Stifadho – Meat and Onion Stew

Stifadho (pronounced stee-fá-though), a meat-and-onion stew, is one of the more typical and certainly one of the most delicious Greek meat dishes. Not long ago, it was common in tavernas and home kitchens all over Greece, but it has recently become harder to find. This is due to the fact that it belongs to the group of dishes called mayireftá (“cooked ones”), which designates food cooked slowly and at low temperatures, allowing the flavours of their ingredients to gradually fuse with one another.

In a modern world where time is money, these recipes have lost some ground to faster alternatives, such as grilled meats. More’s the pity, as these patience-based delights allow essentially simple components to transform into a surprisingly rich and complex new flavour, often using somewhat unexpected ingredients e.g. cinnamon.

Although the preparation we suggest here takes about 3.5 hours (in terms of cooking time), stifadho can be cooked much more slowly: some old ladies claim that their grandmothers would have taken several days preparing it. The meat used in stifadho is traditionally game, especially rabbit (kouneli stifadho) but beef or veal (moschari stifadho) are often used as substitutes, and versions with chicken, lamb or octopus also occur.

Ingredients (serves: 6):

About 1 kg of meat, preferably a large rabbit (cut in pieces), or beef
750 g small onions (in Greece, special walnut-sized stifadho onions are for sale, but any small onion should do. Spring onions or shallots tend to be too strong)
250 ml red wine
Olive oil
1 large tasty tomato, finely chopped (or 2-3 tablespoons tomato puree)
Balsamic vinegar
4-5 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 cinnamon stick (in some areas stifadho is made without cinnamon, but especially the beef version benefits greatly from it)
2-3 Bay leaves
Salt, pepper, and sugar to taste. Rosemary and a few berries of allspice (not ground). Cumin or cloves are also used sometimes.

Preparation:

Marinade the meat in a bowl with 4-6 tablespoons of vinegar and the bay leaves for at least two hours. Then, using a large pot or casserole dish, brown the meat in olive oil on a fairly high heat. Add all the seasonings, as well as the tomato, the wine and an equal amount of hot water. Bring the mixture to the boil while stirring occasionally. Finally, place a lid on top, turn down the heat and let it simmer away. The meat should remain largely covered in liquid. If it threatens to boil dry, add a little wine or water.

Next, using a large saucepan or frying pan, sauté the onions, peeled but not chopped, in olive oil, until they turn a dark golden to light brown colour. Add them to the meat when it has simmered for at least an hour, stir, and leave to simmer for another 20 minutes or so.

In restaurants in Greece, stifadho is often accompanied by rice. More authentic are kritharakia, tiny pasta shapes like large grains of rice or pine nuts, which can be found in specialist delis as ‘Orzo’ pasta. Potatoes oven-roasted with olive oil are a further option.

It is important to cook and eat this quintessential dish at leisure – it always tastes even better after reheating! We recommend freshly baked bread to scoop up the delicious rich sauce.