Beef Stifatho, a fantastic Greek casserole!

6 May

  I remember the first time I ate this dish.  It was in Aegina, a small island not far from the Greek Mainland and the port of Piraeus.  I was in the company of good friends, the wine flowed and I ended up singing with a group of four Greeks, none of whom spoke English.  The owner of the restaurant, Costas,  gave up at 2 am, brought us a final jug of Retsina, turned off all the lights and left us to it.  What a great memory!

Stifatho is a rich casserole of braised meat, and varies from one Greek island to another, and probably one household to another!  Some prefer rabbit in the casserole but I prefer beef.  It’s not that I don’t like rabbit but the tiny bones can be a bit fiddley.  The recipe I love best is one I found in a book written by Pamela Westland, ‘A Taste of the Greek Islands’.  If you ever get the chance to read it you will love it. 

Costas serves his Stefatho with Krithiraki, a rice shaped pasta, sometimes known as orzo.  Whenever I have cooked this I do exactly the same.  My kids love it and I never have to worry about leftovers.  You can buy it in most large Supermarkets.  The recipe is absolutely perfect for dinner parties, especially served with the krithiraki, as most people will never have had it and, those that have, will relish the memories it brings back of sun-kissed beaches, golden sunsets and friendly Greek people.  It can be prepared ahead and reheats well, it can also be frozen. Perfect for busy people! 

First a bit about the island of Aegina.  Aegina is part of the Saronic Islands, alongside Hydra, Spetses and Poros.  It is a beautiful island, very fertile and green and full of pine and olive trees, pretty villages and lovely beaches.  For those interested, there are also archaeological monuments, such as the Temple of Aphaia.  Aegina is probably best known, however, for pistachio nuts.  They have been grown on the island for as long as records existed and, today, you can buy them prepared in so many ways, roasted and salted in shells, packed into jars of local honey, covered in caramel to make a nut brittle and in their local nougat, just to name but a few.  The island is only small and it is possible to see it all in one day if you hire a car.  If ever I was tempted to live abroad it would be a tough decision as to whether to go to Aegina or Lardos in Rhodes.  For now I am happy to visit all my friends as often as possible and recreate wonderful Greek dishes such as this one.

Beef Stifatho (Braised beef casserole)  Serves 4 – 6

  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • 1kg (about 2 lbs) braising steak
  • 2 small onions, finely sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 tbsp tomato puree
  • 200 ml (6 fl oz) red wine
  • 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 inch cinnamon stick
  • salt and black pepper
  • 450g (1 lb) shallots
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  1. Set the oven to 170C/150C fan/gas 3.
  2. Heat half the oil in a flameproof casserole and fry the meat over a high heat, stirring, until it is browned all over.  Don’t overfill the pan or the beef will steam rather than sear.  Do it in batches if necessary, depending on the size of the pan.  Remove the meat with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  3. Heat the remaining oil and fry the onions over a medium heat, stirring, until lightly browned.  Add the garlic and fry for a couple of minutes then add the tomato puree, vinegar, red wine and sugar.  Return the meat to the pan and mix well.  Put the cloves and cumin seeds either in a muslim cloth or a closed tea strainer.  Add to the dish with the cinnamon stick and bay leaves.  Season, cover and cook in oven for 1.5 hours.
  4. Blanch the shallots in boiling salted water for 1 minute.  Add to the casserole and continue to cook for 1 hour.  Check every now and again to ensure it is not going dry, if so, add a little water.
  5. When meat is tender, remove from oven.  Remove spices and bay leaves.  Stir in the lemon juice and sprinkle with the chopped parsley before serving.

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2 Responses to “Beef Stifatho, a fantastic Greek casserole!”

  1. Danny July 27, 2011 at 1:44 pm #

    Nom Nom Nom Very Nice!

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