If you’re anything like me (gluttonous, food-obsessed and perpetually peckish) then healthy light meals will only get you so far on cold January nights. But bigger meatier fare doesn’t have to be totally unhealthy. It makes you happier, and a healthy mind leads to a healthy body, right? Right?.
With that in mind I spent a Sunday lovingly cooking this little beauty. And red meat aside it really isn’t particularly unhealthy. The motivation came after spotting a big ol’ hunk beef shin in Meat N16 (our local butcher), all gnarly and full of connective tissue. Just what you need for a bit of slow cooking magic.
The beauty of long slow cooking like this is that while it takes time, it takes comparatively little effort. Sure there’s a bit of stirring and seasoning at the start. But then there’s just several hours of slow simmering on the hob while you kick back and relax.
It’s this tremulous simmer that performs the magic. Nothing shows off the alchemy of cooking like a stew or braise. Cheap tough cuts of meat go in, unctuous meltingly tender nuggets of joy come out the other side. It’s the culinary equivalent of turning lead into gold.
And in these cold depressing months, it’s food to warm and nourish the soul. It gets even better after a day or two in the fridge. So go on, treat yourself and bubble up a big batch.
Beef and stout stew
Feeds four people in need of soul food
This is an endlessly customisable dish. You could use red wine instead of beer, mutton or lamb instead of beef (although you would want to change the stock to lamb, chicken or just water).
Don’t like carrots or turnips? No worries, use leaks and parsnips instead. Why not add some pearl barley in at the start to make it even more filling. When I re-heated a second batch, i added brussels chopped in half. They were great.
750g beef shin – cut into egg sized lumps
500ml beef stock
330ml (small btl) stout or porter
2 onions – roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic – finely sliced
2 carrots – peeled and chopped into large chunks
2 largish potatoes – peeled and chopped into large chunks
1 turnip – peeled and chopped into large chunks
A couple of sprigs of thyme
A bay leaf
Salt and pepper
A little caster sugar
Coat the beef in some plain flour, dust off the excess and then brown in some butter or oil (or dripping/lard if you’re proper old school). Set aside. Then add a little more fat to the pan and fry the onions until they’re soft.
Add the garlic and stir a couple of times. Then add the beef and stir some more. Pour in a little of the stock and stir and scrape the crusty bits off the bottom of the pan.
Tuck in the herbs, then add the rest of the stock and bring to a merry bubble. Pour in the stout. It will foam a lot. Let it start simmering and then turn the heat right down
Cook it at a gentle simmer for about two and a half hours (or longer of you need to). Add some more stock or water if it starts to look dry.
An hour and a half before you want to eat chuck in the vegetables, roots and tubers. Let the stew bubble slowly away for another hour.
Now taste the stew and season to your preference. I thought there was a slight bitter edge to the gravy and so added a teaspoon of black treacle and a teaspoon of caster sugar which did the trick. Cook for another 30 minutes.
Serve with bread, US style biscuits (a bit like scones) or as it comes. It’s rich, meaty and warming. A winter delight.