Stifado is a Greek beef stew, run through with small onions (or shallots) and the most deliciously deep, rich sauce infused with cinnamon and then topped with feta cheese.
This recipe comes from the beautiful book The Butcher by a woman appropriately named Leanne Kitchen. The book is a fantastic reference for any meat lover – filled with the most glorious photos of meat on stark backgrounds. Leanne talks about the history and preparation of meat as well as all the tools and implements you need to cook it.
But back to the recipe.
4 tablespoons olive oil
1.5kg of chuck steak (I used cross cut beef as our butcher doesn’t stock chuck) – cut this into 3cm cubes
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 onions finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
250 ml dry red wine
3 tablespoons tomato paste
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 cinnamon sticks
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons sugar
1 kg baby onions, or as many shallots as you can spare
4 tablespoons currants (I used sultanas)
200 g feta cheese cut into small cubes
steamed rice to serve
Heat half the olive oil in a flame proof casserole. All the cooking will happen on the oven top, not in the oven. I used a stainless steel Scanpan casserole pan – I’m not sure if the taste would be different if you used an earthenware pot on an element but if you have one then use it.
Add the beef to the hot oil in batches and cook for 3-4 minutes until thoroughly browned. Add more oil as needed. Put the beef in a bowl and sprinkle the ground cumin over it mixing it through. Leave to stand.
Add the remaining oil to the pan and add the onion and garlic. Saute over a low heat for 5-6 minutes until the onion is soft. Return the beef to the casserole.
Add the wine, increase the heat and stir to loosen any bits stuck to the bottom of the dish. Stir in 500 ml water, the tomato paste, vinegar, cinnamon sticks, cloves, bay leaves and sugar. Season with salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover the dish with double foil and pop the lid back on. This way no steam will escape. Cook slowly for 1 hour.
Peel the onions, or shallots and add to the casserole with the currants (or sultanas). Cook for a further hour or until the beef is very tender or the sauce is thick. I removed the tinfoil for at least half of the second hour to let the sauce thicken. Remove the cinnamon sticks and the bay leaves. Stir through the diced feta and simmer uncovered for 3-4 minutes.
Serve with steamed rice. This will easily feed 6 to 8 people or keep well for the next night as leftovers.
When I cooked this dish I tasted it at the end of the first hour and was worried that the cinnamon and cloves were a bit overpowering – but the dish tends to settle down as it continues to cook and the end result is so sweet and tender – it’s a delectable dish and literally melts in your mouth.