I bought about a week's worth of meat yesterday at the local Whole Paycheck, and so far I've chosen stuff by price ($4.50/lb? that one, please), which means that most of the stuff I end up getting is...not spoken very highly of by the various cookbook authors I consult. I used a chunk of rump round, cut into smallish pieces, which Mark Bittman says is only good for stewing, with "good" being relative to the fact that it's "bad" for anything else. Meh. Tastes ok to me! But on to the procedure:
Almost all the recipes I saw said that the way to start a really nice stew is to brown the meat first. The recipe I started from suggested heating a crushed garlic clove in olive oil for a minute or so, then removing the garlic and adding the meat to brown slightly on all sides. That's about how far I followed the recipe, because I was impatient and hungry. Once the meat was...well, brown, if not perfectly browned, I went ahead and added the veggies I'd chopped (half an onion and a handful of carrot coins) along with the water and sea salt. Left it to simmer for about 15 minutes before my sense of "I wonder how that would taste in here!" took over.
Besides the salt, I thought a little pepper would go nicely. Then a splash of red wine vinegar, and a little balsamic as well, because I'd heard it might help soften up the meat (which was fairly tough by now). Let it cook a little more, which did indeed help the meat soften and let off this maddening smell. So I started tasting the broth, and it was...good, but not great. Kinda watery. It might have been better if I just let it keep cooking away, but patience is not for the Nelly! Let's see if I can add anything else to the mix...
Guess what I added.
You'll never guess.
That's right. Just about a tablespoon, whisked in as quickly as I could manage so it didn't clump. I know you all think I'm crazy but holy gods it was the most amazing thing ever. It thickened the soup just enough so it wasn't gravy-like but definitely not watery any more, and gave it this incredible, tangy, almost-bitter undernote that played perfectly off the other flavors. It. Was. MAGICAL.