Beef and Bacon Stew, With Substitutions Encouraged

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If the past six weeks have taught us anything as home cooks, it’s that recipes are malleable. Substitutions should not only be allowed, they should be encouraged. They help you become a better, more confident cook.

We’ve all had to do with fewer trips to the market, and we can’t always access those hard-to-find ingredients that brands like this one sometimes call for. So what did we all do? We adapted and we kept cooking.

The other day, I defrosted a pack of Denver steaks I had bought at Dickson’s Farmstand Market in New York City. Imagine a boneless ribeye, and that’s essentially a Denver steak—a six-inch long cylinder, striated with ribbons of marbled fat. Rich, beefy, and delicious.

My wife and I seared off two in a cast-iron skillet for dinner, but we had two remaining. A couple days later I got in my head that I would make Basically’s Beef and Bacon Stew, a simplified version of Beef Bourguignon. Nevermind that it called for a couple of pounds of boneless chuck—I figured a hearty cut like Denver steak would bring the same collagen-rich quality to the braise. And because I had only about 10 ounces of steak, I’d just reduce the rest of the recipe accordingly. The fact that I had a leftover, barely half-full bottle of red wine on the counter made the decision that much easier.

Glug, glug, glug.

So in went the bacon until crispy, the chunks of steak seared in the bacon fat, followed by a quartered onion, some smashed garlic and a few carrots. I didn’t have fresh oregano, but I did have some just-picked marjoram that a gardener friend dropped off—close enough. A tablespoon of flour served as a thickening agent, while the wine and a cup of water provided the braising liquid. Into the oven it all went for about 90 minutes.

Now, if this were a baking project, I wouldn’t advocate the same this-for-that approach. Baking, as everyone likes to say, is a science. Recipes include all sorts of precise measurements for a reason. But braising, stir-frying, roasting—they’re techniques. Stick with what you know and sub in ingredients as necessary.

Ninety minutes later, when my iPhone timer chirped, I was feeling pretty good about my steak-and-bacon stew. And then my wife walked into the house after going for a hike, “Oh my god—what smells so good?!”

Recipe (kinda, sorta) followed; mission accomplished.

Get the recipe:

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Beef and Bacon Stew

You can call it beef bourguignon if you want to sound fancy—nobody has to know how much easier it is than the French classic. About the wine: Resist the urge to buy the cheapest bottle you can find, and choose a red wine that you’d be happy to drink, especially since you’ll drink some of it and use the rest. And while serving this hearty stew with some torn bread is definitely the fastest way from point A to point B, it would also be incredibly delicious spooned over some boiled or mashed potatoes.

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