Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Winter Cooking: Beer & Beef Stew

This article can also be found at The Yorker here.

Note, and Disclaimer: Standard cooking is really not my style - I feel that knowing some basic cooking theory (how to bake, how to season, how not to burn things) will supersede the need to follow very rigid instructions. To that end, I don't have precise measurements for this recipe. Go hog wild with different ratios - and if you have any alternate ingredients, I'd love to hear them!

This recipe was inspired by a visit to Trembling Madness, a fancy booze shop with a restaurant upstairs, the place is as quaint and rustic as one comes to expect from York's unique eateries, and the food they serve is hearty, warming and full of carbs. Just what you want on a winter's day. When I first visited there, I tried the Belgian Beer & Beef Stew. It was so rich I couldn't finish it, but it was delicious. I thought to myself "I have to try and make this myself!"

You Will Need (Serves a dinner party of 12, or all your meals for a week):
  • Dark Beer. I used 2 bottles of Dark Arts Surreal Stout.
  • Beef stock.
  • A Leek.
  • Butternut Squash (Pumpkin would be better, but that's a bit harder to get old of post-October)
  • Sweet Potato (Or potato if you're boring)
  • Carrots and Parsnips
  • Chestnuts
  • Barbecue Sauce/Marinade (Trust me.)
  • Spicy seasoning! I used Ginger, Black Pepper and Chilli Powder
  • Diced Beef. You could use Diced Pork instead - or both at once! I sure did.
  • Cooking Oil and flour. You should already have these.
  • Coconut Milk
  • A large stew pot. Y'know, to keep the stew in.
  • A frying pan. If you're a stir-fry addict and have a wok, even better.
The Fun Part First, you're gonna have to do some preparation. The most time consuming are the Chestnuts - they normally come shelled, and the shell is... rather inedible. What's worse, is that they're a pain to remove. However! If you take a knife to each one, putting clear grooves through each chestnut in an 'X' shape, then leave them to boil in simmering water for 20 minutes, the shells will soften and become much easier to peel off. Be sure to peel them the moment you take them out of the water - once they cool down the shells will harden again, and all your work will have gone to waste.

During the boiling feel free to chop up your veggies. Chop them up chunky and irregular pieces, but feel free to finely chop the leek. Dump it all in the stew pot once done. Also take the time to prepare your meat (heh), and roll it around in the flour. Get a frying pan on, oil it up, and proceed to fry your floured-up meat. You only need to get the outside looking cooked, the majority of the cooking will happen when it starts stewing. Once you're satisfied, dump that in the pot too.

Are your Chestnuts done and peeled? Great, add them to the stew pot! With all your big ingredients in there, it's time to give them a Beer Bath. Crack open the bottles (or cans? I wouldn't try this with Stella), and pour them into the pan with reckless abandon. Soak all those vegetables, they've been naughty.

Ahem. Follow that up with Coconut milk to taste. Less is better than more here - too much and it'll obscure the taste of the beer. Boil some water, and add it to the pot until everything is submerged. Put the stew pot on a very low heat, and get to stirring.

The boiling process is very finicky here. Leave the heat on too low, and hell will have frozen over by the time things start cooking properly. On the other hand, the coconut milk and beer will froth and burn if the heat gets too high. Keep an eye on the heat and keep stirring. Once the whole concoction has heated up, you can relax on the stirring - just keep the heat low and check every 20 minutes to half-hour.

During the stirring process, you can start to add your spices, stock and sauce. This is in no way a science, add as much as you like to round out the flavour of the beer, and to get it as spicy as you can tolerate. Even if you're not a fan of spicy foods, you'll thank me once you come home on a freezing evening and have this stew to warm you up. Bear in mind that the flavour will get stronger as the water boils off.

After an hour, the stew will be edible, but I wouldn't call it 'done'. The longer the stew cooks for the heartier it gets (and the easier it is for it to burn! Don't forget to stir if you have it on the burner!) If you're the kind of person to do forward planning, making the stew the day before, but leaving it to sit overnight will give the ingredients the chance to soften up and take in the flavour. Having the sweet potato and beef chunks melt in your mouth is incredible.