Don’t you just love the sight of cattle grazing on the rolling countryside? Stop, listen… the munching, crunching sound is that of cattle eating sunshine. When they lie down and chew the cud they turn grass into protein with all the minerals and goodness from the bountiful Irish soil.
Beef stew is a winner and every family has its own recipe. It takes a bit of time to prepare and cook, but the rewards are many- smiles on faces as they catch a whiff of it coming in on a cold day; juices flowing, appetites at the ready, happy diners (no problem getting someone to set the table) and clean plates all round.
I always make a large quantity of beef stew- it’s an economy of scale. After the satisfying dinner – and people always ask for second helpings of stew – there’s always enough to freeze a few one-portion boxes to give to Grandad and Nana. Beef stew becomes fast food when it’s stored in the freezer – in the time it takes to boil a handful of spuds or a cupful of rice, the stew can be thawed in the microwave. Perfect for a hungry teenager dining alone.
It’s the gift I bring to visit parents of a newborn baby – frozen beef stew is a great back up, and so nutritious for a nursing mother.
It’s the food I prepare for an outdoorsy weekend away – everyone comes in hungry and dinner is on the table in twenty minutes.
Beef, root vegetables, onions, celery, porter – the goodness is in it!
50g streaky rashers
2 ozs cream flour
2 lbs onions
4 fat cloves garlic
4x ½ pint bottles Guinness
3 ½ lbs round beef
1 1/2 lbs carrots
1 1/4 lbs parsnips
4 sticks celery
4 bay leaves
2 sprigs thyme
stems of parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce
3 heaped teaspoons green peppercorns in brine
First, set up your kitchen. Lay out on your counter top a large chopping board, sharpened knives, vegetable peeler. Use a large stew pot for the stew and a frying pan for browning meat. Ventilate the kitchen well as the browning of meat creates a food smell which is lovely in the kitchen, but not in the bedrooms! Boil the kettle, fill the sink with hot, soapy water.
1. Lay streaky rashers on a cold frying pan and put on a medium heat until the rashers cook in their own fat, turning as necessary. Remove to chopping board, cool, cut off rind and chop into little pieces.
2. Chop onions into fine dice, mince garlic. Add a glug of olive oil to the stew pot, put on a medium to high heat, add onions and garlic, and sweat with the casserole lid on until translucent, stirring frequently.
3. Cut the beef into cubes about of 11/2 inches. Put the flour in a medium sized bowl and cover all the beef in flour. Do this in four batches- heat a little olive oil in the frying pan, shake excess flour off the beef pieces, and brown at high heat, turning once. Do not crowd the frying pan or the beef will stew rather than brown.
4. With a fish slice, remove each batch of browned beef into the stew pot, deglazing the pan with a splash of boiling water and adding the juices to the stew each time.
5. While the beef is browning, add Guinness to the stew pot, enough to cover contents.
6. Add bay leaves, sprigs of thyme, stems of parsley, black pepper, salt, Lea & Perrins, chopped rashers.
7. Peel and chop carrots and parsnips, making them chunky pieces which will absorb the wonderful flavours.
8. When the final batch of beef is browned, add it to the casserole. Add enough Guinness to cover all the contents. Add the green peppercorns, stir, cover with a lid and simmer very gently on a low hob for 11/2 hours.
9. Half hour before the end of cooking, add celery chopped into 1in pieces and continue to simmer.
10. When cooked, the beef will be tender, the flavours well developed and the sauce thickened by the flour.
11. Remove bay leaves, thyme sprigs and parsley stalks.
12. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.
This stew is a traditional recipe in my family, apart from the green peppercorns (it’s far from green peppercorns we were reared!) which are added at my teenage daughter’s request, and have become a family staple. You can adapt it to your preferences, adding other root vegetables, mushrooms, different flavourings.
These quantities make a large volume of stew, and that’s how I always make it as it seems to me to be an economy of scale to steam up the kitchen and create all that washing up when I know I’ll get today’s dinner, and more for the freezer.
Nobody cooks a single portion of beef stew, but everyone loves it, so it behoves the cook to think generously. We find that if the stew can rest over night, the flavours are much more developed on day two.
Serve with a big bowl of ambrosial mashed potatoes or crisp skinned baked potatoes and a bowl of buttered Brussels sprouts
Now you’re set up!