors and I hope you'll have fun playing around with this recipe.
AH! I used an entire bottle of wine and there doesn't seem to be enough liquid! What do I do???
Add chicken, beef, or even veggie broth if you have some on hand and you're in need of liquids to amp up the broth. Use warm water only if you absolutely do not have any broth of any sort available.
Wait just a nanosecond...I don't remember there being any broccoli in A Song of Ice and Fire!
There's mention of cruciferous veggies in the various books, but not broccoli specifically. This recipe is meant to try and match some of the foods presented in the books as closely as possible with ingredients that you could easily procure at your local grocer. The potatoes in the recipe would more likely have been turnips/parsnips in Westeros and make a tasty addition to the stew if you decide to tackle them (they're prepared the same way as the potatoes).
Best of luck on your feasting endeavors!