Thank you, Charlie Trotter: Cardamom Beef Stew with Roasted Root Vegetables

by Terry B on November 13, 2013

In this recipe from Home Cooking with Charlie Trotter, a braised beef stew flavored with cardamom, garlic, onion, celery and carrots is topped with roasted potatoes, parsnips and celery root. Recipe below.

cardamom beef stew root vegetables

Charlie Trotter died last week. The groundbreaking restaurateur and chef—and Chicago hometown hero—was just 54. In the world of food, proclamations that someone “changed the way we eat” or “changed the way we cook” get bandied about a lot. In Trotter’s case, both are true and then some. His eponymous restaurant, opened in 1987 in a Lincoln Park townhouse, was an immediate success. And his innovative approach to cooking created a seismic shift in Chicago’s restaurant scene. As William Grimes put it in The New York Times, “In the blink of an eye, the city’s lagging restaurant culture… took a giant step into the future.”

Trotter was a self-taught chef. He became interested in cooking through a college roommate, who was an avid cook. After graduating from college, he traveled around the U.S. and Europe, dining at the finest restaurants, seeking to figure out how the “best” gained that title. His first cooking job was for another famous Chicago chef, Gordon Sinclair. He opened Charlie Trotter’s when he was 28.


The restaurant is credited with popularizing the tasting menu. Trotter’s cooking was locally and seasonally driven, long before the word locavore existed. He claimed to never repeat a dish, devising the evening’s menu based on what he found at the market in the morning. Along the way, Trotter received many accolades, including ten James Beard Foundation awards and five stars—the highest ranking—from the Mobil Travel Guide. And Charlie Trotter’s was one of just three restaurants in Chicago to be awarded two stars by the Michelin Guide when it debuted here in 2010.

Trotter continues to shape Chicago’s reputation as a culinary center. Among those who trained in his exacting and often mercurial kitchen are Grant Achatz of Alinea and Next fame, Graham Elliot, Moto’s Homaro Cantu, Yusho’s Matthias Merges and Urban Belly’s Bill Kim.

My own connection to Charlie Trotter was primarily through his cookbooks—and through catching an occasional episode of his PBS show, The Kitchen Sessions with Charlie Trotter, when we stayed in hotels (we have no cable at home). This was the kind of food show that is in short supply in the age of TV cooking as spectator sport, mostly ridiculous competitions and made-for-TV histrionics. Anytime I saw Trotter cook on his show, I learned something valuable about food and technique.

home-cooking-charlie-trotterHis cookbooks teach something valuable too. In his introduction to Home Cooking with Charlie Trotter, the source for this recipe, he says the goal of the book is “elevating everyday cuisine to a higher level of sophistication.” Trotter compared his own cooking style to jazz improvisation, mixing time-honored techniques with unexpected ingredients, layering tastes and textures to create exciting new dishes. In another cookbook, Workin’ More Kitchen Sessions with Charlie Trotter, there is a recipe for lamb shanks with caramelized fennel and apricots. The shanks are braised and the fennel is roasted. Both dishes use both dried and fresh apricots, creating a harmonious combination with subtle differences.

This Cardamom Beef Stew with Roasted Root Vegetables combines similarly flavored (but not quite the same) celery and celery root. And rather than just adding the potatoes, parsnips and celery root to the braising liquid—as you would with most stews—he roasts them. They’re served atop the stew, providing another layer of texture, color and flavor, appealing to multiple senses—as food should.

Usually, when working with cookbook recipes, I tend to tweak things to bring something of myself to the dish, sometimes mashing together multiple recipes plus my own ideas. With this one, the only changes I made were practical ones. Trotter’s version called for meat stock made with several pounds of beef, lamb, venison or veal bones that you roast and then use to build your stock. I didn’t have ready access to bones, so I improvised. I used unsalted beef stock, a genius new product that lets you control the salt levels of the finished dish, and added bay leaf and tomato paste, both ingredients in Trotter’s meat stock. And I reduced the wine that his stock called for, boiling it down to half its volume. I learned this trick from a Daniel Boulud cookbook—it creates the illusion that a sauce or stock or whatever has cooked for hours.

