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Ode to the juniper

Friday, March 19, 2010

Juniper, you lovely, you; how well you flavour my stew.
I've wanted to cook with juniper berries for a while now, but I've never seen it on Malaysian store shelves. If you've tasted gin, you'll know what juniper berries taste like since they are the predominant flavour in the spirit. Conversely, if you've tasted a juniper berry, you'll know what gin tastes like.

When a colleague went off to London on assignment a month ago, I asked him to get some for me. He came back with a couple of bottles and immediately, I looked up some recipes that utilised the berries. Many of the recipes are for strong-flavoured meats such as venison, lamb and wild boar as the "fresh" flavour of juniper berries cuts through the gaminess.

I had a bit of beef left over from when I made a beef sandwich, so I would use that. I also had a can of stout that I had been saving for a chocolate cake but that would have to wait. For some added heat (as if we need more of that with the heatwave we've been experiencing here in Malaysia!), green chillies and Szechuan peppercorns.

I made this stew earlier this month, but I have to admit, I've only tasted the sauce – during Lent, I stay off meat (not difficult for me at all since my diet is predominantly meatless anyway) – and the dish is now sitting in my freezer, waiting to be thawed after Good Friday. Even with just six juniper berries, the taste is strong but very pleasant. I liked it a lot.

Note that the taste of stout also features prominently, so use one that you actually like to drink. Maybe I should have used gin instead. On second thought, that may have been overkill. 

Serves 2

250g beef, cut into 2.5cm cubes
Salt and pepper
All-purpose flour
1 medium onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 green chilli, seeds removed and diced (optional)
185ml stout
1 beef stock cube
6 juniper berries, crushed
½ teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns, toasted and crushed
2 tsp chopped chervil
  • Season beef with salt and pepper to taste; dredge in flour and shake off excess. Heat 1 tablespoon cooking oil in a saucepan; brown the beef cubes on all sides, working in batches so that you do not crowd the pan. Set aside.
  • In the same pan, fry onion until translucent. Add garlic and chilli, if using, and fry briefly before adding the stout. Make sure you scrape up all the drippings in the base of the pan. Bring to the boil, then turn down heat to a simmer. Add stock cube, juniper berries, crushed peppercorns and beef; cover and simmer until beef is tender, about 20 minutes.
  • Remove lid and turn up the heat slightly so that sauce bubbles for 5 minutes and thickens slightly. Take off heat and stir in half the chopped chervil. Sprinkle with the remaining chervil just before serving. Good with mash potato.

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