It is SO close to Christmas right now that I can barely stand it any more! I planned our Christmas menu months ago and am sitting on my hands to stop myself from breaking into a baking frenzy! With every TV channel and Instagram feed seemingly bursting with Christmassy flavours, I felt inspired to impart Christmas into our dinner sans the goose fat and crispy roasties. Do not get me wrong, I wholeheartedly believe in goose fat and roasties on the day itself, but the run up to Christmas needn’t be stodgy to get you into the festive mood. (Plus, this leaves more room for roasties on the day!)
*** There are very few pictures in this post due to me being without a photo device when I made it; I’ll update with more pictures shortly ***
Before we delve into the recipe itself, I have a confession to make; this recipe was initially supposed to be a chicken Christmassy orzo risotto, having taken inspiration from a Bodycoach recipe, however when I opened the fridge to remove the meat, the packet of meat that I was convinced contained chicken was in fact stewing steak! Big oops. Chicken breast is a lean, tender quick cooking meat. Stewing steak is sinewy, occasionally fatty and tough as leather if not cooked slowly and carefully – like, you know, in a stew…
Thankfully, I had a sneaky little trick up my sleeve which totally saved my backside (and teeth). Velveting.
How to velvet meat and what even is velveting?
Ever tried to recreate your favourite Chinese stir fry and wondered why despite trying every marinade under the sun your chicken just isn’t as tasty as the takeaways? Velveting, my friend.
I’ve most often come across this technique in Chinese food, where either bicarbonate of soda or cornflour are used to tenderise the meat prior to cooking, totally transforming the mouth feel of it. Next time you make potstickers, try adding half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda to your meat mixture, or just under a tablespoon of cornflour and a splash of soy sauce to strips of chicken between 10 – 30 minutes before you want to begin a stir fry and let me know how you get on.
I won’t go into the science of the technique; but suffice it to say this tenderises the meat on a molecular level (like bashing out schnitzels before cooking, but less of a workout).
Now I had no idea (I’ll be honest with you) whether this technique would work on stewing steak, but I only had 20 minutes to cook the meal before my ravenous boyfriend would be home. Given the cut of meat I was dealing with I decided to go for a combination of meat tenderising techniques. I added half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda and just under a tablespoon of cornflour to 500g of the stewing steak along with a splash of soy sauce and gave it a really good mix. I mixed the meat for about a minute in total, using the back of the spoon to squash and massage the velveting mixture into the stewing steak. I then grabbed a hold of the spoon and jabbed at the steak a few times to try and manually tenderise it a little too (like you would with schnitzel but a little more stab stab then bash bash, if you know what I mean). I gave the whole thing a final mix, said a little prayer and do you know what? It worked! I was as surprised as anyone! I have never heard of this technique being used in a context like this, but I sure am going to experiment with it some more! Stewing steak is loads cheaper than the usual quick cooking cuts of beef, so the implications are exciting for my purse as well as my tummy! Give this technique a go and let me know what you think.
*** This recipe is totally adaptable, you can switch up the spices to please your own pallete and use whatever veg you have in the fridge. If you’re not confident with adapting recipes to what you have to hand, then subscribe to From Scratch With Love as I’ll be showing you how, along with cooking tips and tricks like velveting to make your healthy cooking lives easier. ***
As with almost all of my recipes, I began by prepping my veg.
Into one bowel I very finely chopped half of a large bramley apple before adding half a teaspoon of cinnamon, a pinch of nutmeg, quarter of a teaspoon of ground ginger and quarter of a teaspoon of allspice. I topped the bowl off with a big handful of kale.
Into a second bowl I chopped the florets of a head of broccoli, halving any particularly chunky florets and added 8 mushrooms chopped into quarters and a handful of Whitworths dried cranberries.
I then very finely chopped two cloves of garlic before melting about a tablespoon of coconut oil in a pan over a medium heat.
Whilst the oil was melting I decanted my stewing steak which was pre-cut into 1cm chunks into a bowl and added half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda and just under a tablespoon of cornflour along with a dash of reduced salt soy sauce which I mixed very well and then tenderised briefly with the tip of the spoon before mixing again.
I added the chopped garlic to the oil along with a cardamom pod and a whole clove. I allowed these to gently sizzle but not brown.
Whilst the garlic was gently sizzling i filled the kettle with water and put it to boil, adding a chicken knor stock pot to a 500ml measuring jug and measured out 200g of orzo pasta.
Once the garlic had sizzled for a minute or two and infused the oil with its scent I dumped the stewing steak into the pan and spread it out, leaving it for a moment to brown on one side. I then proceeded to brown the stewing steak from all remaining angles. The objective here is to seal the steak, not to caramelise the surface so this process should take no more then a few minutes.
Into the pan I added the broccoli, cranberries and mushrooms and stir fried it all together for a minute before adding the chopped apple, ground spices, kale and orzo, stirring to distribute evenly throughout the mix.
I measured 500ml of boiling water into the jug and stirred briefly to combine with the stock pot and poured the lot into the pan, stirred to combine and put a lid onto the pan.
This was left to cook for 20 minutes with the lid on, stirring two to three times to ensure nothing was sticking. At this point the mixture can look a little soupy; if it looks dry, add just a splash of water to loosen. After 20 minutes I removed the lid and stirred gently, depending on the brand of orzo you use it can take 2 – 5 minutes to reach perfect orzo risotto consistency.
How do you tell if risotto is done / the right consistency?
The wobble test, my friends.
You should be able to spoon the risotto into a mound on a plate, but if you give the plate a little shimmey the risotto should ‘fall’ somewhat into a slacker pile. Likewise the rissoto should have a silky consistency and the ‘sauce’ should cling to the risotto, not create a little puddle of its own.
Do not be tempted to grate cheese over this particular incarnation (resist!), instead, try to fish out the clove and cardamom pod, season with black pepper to taste (there should be plenty of salt from the stock pot), plate up the risotto and finely grate over the zest of an orange.
TADA! Trust me when I say this dish is totally comforting, warming and lovely but less fatty then your average Christmas fare or your average risotto.
Give it a go and let me know how you get on!