This dish demonstrates what is good about the Greek cuisine. It can rival the French beef bourguignon or English stew/casserole of any country. It can be made with meat, most commonly beef, rabbit or hare, game and even snails.
The combination of vinegar which gives a slight sharpness to the dish and richness of wine as well as the sweetness of the sauteed pickling onions (which are like shallots) makes this comfort dish memorable.
Photograph © Peter Broadbent
Normally an equal amount of small pickling onions is used to the amount of meat.
The herbs used to enhance it are rosemary and parsley and the spices more commonly used in the Greek islands especially are allspice, cinammon and cloves giving the stifado the most exquisite flavour, aroma and taste.
The best thing I like about stifado is dipping chunks of crusty bread in that rich golden reddy-brown herby and slightly spicy sauce- really delicious.
120 ml olive oil.
1kg stewing beef such as chuck top rump or lean brisket cut preferably into bite sized cubes.
4 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick, about 3cm long
4 cloves, left whole
2 garlic cloves crushed
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato puree
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
125 ml red wine
400g plum tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and chopped finely
1 sprig fresh flat leaf parsley
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground allspice
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1kg baby onions, peeled but left whole
1 teaspoon demerara sugar
Heat 60 ml of olive oil in a large, heavy based saucepan and saute the meat on medium heat to seal it. Do this in 2 or 3 batches for 5-7 minutes on the outside of the meat until it is golden brown. Transfer the meat with a slotted spoon to a plate and set aside. If the meat produces a lot of frothy juices, continue frying until the moisture evaporates.
Transfer all the meat to the casserole, add the bay leaves, cinammon cloves, garlic and onions and cook on medium heat for 2-3 minutes stirring occassionally with a wooden spoon to absorb the aroma of the spices.
Stir in the tomato puree and let it coat the meat and spices and cook for 1-2 minutes. Now add the vinegar and let it sizzle for 2-3 minutes and then add the wine, the tomatoes, parsley, rosemary, allspice and water to just cover the meat. Check the seasoning. Cover and cook the meat very gently for 1 hour or until the meat is almost tender.
On a medium heat in a large heavy based frying pan, heat the remaining olive oil and colour the baby onions for about 5-7 minutes on each side. Sprinkle the sugar on top of the onions while cooking to caramelise the onions. You may have to do this in two or three batches. With a slotted spoon, transfer them to the casserole and spread them evenly over the meat. Cover and cook for further 30 minutes until the onions are tender but firm and not disintegrating.
Give the casserole a shake every now and then instead of stirring as the onions should remain whole. The sauce should be thick and rich. If not, cook the stifado over high heat uncovered for 4-5 minutes to reduce the sauce further.
Sprinkle with the parsley and serve piping hot straight from the casserole. Serve with mashed potatoes or fresh bread.
*Note 1:* An earthenware casserole may be used instead of a saucepan.
*Note 2:* Instead of cooking the stifado casserole over the heat, the casserole may be covered with kitchen foil and then a lid placed over it, in a preheated oven at 150°C, gas mark 2 for 2 and 1/2- 3 hours until the meat and onions are soft and tender.
Stifado is a classic on offer at any three of Papa G (George Psarias’) award winning restaurants The Olive Tree.