Joe Booker the man may forever remain a mystery, but we were determined to perfect the stew that bears his name and was a favorite among Maineâ€™s ice fishermen and loggers.
Unlike many beef stews, this one is meant to possess a lighter broth, be packed with vegetables, and boast tender dumplings. To keep our base both delicate and flavorful, we started by microwaving the salt pork and then rinsing it of excess salt.
Observing the tenets of Yankee thrift, we used the rendered fat to brown the beef and to cook the chopped onions. We wanted our broth to be light but still robust, so we simmered equal parts water and beef broth together. We kept the dumplings simple, adding chopped parsley for flavor and baking powder for more leavening power.
Combining the dry ingredients with milk and melted butter produced rich, tender dumplings, no kneading required. With a one-pot dinner this tasty on the table, we were sure Joe Bookerâ€”whoever he wasâ€”would be proud.
SERVES 6 TO 8
You can substitute peeled, chopped turnip or parsnip for the rutabaga. Use a Dutch oven with at least a 6-quart capacity. See the sidebar that follows the recipe.
ounces salt pork, quartered
pounds boneless beef chuck, cut into 1-inch chunks
tablespoons all-purpose flour
cups beef broth
teaspoons minced fresh thyme
pounds red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into Â¾-inch chunks
pounds rutabaga, peeled and cut into Â¾-inch chunks
pound carrots, peeled and cut into Â¾-inch chunks
cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
teaspoons baking powder
cup minced fresh parsley
Salt and pepper
tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into Â½-inch pieces
1 FOR THE STEW: Place salt pork in bowl and microwave until fat renders and pork is golden, 5 to 8 minutes. Pour off fat, reserving 2 tablespoons (if you have less, supplement with vegetable oil). When pork is cool enough to handle, rinse under running water to remove excess salt. Set aside.
2 Pat beef dry with paper towels and season with pepper. Heat 2 teaspoons reserved pork fat in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Cook half of beef until well browned all over, about 8 minutes. Transfer to bowl and repeat with 2 teaspoons pork fat and remaining beef. Add remaining 2 teaspoons pork fat and onions to now-empty pot and cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in flour and cook until lightly browned, about 1 minute.
3 Return beef and any accumulated juices to pot. Stir in broth, water, thyme, and rinsed salt pork and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until meat is nearly tender, about 1 hour. Remove and discard salt pork. Add potatoes, rutabaga, and carrots to pot and continue to simmer, covered, until vegetables are just tender, 20 to 30 minutes.
4 FOR THE DUMPLINGS: When vegetables are nearly tender, combine flour, baking powder, parsley, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper in large bowl. Combine milk and butter in liquid measuring cup and microwave, stirring once or twice, until butter melts, about 1 minute. Stir warm milk mixture into flour mixture until incorporated.
5 Once vegetables are tender, use small ice cream scoop or 2 large spoons to drop golf ballâ€“size dumplings (about 2 tablespoons) onto stew about Â¼ inch apart (you should have about 15 dumplings). Simmer gently, covered, until dumplings have doubled in size and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 18 to 22 minutes. Serve.
TO MAKE AHEAD: Stew can be made through step 3, covered, and refrigerated for up to 3 days. To serve, bring stew to simmer and proceed with step 4.
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