Friday, 23 March 2012

Tocana cu rosii

“Meat stew with tomatoes”

One dish that you’ll almost certainly find a variation of on any Romanian restaurant’s menu is the tocana or tocanita. Essentially it is a stew made of meat and onions usually with other ingredients added to give it its particularity. A tocanita is simply the diminutive form of tocana. Radu Anton Roman described a tocana as a stew made from meat and/or vegetables with a lot of onions that you get in a restaurant. A tocanita, he says, is the same, but cooked by your mother.

This recipe is for a stew made with tomatoes. The key to a good tocana, I find, is slow cooking and good ingredients. Many stews in many cuisines around the world make use of lots of different stocks, spices, herbs, marinates, wines, and so on. The beauty of the Romanian tocana is its simplicity; making the most of a few choice ingredients cooked in a pot on a moderate heat with a little care over a long time. Cook it too quickly and it’s a stir fry.

Time: 60-80 minutes
Servings: 2

500g of meat in large cubes (beef or pork are most commonly used – choose cuts that can stand stewing or braising like neck or belly of pork)
500g of juicy ripe tomatoes, skins removed and roughly chopped*
3-4 onions, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon of flour
Parsley or dill for garnish
Salt for seasoning
Oil or fat for cooking (any oil you like but pork dripping is traditional)

*you can use a tin of chopped tomatoes if you can find good in-season tomatoes in your local market. Out-of-season tomatoes tend to be flavourless and watery.

1. Heat a good tablespoon of the oil or fat in a deep pan and throw in the meat.
2. Add the roughly chopped onions and cook on a medium heat until the meat takes on a little colour and the onions start to soften and turn translucent. Don’t have the heat so high as to burn the onions.
3. Add a splash of water and continue to cook for about 30-40 minutes, adding water from time to time to stop it drying out and burning. Keep cooking until the onions have more or less ‘melted’ and the meat is tender and breaks apart under the pressure of the stirring spoon.
4. Add the chopped tomatoes and give it a good stir. Put a lid on it and allow to cook on a low heat for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and checking that it’s not burning on the bottom.
5. Sprinkle on a tablespoon of flour and mix in and leave for another 5 minutes until the sauce is rich and thick.
6. Serve with mamaliga (polenta) or your favourite type of potato (mash works well to mop up the sauces, but I was in the mood for chips). You can garnish it with any herb and add a spoonful of sour cream for extra richness if you wish.

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