Thursday, 5 February 2009

Beef and ale stew with dumplings and cheddar cheese

It was a cold evening tonight - perfect for a nice bit of stew! No Michelin-star award winning cooking techniques here, just a tasty, hearty, warming meal. I used lemon thyme here because it was the only fresh herb I had to hand, so although it certainly went nicely, you may want to experiment with parsley, normal thyme and/or rosemary. It was inspired by a couple of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's recipes. Stews take a long time to cook but they're actually very easy, and once they're going you just leave them until the time is up. This will feed about four people and takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes. I didn't have any streaky bacon to hand, but Hugh recommends it in his recipe and I'm sure it would taste awesome! If you use it, brown it in the pan and then transfer to the casserole just before you fry off your onions. In future I might try putting the stew mix in a pie with some puff pastry, with some mashed potato on the side.

Stew ingredients:
  • 1.5kg stewing beef
  • 500ml beef stock
  • 250ml dark English ale (I used Wychwood's Goliath)
  • A few lemon thyme sprigs
  • 2 large white onions
  • 50g plain flour
  • 2 tbsps Worcestershire sauce
  • 2tbsps olive oil
  • A couple of knobs of butter
  • Salt and pepper

Dumpling ingredients:

  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 200g breadcrumbs
  • Olive oil to mix
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • About 1 tbsp fresh lemon thyme leaves
  • Salt and pepper
  • Grated mature cheddar to garnish
  1. Get your beef out of the fridge about 30 minutes in advance. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan at a low heat, then add the butter.
  2. Chop the onions in half, peel them and cut off the shoots. Slice them into half-moon shapes and fry them in the pan for about 15 minutes until they've softened and started to turn golden, then put them into a casserole.
  3. Mix the flour, salt and freshly ground black pepper and toss your meat in it (cue incredibly mature jokes here). Turn up the heat in the pan to about medium, then add the beef (you'll probably have to do this in batches), sealing the pieces on all sides before transferring to the casserole. This seals in the juices and flavour.
  4. When all your beef is cooked, pour a little ale into the pan to deglaze it, scraping the bottom (use a wooden spoon if you have a non-stick pan so that you don't scratch it to hell) to dislodge the sediment. Pour all of this into the casserole, then add the rest of the ale, the Worcestershire sauce, the beef stock and the lemon thyme, which you should tie into what is known as a "bouquet garni" (not as poncey as it sounds, just tie them together with an elastic band). Bring it to the boil, then partially cover it and reduce to a simmer for about 2 hours and 30 minutes. If the meat becomes exposed, add a little hot water to recover it so that it doesn't dry out.
  5. In the meantime, start on the dumplings. There's no point sieving the flour so don't bother. Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl (apart from the cheese), make a well in the centre and pour in two-thirds of the beaten eggs. Add olive oil in small increments as you mix until you have something a bit like a bread dough, then divide it into 10-12 large rugby-ball shaped lumps. Put these into the stew for the last 45 minutes of cooking.
  6. Serve the stew into bowls or pasta dishes and try to get the dumplings on top. Grate some mature cheddar over the dumplings (I don't know the exact quantity, just guesstimate!) and stick the bowls under the grill for a minute or two, which will warm up the bowl a bit and also melt the cheese. If you have an oven-proof casserole (which, on this particular occasion, I didn't) then you can probably do this while the stew is still in there.

Enjoy with a nice pint of ale! Cheers!

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