Beef stew was, sadly at the time, a staple of our childhood. My mom would buy stewing beef and my dad—clearly unaware of the benefits of cooking such cuts low and slow—would brown the meat, add tomatoes and potatoes and green things and serve it up for dinner. And it was a long, meaty chew.
Nowadays, I appreciate the flavour potential of inexpensive cuts of beef—and I love a good dark, sticky braise. A recipe that calls for a few hours’ cooking time sounds daunting, but dishes like beef stew and carbonnade are simple enough to prepare after school and be done by dinnertime, and perfect for tossing into the slow cooker at breakfast.
Of course, the proper cut of beef is important—as it always is—which is why so many people panic in the meat aisle, why Mike dreads me sending him to the store with cuts of beef on his list, and why having a good butcher is a very good thing. But when there isn’t a friendly guy (or girl) behind the counter at the ready to answer any question you might have about what cut of meat is best for what, there’s an app for that. Of course there is! It makes shopping easier when all the info you need is in one place, and easily searchable—like having your own personal butcher in your back pocket. So when I was asked to take The Roundup for a spin, I was happy to —and sent Mike to the store with it to do some hands-on testing using a real-life, stressed-out guy with minimal meat knowledge. He came home without that concerned scowl on his face, with a bonus pot roast and a request to cook it later.
I’m discovering that apps can be more than angry birds and flying pigs—the fact that they’re so compact and interactive makes them handy real-time resources. For those not so much in the know, The Roundup is a well-designed, definitive guide to Canadian beef. It’s got all you need to know about cuts, how to cook them (with videos for those of us—all of us?— who find cooking very visual), interactive meat charts, nutritional info, and even an explanation of the tenderness rule of thumb: the farther a cut is from the hoof, horn or hip, the more tender the meat. But tenderness isn’t always the goal: less tender cuts often have more flavour—you just have to know what to do with them. There are recipes, of course, which can be a good thing if you’re the type to stop at the store on the way home and stare at your phone, leaning on your cart mid-aisle, hoping for inspiration. I came across this super simple barbacoa beef— it’s far from authentic barbecue, but also the sort of throw-into-the-pot-and-walk-away dinner that I kind of love. Browning the meat quickly in a hot pan first adds a layer of flavour—then all you need to do is set it and forget it. And it will work with a myriad of less expensive cuts.
This is also the perfect sort of thing to make in large batches—it takes exactly the same amount of time and effort to make twice or three times as much, if you’re having a party or want leftovers to keep in the fridge or freeze for another day.
And if you really want to doll them up, try filling crunchy corn taco shells and topping with salsa verde, chopped avocado, minced white onion and lots of cilantro.
Slow Cooker Barbacoa Beef Bites
You’ll need less liquid in the slow cooker than in a covered pot in the oven – the juice of two oranges (which was what I had) worked for me in the slow cooker. Adapted from The Roundup —the app guide to buying and cooking Canadian beef.
canola oil, for cooking
1 lb. simmering steak, such as blade, cross rib, or stewing beef
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2-3/4 cup orange juice
3 Tbsp. ketchup
3 Tbsp. soy sauce
1-2 Tbsp. grated ginger
1-2 garlic cloves, crushed
pinch dried red chilis
1 tsp. cornstarch (optional – I didn’t need it)
Set a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and when it’s hot, add the beef, sprinkling it with salt and pepper in the pan. Turn to brown on all sides—you just want to get some colour—then transfer to a braising dish or slow cooker.
Pour the orange juice into the pan and stir to scrape up any browned bits—pour over the meat. Add the ketchup, soy sauce, ginger, garlic and chili, stir to combine, cover and braise in the oven at 300F for 2 1/2-3 hours, or cook on low in the slow cooker for 6-8 hours.
If it’s too saucy and you’d like to thicken it up, stir the cornstarch into 1 Tbsp. cold water, add to the meat mixture and bring to a simmer until it thickens. Otherwise serve it as-is, with flour or corn tortillas, chopped purple or green onion, and fresh cilantro for serving.
If you go to serve your barbacoa and don’t have a package of tortillas in the freezer like you thought you did, it’s actually simpler than it sounds to make a quick batch of your own. (No need for special cornflour or a tortilla press.) These are made from a super simple dough, rolled and cooked in a hot pan. That’s it.
Homemade Flour Tortillas
3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup warm water
1/3 cup canola oil
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the water and canola oil and stir until you have a soft dough. Cover and let it rest for half an hour.
Pinch off pieces of dough the size of a small egg and roll out on the countertop (don’t flour it—you need it to stick slightly to get it to roll out nice and thin) to 5 inches or so, then cook in a hot pan until deep golden in spots. Serve immediately.
Makes about a dozen flour tortillas.
Brought to you by Canada Beef.
Get this Recipe + more at The Roundup app! Free.