Friday, 17 August 2007
The Great Stafoodoo Mystery
Last month, I was sat in the hairdressers getting my barnet snipped, absorbing the usual day-to-day chit chat you always get in those settings. The subjects swooped from Coronation Street, to Sunderland AFC, to hoodies and then thankfully, to food. In my element, I began to take hold of proceedings, swatting each foody question or topic back with confidence. Of course, when you have a mouth as big as mine, you are inevitably going to land yourself in it. In this instance, I failed to help one of the older ladies out with one of her questions - how do you make a Stafoodoo?
Now, I had never heard of a Stafoodoo. When I asked her where it was from, she couldn't remember if it was Spain, Italy or Greece, definitely Mediterranean, and that she had it on one of her many holidays over the years claiming it was the best food she had ever eaten. When I asked her what it was, she said it was a kind of stew with pork or lamb or beef, and that it had tomatoes and cinnamon in it. I was still no clearer as to what it was and as a typical man who loves a challenge, I left the blue rinses with the question still ringing in my ears, determined to find the answer.
Like a man possessed, I began to scour the food books on my return home. My first port of call was Larousse Gastranomique, looking under 'St' for Mediterranean stews. As a book that usually answers any food related questions, I was disappointed to find nothing. I then tried 'The Real Greek At Home', suspecting that out of all of the Med countries, a word like Stafoodoo could only come from Greece. Nothing. I then tried every single book in my possession and still no luck. Greece was still my number one country of research. Typing in 'Greece', 'staf' and 'recipe' in Google brought up nothing. I then changed 'staf' to 'stif' and the answer to the question came up on a million websites - it wasn't Stafoodoo after all, it was Stifado, a Greek stew I had cooked many times before. Doh!
Stifado is one of those classic dishes that every country should cherish with great pride. There must be a hundred different recipes for it, and each is probably fiercely defended in each region. Beautifully rich with red wine, sweetly scented with cinnamon and bay, it is a long braised stew that can contain any meat that will withstand a long cooking time. So certain cuts of lamb and beef are perfect. My version contains cheap stewing beef, but coincidentally, I noticed Mr Stein eating a bowlful last night on his TV show which had rabbit in it. Either way, it is that simple food born from a history of survival, that utilises cheap ingredients and tastes like a million dollars. I agree with Mr Stein - Greek food is seriously under-rated. Perhaps it is because it is essentially 'peasant' food and does not pass the refined looking test that the Michelin greedy restaurants often crave. I don't care. It tastes sensational. And Stifado is one of the best things I have ever eaten, certainly in my Top 10 foods.
The list of ingredients may seem long, but it takes no time to put together. The hardest bit is waiting for it to cook as the house will be full of tempting aromas making every stomach rumble with anticipation. Eat it with crusty bread and mashed potato to soak up the sensual juices, or perhaps some simple roasted vegetables and a green salad. It will fill the family and still cost less than a tenner.
I returned to the hairdressers yesterday with the recipe for 'Stafoodoo' printed out. The roof came off when I told them the story of my frantic research for the mysterious Stafoodoo loving blue rinsed lady. She owes me one....
Greek Stifado (or Stafoodoo if you are from Sunderland)
500g stewing beef, cut into chunks
1 onion, sliced
20-30 shallots, peeled and left whole
6 cloves of garlic, sliced
6 tomatoes, roughly chopped, or one tin of chopped tomatoes
200ml beef stock
500ml red wine
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
4 bay leaves
2 tbsp dried oregano
2 cinnamon sticks or a good pinch of cinnamon
A pinch of dried chilli flakes
Salt and pepper
1 pack of feta cheese
A handful of walnuts
Fresh mint, chopped
1 - Pre-heat your oven to 140 degrees C. In a bowl, coat the cubes of meat in seasoned flour. Pour enough olive oil into a heavy based casserole dish to cover the bottom and heat up. Add the meat in batches and cook quickly to get a good golden brown crust all over. Remove with a slotted spoon and put aside. Do not be alarmed by the ever blackening crust forming on the bottom; once de-glazed this is essential for the flavour.
2 - Add the sliced onions and shallots and quickly brown. Add the garlic, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, chilli and oregano and cook for one minute. Return the meat to the pan along with any juices, then pour in the red wine and bring to the boil. Scrape away on the bottom with a wooden spatula to remove the flavoursome crust.
3 - Add the tomatoes, stock and vinegar. Bring to the boil, place the lid on and cook on the middle shelf of your oven for 3 hours, stirring halfway through the cooking time. If you feel that the sauce is too loose, remove the lid for half an hour to help thicken.
4 - Add the walnuts just before serving, then either crumble over the feta cheese or mix in. Either way, the salty hit from this delicious sour cheese should mean you don't need to add more salt. Sprinkle over the mint and serve in generous bowls.