I decided to do a beef stew for my Sunday’s dinner. I have posted a beef Bourguignon before, so I wanted to do something different this time. Many cuisines have some form of beef stews, so there are numerous potential recipes from which to choose. Flipping through the possibilities, I finally settled on a Irish Guinness based stew.
There are two philosophies for both chili and beef stews. Purists who feel that a minimum of vegetables and starches should go in these iconic dishes and those who feel that these stews should be a one dish meal—vegetables and starches all thrown in together. Several of my diners are watching their starch intakes, so today I plan to go with a low starch beef stew and serve colcannon—my starch/vegetable—on the side.
Note: At least a little starch will be necessary to thicken the stews’ gravy.
I looked up the best beef cuts for stews and beef chuck is the standard for stews. It is generally inexpensive and it has a fair beef flavor and some connective tissue to produce the gelatin the gives a good beef stew its distinctive mouth feel. Cook’s Illustrated frequently uses the short cut of adding a packet of powdered gelatin to achieve this same effect.
Other stew beef options are flap steak/meat and oxtails. Flap meat has very deep beef flavor, but it can be hard to find and, in Hispanic markets, is usually sold cut very thinly for carne asada. Oxtail, on the other hand, provides all of the gelatin that this dish needs. However, making a beef stew with only oxtails would be both expensive and a bit too greasy.
I decided to use a mix of beef cuts—a bit of flap steak for the beefy flavor; one oxtail joint for the added gelatin: and beef chuck to make up the bulk of the meaty chunks. For my vegetables in the stew, I chose a basic mirepoix of onions, celery, and carrot. Finally, I cannot imagine any dish without garlic.
Note: Over the years I have picked up many tricks for boosting the umami of meaty dishes. Adding anchovy paste, fish sauce. powdered wild mushrooms, soy sauce, or tomato paste in small amounts will subtly boost the flavor of your dish without making it taste like those ingredients. Today, I decided to forgo any of these culinary tricks.
Karl’s Guinness Beef Stew
½ lb. beef flap meat
2½ tsp. Kosher salt, separate uses
½ lb. oxtail (1 large piece)
3½ lb. beef chuck roast
2 Tbs. butter, separate uses
2 cup yellow onion, finely diced
1 cup celery, finely diced
1 cup carrot, grated
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. fresh thyme
3 bottles Guinness (3 x 11.2 oz)
14.5 oz low sodium beef broth (optional)
½ tsp. black pepper
3+ Tbs. butter, softened
3+ tablespoons flour
1. Pat the flap meat dry with paper towels and sprinkle it lightly with salt.
Tip: If you can find flap meat at all, it will usually be cut into a large thin sheet (½ inch thick and 12-14 inches square).
Note: Do not cut up the flap meat at this time.
2. Set the flap meat aside to air dry.
3. For the oxtail, cut the meat away from the bone in as large a chunks as you can manage.
Tip: Much of the connective tissue of the oxtail is next to the bone and you want the heat to start breaking it down into gelatin as quickly as possible.
4. Cut the chuck roast into 2-inch chunks, removing any large pieces of fat.
5. Sprinkle the beef chunks lightly with the salt and set them aside.
6. Add the butter to the pot and sauté the onions with one teaspoon of salt until they are starting to brown, about five minutes.
Tip: The salt helps release the onion’s moisture and speeds up the browning process.
7. Add the celery and carrots to the pot and continue sautéing until the vegetables are soft, about another five minutes.
Tip: You want your vegetables to break down into the sauce, rather than to have big chunks of vegetables with beef.
8. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pot and sauté the garlic until fragrant, about one minute.
9. Transfer the vegetables to a bowl and lay the flap meat flat on the bottom of the pot.
10. Sear the meat for 3-4 minutes until the first side is well browned.
11. Flip the meat and brown the second side well, 2-3 minutes.
12. Transfer the meat to a plate to cool.
Tip: When the flap meat has cooled, cut it into small pieces. When this meat is returned to the pot they will break down to add a rich meatiness to the sauce.
13. Deglaze the pot with the three bottles of Guinness,,
14. Return the vegetables to the pot, add another teaspoon of salt, and the thyme.
15 . Add the flap meat pieces, the beef chunks, and the oxtail bone to the pot and toss to coat the meat.
16. Bring the pot to a boil, cover, and transfer the Dutch oven to a 350º F oven.
17. Braise the meat for 2-2½ hours.
Tip: Gently stir the pot every half hour to bring the submerged pieces of meat up out of the sauce.
18. Remove the Dutch oven to the stove top and transfer the meat chunks to a bowl.
Note: The meat chunks are very delicate at this point. If you tied to thicken the sauce with the meat in the pot, you would shred the meat into an ugly mess as you stirred the sauce.
19. De-fat the sauce.
Tip: Fat equals flavor, but different people have differing dietary needs. After the broth has rested for a time the grease will rise to the top. De-fat the broth to your preferred level—for Jan, I remove much of the fat.
Note: This dish can be put on hold at this point for several hours—or even overnight. I was originally planning to finish this stew at my daughters house, but Jan is still recovering from her eye surgery so the kids came to us.
20. Much of the liquid will have cooked away, if you want more gravy add the beef broth, more Guinness or water at this point.
21. Mix the softened butter and flour together into a paste.
Tip: Make an estimate of how many cups of sauce are in the pot. Use one tablespoon of both butter and flour for each cup of sauce.
Note: This paste is called a beurre manié.
22. Whisk the flour paste into the sauce, over low heat, until the gravy has thickened, about 2-3 minutes.
23. Return the meat to the pot and gently toss to coat.
Tip: Be careful with the meat chunks, because they will easily turn to mush.
24. Return the stew to the oven, uncovered, and broil on high for 20-30 minutes, until the meat above the surface of the sauce is well browned.
Tip: If you wish, you may gently stir the pot to bring more of the meat’s surfaces out of the sauce to brown.
25. Serve warm with colcannon.