With soul-warming recipe and playlist, Chef Nate has turned embracing rainy days into an art.
Nate Allen is our favorite kind of chef — creative, energetic, and filled with contagious joy whenever he gets in the kitchen, or in front of a fire. His deep respect for conscientious agriculture not only shows in his thoughtful sourcing (often from his own yard), but in his beautiful dishes, using every ingredient to its full potential. Each meal Chef Nate creates is permeated with history — of the local region, old culinary traditions, and of his own dining experiences.
After attending culinary school, Nate lived in many places and worked in many kitchens, before opening the James Beard Award nominated restaurant Knife & Fork, in Spruce Pine, North Carolina. At Knife & Fork, Nate sourced all ingredients from within 45 miles — a testament to his dedication to supporting local agriculture and community. He currently resides in Florida, surrounded by an abundance of fresh ingredients that make their way into almost everything he creates.
A slow, persistent rain settled in this morning after a lovely, cotton candy sunrise. I beat the tempo of the windshield wipers on the steering wheel and navigated through light morning traffic towards home. I don’t miss the normal trappings of winter but I love the bone warming preparations that a day snowed-in would usually push me towards. Here in South Florida, the rain is enough to inspire me to stay in the kitchen all day conjuring smells and memories from the slow transformation of raw to caramelized and crispy. I realize that winter is still lounging about like a fat cat on a keyboard, and many people may find themselves with an afternoon to while away and a house to warm. My childhood snow day memories are filled with the steam of bubbling stews and kettles calling me in after pelted snowballs are peeled off with the outer layers, and boots stomped clean at the threshold. This act of creative investment will take you there and warm the home, body, and soul. Two bottles of red wine are required for this recipe. You will need one to cook with and one for the cook(s). You also need a playlist so I made one for you.
Press play and pour yourself a glass.
Now that we have established the mood we can move on to the preparation. The first step will be to season and dredge the beef cubes with flour. Lay two pounds of stew beef cubes or tenderloin tips out on a cutting board and season liberally with salt and pepper. Make sure to jostle the cubes and roll them about so that you get all the sides. Then sprinkle the cubes with some all purpose flour. You can start with a half cup of flour and see if that will coat the beef evenly. Use more if you need to. There will be some flour remaining that just won’t stick. Don’t let this bother you, and leave it behind.
Place a high-sided cast iron skillet on high heat and add a ¼ inch thick layer of vegetable oil. Shake the excess flour off of the cubes and carefully add to the pan. This may need to be done in batches as you want each cube of beef to have at least a ½ inch of space around it. Crowding the pan will cause the meat to steam as opposed to brown. Once you have the appropriate amount of beef in the pan stand back and do nothing. Patience is paramount to perfection. I know that it is excruciating for most home cooks to let things sizzle at maximum heat without messing with them, but it is absolutely necessary. I promise. Just listen to the music. After about four minutes begin turning the cubes starting from the center of the pan. The contact side should be dark golden-brown. This kind of coloring is very visually appealing and will give you the impression that you should put these morsels in your mouth, but you should wait. Continue this process, always starting in the middle and working outward, until all six sides of the meat have become delectable, golden, crunchy nuggets. Remove from the pan and place on paper towels. Once all the meat is done and resting, you get to move on to the vegetable round so leave the pan on the heat and get chopping.
Chop five carrots, one head of celery, one yellow onion, and five cloves of garlic in big chunks. Toss them in the pan. If there is not enough oil left from the meat to make the veggies sizzle, add a splash more. Cut a dozen crimini mushrooms and one pint of cherry tomatoes in half. Add these to the pan. Count a dozen sticks of fresh thyme and three bay leaves and throw those in too. Season this mix with salt and pepper. Let the sizzle get loud and stir or flip every few minutes allowing the veg to get some color as, well as release water content in the form of steam. This release concentrates the flavors of the vegetables. The moisture being released is a rich liquor that is deglazing the delicious stuck remnants of the seared meat off the base of the pan. We are looking for the steam to die off a bit and show us that we have lost the majority of liquid, and we also want some golden caramelization.
Maintain the temperature and add the bottle of wine that you are not drinking. This should cover the surface of the pan. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, scrape the bottom of the pan to make sure nothing is sticking. Allow wine to boil and reduce until it is sizzling again. This means that it is almost fully reduced. Now add one quart of beef or chicken stock and one quart of water to the vegetables and bring to a boil. Add the crisped stew beef cubes and reduce to a simmer. Stir three times, close your eyes and breathe deeply through your nose. Envision all the things that warm your soul. Things are only going to get better from here! This stew needs to lightly bubble and get to know itself better for the next two hours. You should cover it but check in and stir it whenever you feel the urge. Taste the liquid regularly and adjust the salt and pepper as you see fit. When the time is up, ladle the stew into a bowl and toss some fresh green herbs on top. Enjoy with the rest of your wine and take comfort in the fact that this will be even more delicious tomorrow, and you can freeze it for up to three months. All the hard work of this self-love will warm you over and over.