Sunday, 10 November 2013

Beef Stew with Guinness and Herb Dumplings

Everyone has a dish or something that they eat that manages to transport them back in time and which represents so much more than the actual food that is being eaten. There are several dishes that manage to do this for me but the recipe that I give here probably achieves this more than any other. Whenever I eat this stew it evokes memories of when I was a child and of the family sitting around the table eating together on Wintry evenings when everyone had arrived in hungry from work and school.

This is my version of the beef stew that my grandmother regularly cooked for us and I just love the way the beef melts in the mouth, the sweetness of the carrots and onions and the beautiful rich sauce that brings everything together. She would serve the stew with some boiled or mashed potatoes and cooked green beans.

I have recently started including little herb dumplings which I plop into the stew about half an hour before the end of the cooking time. Although this is not something that my grandmother did, I have to admit that I love them. They puff up during cooking and take on some of the richly flavoured Guinness sauce and are not in the least bit stodgy. The dumplings use beef suet which adds another subtle but very savoury meaty element that complements the beef so well. The dumplings are incredibly easy to make and I would definitely recommend including them. Use whatever herbs you have to hand – I used chives, thyme, rosemary and parsley and they were delicious.

Once you initially prepare the ingredients and put them in the casserole dish, the stew can be quite happily left in the oven to cook away slowly at a moderate heat for a few hours. In fact, this dish actually improves if made in advance and re-heated. I often make it the day before I am going to serve it and then re-heat it for about an hour in the oven. If there are any are left-overs, I use them to make a puff- or shortcrust pastry- topped pie, where I put the remaining stew into a pie dish, top it with the pastry, brush it with egg wash and put into a hot oven for about 25 minutes. This is delicious served with some boiled potatoes and a green vegetable such as broccoli or peas.

This dish is a celebration of Irish beef and Irish stout. I honestly believe that we have some of the best beef in the world. Often when I complain about the amount of rain that falls in Ireland, I remind myself that if it wasn’t for all the rain, we wouldn’t have all the rich green pastures on which our cattle and sheep graze and which provide the perfect conditions for our dairy and meat industries.

What I particularly like about this recipe is that it demands the use of cheaper cuts of beef which have to be slow-cooked… Don’t get me wrong, I love fillet and sirloin beef but they can be so expensive and are by necessity mostly reserved for special occasions. Truthfully, although cheaper cuts of meat can be tough if not sensitively cooked, they do have so much flavour. Because of the slow-cooking involved here, the meat literally melts-in-the mouth and is oh so comforting to eat.

Ingredients:

3 medium sized onions, roughly chopped
750g stewing beef
3tblsp vegetable oil
2tblsp plain flour
Salt and pepper
5 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
500ml Guinness
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
250ml water
Sprig of thyme
Dumplings:
125g self-raising flour
65g shredded beef suet
3tblsp of finely chopped herbs (e.g. parsley, rosemary, thyme, chives)
 

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 160C/Fan 140C/ Gas Mark 3. Cut the beef into large bite sized pieces and trim off any large pieces of sinew or fat. You do not need to be overly worried about removing all fat and sinew, because it renders down during the slow-cooking and adds to the richness of the finished dish.
2. Sprinkle the flour over the beef pieces and season well. Heat the oil in a heavy based, oven-proof casserole dish and fry the meat in batches over a high heat until nicely browned all over. When each batch is done, temporarily remove to a dish while you get on with frying the rest of the meat. Do not overcrowd the pan or the meat will boil rather than sear and will not take on the lovely caramelised colour that you are seeking.
3. Once you have seared all the meat, add a touch more oil to the casserole dish, if needed and fry the onions until a nice golden colour. Return the meat to the casserole dish, add the carrots and pour in the Guinness. Allow to bubble for two or three minutes and then add the chopped tomatoes and a little of the water – you may not need it all at this stage, but can top up during the cooking process if the stew looks like it is drying up.
4. Season generously and add the sprig of thyme. Put the lid on the casserole dish and place into the pre-heated oven for anything between 2 and 3 hours. Check half-way through the cooking time and add a little more of the water if needed.
5. To make the dumplings, sieve the flour into a bowl and then add the beef suet and finely chopped herbs and mix through.
6. Add 100ml water and mix with a wooden spoon to a soft dough. Form walnut sized balls of the dough.
7. Take the stew out of the oven, remove the lid of the casserole dish and plop the dumplings in. Return the casserole dish to the oven, but do not replace the lid. Allow to cook for another 30 minutes. Serve with mashed potatoes.
 

Serves 6 generously.