Our roasting pan is less than wonderful, so I used our beautiful oval Staub cocotte instead of the called for roasting pan covered with foil. Because the cocotte held everything snugly, I needed less stock than the recipe called for. Otherwise, everything was by the book. And it was delicious.

Cardamom Beef Stew with Roasted Root Vegetables
Serves 4

2 cups dry red wine
20 cardamom pods, crushed (or 1 teaspoon ground cardamom)
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup sliced celery
1 cup sliced carrots
2 cups chopped yellow onions
1 pound stew meat, cubed
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3-1/2 cups beef stock or broth, unsalted or reduced sodium (plus more, if needed)
1 bulb garlic, halved
1 bay leaf
2 cups large diced potatoes
1 cup large diced celery root
1 cup large diced parsnips
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra

Prepare the stew. Bring wine to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat to medium and cook until reduced by half, about 15 minutes. Set aside. (If the wine reduces too much, just top up with more wine.) Place the crushed cardamom pods in a piece of cheese cloth and tie with kitchen string to create a sachet.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Heat canola oil in a large Dutch oven over medium flame. Add celery, carrots and onion to pot and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid overly browning. Meanwhile, season stew meat with salt and pepper. Add to pot.

Quickly whisk tomato paste into reduced wine. Add 3-1/2 cups stock and wine/tomato paste mixture to pot and stir to combine. Add cardamom sachet (or ground cardamom), garlic bulb halves and bay leaf. Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and braise in the oven for 2-1/2 to 3 hours, until beef is completely tender. Check about halfway through, stirring and adding more stock if too much has cooked away.

Prepare the root vegetables. About 45 minutes before the stew is ready, toss the potatoes, celery root and parsnips with 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. Spread them on a lightly oiled, rimmed baking sheet and roast until golden brown, about 45 minutes, tossing once halfway through.

Assemble the dish. Discard cardamom sachet and bay leaf. Gently squeeze garlic bulb halves to release individual cloves into stew and discard skins. At this point, the cloves are mellow and meltingly soft; they will add wonderful flavor bursts to the stew. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as needed. Spoon stew into four shallow soup plates. Top with roasted root vegetables and serve.


{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

kitchenriffs November 13, 2013 at 10:48 am

I never had the pleasure of eating one of Charlie Trotter’s meals. And shockingly, I have none of his cookbooks – I’ll remedy that today. But who doesn’t know what outsize influence he had on the way we eat? Good recipe. Great way to remember Mr. Trotter.

Anita November 13, 2013 at 11:13 am

My first “highest level” restaurant experience was at Charlie Trotters’s – and it was exceptional. We perhaps didn’t realize HOW exceptional until we ate at other top-of-the-heap Chicago restaurants of the time and never got the same great food and service, without any snob factor. (At least not from the staff) What shocked me when reading his obituary is that he was so very little older than us. We were just starting to discover epicurean pleasures – and he was already so well renown for providing them! Rest in peace – and I’ll make this over the weekend in memoriam. Thanks for the recipe/instructions.

Anita November 13, 2013 at 11:21 am

Question, though – did you wash the garlic bulb halves? Peel off most of the skins? What about the root end? It seems a bit – dirty – to put the outer parts into liquid, what with actual dirt and all those layers of peel that could get into the stew.

Terry B November 13, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Thanks, Kitchenriffs. We never got to his restaurant either, I’m sorry to say. I actually met him once, though, at a Barnes & Noble. It was his neighborhood bookstore and he was just shopping. He very graciously accepted my fanboy blathering.

Anita, how cool that you got to eat there! And your take on the place is why so many people from all over the world loved the restaurant. Regarding the garlic bulb halves, my garlic seemed pretty clean, the the papery outer skin nice and white. So I just popped it into the pot, figuring hours at 350º would take care of any issues. If yours is at all dirty looking, run it under tap water and scrub it with your fingertips. Those layers of peel are what hold the bulb halves together. Peel off any really loose ones, but leave the rest intact. Right near the end, remove the bulb halves from the pot and, when they’re cool enough to handle, squeeze on them to pop out the individual clove halves. If some of those have particularly noticeable skins, pinch those off too. You’ll probably find that the clove halves just start collapsing into mush on their own. Stir the garlic back into the pot.

