During January the outdoors feels as cold as a snowball, the sky is as black as coal by 4pm as it is quickly turns to nightfall, and I generally want to hibernate for while after the excesses of Christmas. At this time of year I like to turn to some comfort food and I make some hearty stews to feed my family, usually I will opt for a beef stew.
You can buy some wonderfully cheap cuts of meat such as braising steak or shin. Both are perfect for a long slow cook and become deliciously tender whilst remaining succulent. If you buy your meat from the butchers ask him to cut the pieces into large chunks, or if you buy your meat from the supermarket buy the slices of meat and then cut them into chunks. Small pieces of diced beef will disintegrate during the long cooking process and you really want to avoid this happening.
The bottle of red wine in this recipe gives the stew a great boost of flavour and the carrots add a wonderful sweetness. I have used onions but you can substitute these for shallots instead. It is cooked on a slow heat for around four hours, so if you find that you do not have time to cook it in one evening you can cook it for two hours and finish off the cooking the next day. My children love this stew. I think they are sadly deluded that they will feel the effects of the bottle of wine despite the fact that I tell them that all of the alcohol has evaporated during cooking.
I serve a bowl of stew with mashed potatoes, or some rice or just a hunk of fresh bread. Perfect.
Serves 6 people
Olive Oil, for cooking
1 kilo stewing beef (shin or braising beef), cut into chunks
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 large onion, sliced (or 175g shallots and roughly chopped)
250g mushrooms, wiped and chopped (I prefer chestnut mushrooms)
5 carrots, peeled and chopped into chunks
2-3 stalks of celery, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons of tomato puree
1 tin (450ml) chopped tomatoes
1 bottle of red wine of your choice (use one that you would be happy to drink)
500ml beef stock (you can use water if you prefer)
Few sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to season
Preheat the oven to 325 F/160 C/Gas mark 3
1. Drizzle a little oil into a large ovenproof casserole dish. Use one that has a lid. Heat the oil, add the meat and season with salt and pepper. Brown the meat all over so that you get lovely caramelised flavours.
2. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes, turning the meat in the pan.
3. Add the tomato puree and mix.
4. Now add the wine to the pan and let it come to a gentle simmer.
5. Stir in the tin of tomatoes and stock (or water), and add the chopped onions, carrots, celery, thyme and bay leaves. Stir, and allow the stew to come to a slow simmer.
6. Remove from the stove and place the casserole dish with the lid on into the oven. Cook for 3 ½ to 4 hours until the meat is tender. Stir the stew every 40 minutes and checking that there is enough liquid.
7. When the stew is ready to serve, remove the bay leaves and taste to make sure that the seasoning is okay. Add more salt and pepper if required before serving. If you have some thyme, chop up a few sprigs and scatter on individual portions when serving.