The complex flavors and textures of eastern Spain’s Catalan region lend themselves perfectly to beef stew. But since beef is scarce in Catalonia, there are very few recipes.
We wanted a beef stew that was rich and fragrant with the flavors of Catalonia and made using classic Spanish techniques.
Most American beef stews are made with chuck roast, but we found that boneless beef short ribs were the right choice for this recipe. Not only did they boast outstanding beef flavor and a tender texture, but they were easier to butcher.
Next, we focused on the sofrito. This slow-cooked jam of onion and tomatoes is the cornerstone of Spanish stews. We chose fresh tomatoes for their acidity and brightness but found that their skins made the stew stringy. For easy peeling, we borrowed an authentic Spanish cooking technique: We scraped the pulpy flesh of the tomatoes over a box grater and then discarded the leathery skin. Along with the tomatoes, we included a bay leaf, smoked paprika, salt, and sugar in our sofrito.
In an effort to cut down on prep time, we found that we could omit one time-consuming step: browning the short ribs. Instead, we simply placed the seasoned meat in the pot along with the sofrito and the braising liquids: white wine and water (which tasters preferred for its cleanness). When we left the pot uncovered as it simmered in the oven, any exposed meat browned nearly as well as if it were seared on the stovetop.
Having achieved tender, intensely flavored beef, it was time for the critical final flourish: the picada, a ground mixture of fried bread, nuts, garlic, olive oil, and herbs. We sautéed blanched almonds and chunks of bread in olive oil and then processed them, along with some raw garlic, in a food processor. Next we stirred some minced parsley into the ground ingredients. This preserved its grassy flavor, which got muddied in the whizzing blade of the machine.
We determined that our stew would benefit from one additional element, and it only made sense to feature a popular Catalan ingredient: oyster mushrooms. Rather than cook them directly in the stew, which spoiled their delicate flavor and texture, we sautéed them separately. The mushrooms went into the finished stew along with the picada and a shot of sherry vinegar.