Lou Pupich November 13, 2013 at 9:06 pm

I was thrilled, honored and apprehensive when my sister asked Marie and I if we would like to join her for dinner at Charlie Trotter’s one late spring (snow was still on the ground) evening. Turns out, she and her husband were to have joined clients there, but because of some health issues, among others, the clients and her husband were unable to attend. She was so looking forward to the dining experience, she asked us to join her. My apprehension was based on being uncomfortable in what I had perceived to be too much of an upper-scale experience for me. Within four minutes of being seated my apprehension was put to rest. The staff was always there for every need, but never, ever obtrusive. My sister asked if a particular sommelier (a former sommelier at a So. Cal. restaurant she frequented) was available. Alas, it was his night off, but the sommelier working that night asked if we would like to have a tour of the TV studio (next door to the restaurant) and the wine cellar. We walked down to the wine cellar, accompanied by a handsome young guy who looked like he just walked off the pages of GQ (a security guy) and were given an extraordinary tour. At one point, we were shown a bottle of Italian wine that cost $10,000. Nervously, but nonetheless inquisitively, I asked how many bottles of this wine have been sold. She said that thus far that year (it was March) they had sold two bottles. She went on to explain that a group of people from around the world who own that wine come together for an evening of fine dining and to sample the wine. Impressed beyond belief over the entire experience, we waited for the valet to bring our car. Waiting before us was a young foreign couple, the guy wearing shoes without sock and a light weight wool jacket, kind of like they just came back from a camping trip. What a place!

Terry B November 13, 2013 at 10:36 pm

Lou, what a wonderful story. To me, one measure of a truly great restaurant is that it makes its guests feel comfortable and welcomed. Exceptional food is one thing, but if you don’t enjoy the entire dining experience, it’s not an exceptional meal.

randi November 14, 2013 at 10:29 am

I’m going to have to look for one of his books. I knew his name but didn’t know much about him. For some reason I never think about using cardamom in meat dishes. It’s so wonderful in baking as it adds a certain warmth. I will be making this soon and will let you know how it turned out. Funny I just bought a giant parsnip and lots of celery root for pea soup so I should have some extra for this. A nearby butcher has really nice stew meat so I’ll make a point to go there Saturday. There’s nothing like a really good stew. What type of potato did you use?

Terry B November 14, 2013 at 10:40 am

Randi, cardamom is often used in savory dishes in India. Trotter notes that in his intro to the recipe, but there is nothing especially Indian about the stew. One thing that drew me to the recipe was the use of cardamom like this. I love to borrow ingredients from various cuisines and then use them in new ways. For the potatoes, I used Yukon Gold. It’s our go to most of the time. But any potatoes would work, I think.

TRNL November 23, 2013 at 6:21 pm

Very delicious! Just cooked tonight. I braised for much longer than recommended (don’t let the cook drink the wine) and it was still great. I baked a biscuit to accompany and dab up the wonderful sauce.

Terry B November 23, 2013 at 6:32 pm

Glad it turned out well, TRNL! Stew meat loves a long braise, so it was probably even more tender.

borisa December 3, 2013 at 7:37 am

I can not wait to finish my work today and go home to try this recipe. It look so good and yummy. Nice dish. Thank you for this new idea about simple and healthy meal.

randi December 6, 2013 at 9:16 am

This is a fabulous stew. I think it’s my go-to now. Even my beef hating son took the leftovers for lunch today. I forgot to buy cardamom pods so I used the ground cardamom. It really gives it a nice flavour and I’m sure even better with the pods. I love the wine reducing that i first saw in your short ribs recipe. It makes all the difference.

Terry B December 6, 2013 at 9:32 am

Randi, you are probably my most reliable recipe tester! Glad it passed the test with your son. And yes, that wine reducing trick is a great one.

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