Beef and Ale stew is a very popular British dish, particularly in the winter months. We also encase the stew in pastry and call it Beef and Ale pie. While I always enjoy a good old fashioned Beef and Ale anything, when I first came to England twenty years ago I did find ale a little hard to swallow. Ale refers to dark beers, and also to stouts and ‘bitters’, many of which are an acquired taste. So back in the day, I decided to play with the traditional recipe to make it more friendly to my Canadian palate. I replaced the stronger flavours of ale with lager (which would simply be known as ‘beer’ in North America) and added more vegetables and lighter flavours to the dish. Little did I know I was creating a family favourite, by far one of the most requested dishes in our house, and also the one that is most looked forward to.
This is a delicious, warming stew with a nice tang to it. It’s also very economical because it uses cheaper cuts of beef – chuck, braising or stewing steak – which become mouth-wateringly tender with slow cooking. I use chuck steak most often because I like it best, but any of these cuts work just fine. I use a standard 12 ounce bottle of lager beer for this recipe – Coors Light most often, but any lager will do. I dream of making it with Labbatt’s Blue, one of my favourite Canadian beers, one day!
This is a great make ahead meal as it tastes even better re-heated, and allowing it to sit in the fridge for 24 to 48 hours lets the flavours develop beautifully. It smells so good when it’s cooking though, I rarely get away with being able to cook this dish without letting people actually eat it, so I often make a double batch. It’s great for casual weekend entertaining as you can make it Friday afternoon, cool, cover and store in the fridge, and simply reheat it thoroughly to serve for Saturday supper or Sunday dinner.
Unless you have ethical, religious or health reasons for avoiding alcohol you don’t need to worry about the beer in this dish, nor do you need to worry about serving it to children, as all but a trace of the alcohol will cook off.
The quantities below will serve four hungry adults.
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 large onion, peeled and finely sliced
1 pound of cubed chuck, braising or stewing steak
(I use chuck most often as I like it best but any of these are fine)
½ cup flour
3 large carrots, peeled and chopped in chunks (about one inch thick)
2 to 3 parsnips, peeled and chopped in chunks (optional)
(If you don’t like parsnips, or have any on hand, just add an extra carrot or two)
1 bottle beer (roughly 12 ounces or 350 ml, preferably at room temperature)
1 to 1½ pints of beef stock
2 to 3 generous teaspoons Dijon mustard, to taste (optional)
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon fresh, chopped parsley or a couple of teaspoons of dried
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil or butter over medium heat in a large casserole that will go from the stove top to the oven (or use a frying pan for the stove top part, and then transfer the mixture to a casserole before putting it in the oven). Preheat your oven to about 325℉ or 160 to 150℃.
Gently fry the onion over medium heat, stirring often, allowing it to get all golden and tender. After about ten minutes, coat the beef cubes in flour and add to the pan with the onions. Brown the meat, stirring frequently, for ten to fifteen minutes to seal it.
Add the beer, mixing it into the beef and onions thoroughly, scraping any bits off the bottom of the pan to mix into the stew. Add a pint of the stock and the mustard (if using), mixing in thoroughly. Carefully bring the mixture almost to the boil, stirring constantly so it does not stick.
Turn the heat back and tumble in the carrots and parsnips (if using). Stir to coat with the liquid. Tuck in the bay leaf, cover the casserole and put it in the oven for at an hour and a half, stirring every half hour.
Remove the casserole from the oven and remove the bay leaf. Check the thickness of the gravy. If it has not thickened up, mix a tablespoon of cornflour with about a two tablespoons of water and stir into the casserole. If it is too thick, add a bit of the remaining half pint of stock.
Return the casserole to the oven for about fifteen minutes. Check the stew for seasoning and add some salt and pepper if necessary. Stir in the parsley.
Serve the stew with rice or mashed potatoes and a green vegetable. You can garnish it with a little more parsley if desired.
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