We were invited to a potluck this weekend and I decided—since it is close to St. Patrick’s Day—to do an Irish beef stew. I have posted this recipe before, but I am really incapable of doing the same dish the same way twice.
Many cuisines have some form of beef stews, and there are two philosophies for what you add to the stew. There are the 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. The last time I went low vegetable, low starch route. This time I am adding more vegetables.
Note: My sone-in-law is still on a low starch diet, so—beyond a little starch that will be necessary to thicken the stews’ gravy—I am leaving out potatoes and serving a Guinness beer bread on the side.
For the last stew 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 had 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. Today, I decided to use the same cuts, but to treat them differently than I did last time.
Cook’s Illustrated has claimed that it is not necessary to brown beef before you braise beef. The beef that is exposed above the liquid level browns sufficiently to create enough umami flavor from the Millard reaction. Last time, I threw the meat into the pot raw. Today, I decided to brown the meat first.
The last time I made this stew, I chose to use only a basic mirepoix of onions, celery, carrot, and garlic. For today’s stew, I used the mirepoix—to breakdown into the gravy. For today’s stew, I also decided to add large chunks of vegetables near the end of the cooking time.
As you read through the ingredients list, you may be surprised to fine chicken broth, instead of beef. The chefs at Cooks Illustrated found that using strait canned beef broth left their pot roast tasting “sour.” They found that adding some chicken broth counteracted this problem. I decided to try that technique with this recipe.
Karl’s Guinness Beef Stew II
½ lb. beef flap meat
2 tsp. Kosher salt, separate uses
½ lb. oxtail (1 large piece)
3½ lb. beef chuck roast
2 Tbs. butter
2 cup yellow onion, finely diced
1 cup celery, finely diced
½ cup carrot, grated
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. fresh thyme
1 tsp. summer savory
2 bottles Guinness (3 x 11.2 oz)
14.5 oz low sodium chicken broth (optional)
1 Tbs. beef Better Than Bullion, dissolved in 1 cup of warm water
½ tsp. black pepper
1 cup yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 cup celery, coarsely chopped
1 cup, carrots, 1 inch chunks
1 cup green cabbage, coarsely chopped
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 (⅜ 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. Pat dry and sprinkle with salt.
Note: Use about one teaspoon of salt for all of the meat.
5. Cut the chuck roast into 2-inch chunks, removing any large pieces of fat.
6. Pat dry and sprinkle the beef chunks lightly with the salt and set them aside.
7. Melt the two tablespoons of butter in a large Dutch oven, over medium high heat, and brown the flap meat on both sides.
8. Remove the flap meat to a plate and brown the ox tail and chuck pieces on all sides.
Tip: Do not crowd the pot. You may need to brown the meat in 2-3 batches.
9. Transfer the browned meat to the plate and when done remove all but two tablespoons of the grease.
10. Reserve the grease in case you need it later.
11. Sauté the onions and celery with ½ teaspoon of salt until the onions are just starting to brown, about five minutes.
Tip: The salt helps release the onion’s moisture and speeds up the browning process.
Note: Add ¼ cup of water or chicken broth to deglaze the pot.
12. Add the carrots to the pot and continue sautéing until the vegetables are soft, about another 4-5 minutes.
Tip: You want your vegetables to break down into the sauce, rather than to have big chunks of vegetables with beef.
13. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pot and sauté the garlic until fragrant, about one minute.
Tip: If the pot is dry add one tablespoon of the reserved grease.
14. Stir in the thyme, summer savory, two bottles of Guinness, the chicken broth.
15. Dissolve the beef paste in one cup of warm water and stir it into the pot.
16. Cut the flat meat into small pieces and add them to the pot.
Tip: I cut the meat into four long pieces and then cut it in a diagonal—across the grain—so that it would fall apart into very small pieces as it simmered.
17. Add the beef chunks and the oxtail bone to the pot and toss to coat the meat.
18. Bring the pot to a boil, cover, and transfer the Dutch oven to a 350º F oven.
19. 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.
20. 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.
21. 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. In that case the fat will congeal on the surface and be easily spooned away. If you are just simply proceeding with the recipe you may use a gravy separator. A quick and dirty method of removing excess fat is to let the stew sit for a few minutes and to then lay a sheet of paper towel on the surface to suck up some of the grease.
22. Much of the liquid may have cooked away, if you want more gravy add the beef broth, more Guinness or water at this point.
23. 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.
24. Whisk the flour paste into the sauce, over low heat, until the gravy has thickened, about 2-3 minutes.
25. Stir the pepper and the chunky vegetables into the gravy.
Tip: Add more salt, if necessary, at this point.
26. Return the meat to the pot on top of the vegetables.
Note: Do not stir the meat into the gravy at this point. You want the vegetables to cook in the gravy and the meat to be up out of the sauce, so the pieces will continue to brown.
27. Return the stew to the oven, covered, and continue roasting for 20-30 minutes, until vegetables are fully cooked and the meat above the surface of the sauce is well browned.
27. Remove the Dutch oven to the stove top and careful fold the meat chunks into the stew.
Note: The meat will be very tender at this point and stirring will easily shred the beef. Use a spatula or wide spoon to scoop up the stew and gently turn it over to mix the meat into the gravy.
28. Serve warm with Guinness beer bread.
Note: I wrote this recipe as if I had served it immediately. In reality, I let the stew cool enough to carry and when we arrived at the potluck I put it in a 250º F oven for 30 minutes before serving.