Wouldn’t do us any harm! According to the song, Nelson’s Blood, it’s Irish stew, but I can’t have that since I’m a breeder of British White cattle. In my emphatically biased opinion, there is no better beef on the planet and probably the universe if the boffins were ever to prove the existence of parallel universes! I will further add that beef from any of our native breeds is the creme de la creme of beef and here’s why.
Almost all native and rare breed cattle are naturally reared on little more than grass, hay or silage. They are allowed to mature in their own time, typically between 30 – 36 months and when butchered, the meat is hung for between 2 and 3 weeks or even longer.
Meat of this calibre deserves to be treated with respect, nay reverence even. Unfortunately it doesn’t get it from me! I’m a plain cook who sees no reason to tamper too much with good wholesome ingredients so my stews hit the spot with as little Fancy Nancy embellishments as possible.
A couple of pounds of good British beef, plus any combination of carrots, onions, potatoes, parsnips, swede etc and you can’t got wrong … well you could if you were my mother!
She was a lovely woman with a heart of gold, but unfortunately ranked as one of the world’s worst cooks! She failed to see the necessity of a recipe book when you could knock up a perfectly good meal with a tin opener, saucepan and one hot ring. This is somewhat surprising as our family lineage includes some notable culinary maestros with my grandmother, great aunts and aunts all W.I. medal winners and able to tackle all comers on the domestic front.
Ma definitely bucked this trend. On Sundays the roast was carelessly cremated to the consistency of boot leather which resulted in Pa proclaiming …
“Bloody ‘ell Joan, yer could tile t’ roof wi’ this!” He would then venomously hone the carving knife to a razor blade and leaving us kids wondering whether he was going to use it on the joint or on Ma!
Still suffering from jaw ache, we were then faced with the left overs which were served as a stew for Monday tea. I well remember the charred brown lumps floating like excrement in a pool of thin, fat glittering gravy and smashing mud coloured potatoes into pulp in the vain hope of thickening the liquid into something which didn’t make splash marks on your white school blouse if you carelessly dropped one of the meat cinders back on your plate.
To be fair, