How Leah Chase Transformed Beef Stew Tradition With One Ingredient

Not many people can claim that they are both one of the premier chefs in America and the inspiration for a Disney princess, but Leah Chase can. Though the grande dame of cooking passed away in 2019, she has left her indelible mark on numerous dishes, from gumbo to fried chicken. She's mentored the next generation of chefs and gifted us with a catalog of Old World recipes complete with Creole twists — take one of her more unique updates on a French classic, the provencal beef stew, aka daube.

Daube is a humble dish at its core, turning a tough cut of beef or lamb into a divinely tender dish flavored with red wine, carrots, and onions. Creole cooking is rife with traditional French dishes like this, but they're often tempered by the addition of New World ingredients. With that in mind, Chase added a classic Southern vegetable to add her own Creole spin on the daube: tomatoes. 

The addition of tomatoes brings fuller flavor to beef stew

In an interview with Lolis Elie for First We Feast, Chase fondly recalled the simple delights of making daube, where a big round cut of beef was browned in a pot before being steamed with a bevy of tomatoes. Served with extra tomatoes and spaghetti, Chase described it as "the best thing in the world." This isn't too large of a departure from the original recipe, as classic daube often calls for a few tablespoons of tomato paste. Still, Chase's version has the tomato taking centerstage instead of playing a complementary note in the background.  

As for what kind of tomatoes to use, Chase prefers Creole tomatoes. What are Creole tomatoes? Rather than denoting a tomato variety or recipe, Creole tomatoes refer to tomatoes grown in the Creole area, i.e., the Louisiana Creole area. So when she refers to Creole tomatoes, just think "home-grown, local" tomatoes. 

Sadly, Creole daube is considered one of the "endangered dishes" of New Orleans, growing rarer by the year, according to culinary historian Jessica B. Harris (via Southern Living). Perhaps the next time you decide to make your version of daube, you'll throw in a bunch of fresh tomatoes to preserve the delicious legacy of the Queen of Creole Cuisine.