Zuurvlees, literally ‘sour meat’, is a thick and tangy beef stew that the Dutch serve over friets (french fries) or in a crock alongside roast potatoes and beets. In cold weather, it’s local comfort food in Limburg (originally made with horse meat rather than beef).
With the weather turning wintry in Dorset, I thought it was a good time to make a batch. There are good recipes on the Internet, I prefer this one in English, and this one in Dutch. However, I discovered a few tricks that need to be added to give it the taste and texture of the original, pictured above.
Ontbijtkoek is a spiced breakfast bread, tasting somewhat like a gingery molasses cookie.
Appelstroop is an apple syrup, more like a jelly.
Both are available in any Dutch food store, so there is no need to make them special. If outside the Netherlands, Andre Rieu offers a recipe that substitutes these ingredients.
Otherwise, it’s a simple three-step process: Brine, Brown, and Boil.
Zuurvlees goes for sour earthy flavours, so marinate in lemon juice and vinegar, sharp onions and spices. I use a 50/50 mix with cider- or white-wine vinegar, then over and refrigerate for a full day.
Browning is recommended with medium-high heat in olive oil / butter, but I’ve found that the meat releases a lot of brine as it starts cooking, preventing the browning. I start at medium, decanting the liquid off into the brine mixture (it all goes back into the pot later, so the pan scrapings aren’t lost) . Then once it’s drier, increase the heat and dry-sear the meat on all sides.
Finally, simmering needs to continue until the meat is starting to fall apart, but not past that point. It takes about an hour fifteen, not the full two hours recommended (my first batch turned to mush with the extended time). Replace the evaporated liquid with 50/50 water-vinegar mix to keep the meat covered for the first hour. Then let the sauce reduce and thicken to a thin glaze before adding the crumbled spice bread and apple syrup for the last five minutes.
It all turns nicely rich and fragrant with that final add, and the meat remains chunky and tender. I I pound of stew beef yields about 1 full bowl of stew, enough for two medium servings if put into a bowls, two generous servings if spread over roast potatoes.
The flavour was pretty authentic with every batch. However, it took several tries to get the texture right. That balance lies in cooking the meat less while reducing the sauce more.