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My 'beef' with beef stew

My 'beef' with beef stew

I have a bit of a love / hate relationship with beef casseroles. You could say I have a 'beef' with beef. I love eating a good one but hate most of my efforts. I've tried good meat, great meat, terrble meat, fresh, defrosted, cut up by the butcher, cut up at home, slow cooked, fast cooked, all day cooked, wine, no wine, browning, no browning, seasoned flour, no flour, high temperature, low temperature, on the top, in the oven, following a recipe, making it up as I go along.

At my age you would think I'd have cracked it. I usually dread trying it after about 4 hours cooking in case the meat is tough. It's too late to do anything about it and then everyone pushes it around the plate and at least one child cries and says they aren't hungry. However I think I finally have it cracked with help from too many cookbooks, websites and magazines to mention.

Some notes about the recipe:

  • The meat is local but probably not organic. It came from the Stokely Farm Shop butchers and was cut up already. I bought it on the day I cooked it.
  • First rule of mushroom club, there are NO mushrooms. Do not admit to the presence of mushrooms under any circumstances. Unless of course your family is less fussy than mine. In which case proudly declare your mycophilia.
  • I like to add a sneaky parsnip into the mashed potatoes for some extra veg. Again do not admit to this. Be surreptitious. Apparently they hate parsnips but little do they know they eat them regularly. Hide the peelings.
  • Don't think that using the whole bottle of stout will make it extra tasty. It won't. At best it will taste bitter (bitter, get it?) At worst it will be pretty vile. On the other hand if you substitute the stout for wine, you can go right ahead and add the whole bottle. Unless of course you would rather drink it.
  • I've used a teaspoon of Maggi liquid seasoning but you could use mushroom ketchup or even soy sauce for that savoury hit.
  • I am a big fan of cheating so I often use garlic paste. I whipped up this dinner in less time than it took to write about it and my hands didn't stink of garlic, result. Use fresh if you can but don't feel guilty about the quick option. If time was short, I would even go as far as using tinned fried onions if I had any. Deila taught me that one and if it's good enough for Delia...
  • For a bit of variety you can add vacuum packed chestnuts, stoned dried prunes, button mushrooms (see note above) or fried lardons.

Beef and stout stew

Serves my family of 2 adults & 2 kids with a bit leftover

  • 500g diced steak (preferably shin)
  • Rapeseed oil (local Bell & Loxton is great!)
  • 1 diced onion
  • 1 diced carrot
  • 1/3 bottle stout
  • Bay leaf
  • Scant teaspoon thyme
  • Squeeze garlic paste
  • Shake white pepper
  • 1 tsp Maggi liquid seasoning
  • Beef stock
  • Small handful of dried porcini soaked in a little boiling water
  • 1/2 mug prune juice
  • 2 squares 70% dark chocolate finely grated (not Freddo Frogs)


I cook on an Aga so I'm not sure of the oven temp but probably 170-180c would do it.

  1. Heat up an oven proof saucepan on the hob
  2. Meanwhile put the stout, bay leaf, garlic, carrots, thyme, seasoning sauce and pepper into a non metallic bowl
  3. Add oil to the pan and brown the steak in batches then add each browned batch to the bowl of stout
  4. When all the steak is browned heat up the pan again with a little more oil
  5. Brown the onion, even some black bits are good for the umami
  6. When the onions are nicely brown, pour in the mushroom water but reserve the mushrooms
  7. De-glaze the pan making sure you scrape off all the tasty brown bits from the sides
  8. Add the steak and stout from the bowl
  9. Finely mince the rehydrated mushrooms and add to the pot
  10. Add 500ml water with a stock cube added (or home-made stock if you have more time on your hands than me)
  11. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook like this for about 1 hour
  12. Then put into the oven for as long as you've got, minimum 2 hours
  13. Check on it now and again, scraping the goodness back in and topping up with water if necessary. Don't let the meat dry out, it needs to be under liquid all the time, you can reduce the sauce later if needed.
  14. If cooking longer than two hours I would turn the heat down or move to the simmering oven in the Aga.
  15. Add the grated chocolate
  16. Check the seasoning and bitterness
  17. Add prune juice to sweeten if necessary
  18. Thicken with a little cornflour made into a paste

Serve with mashed potatoes and some nice green veg.

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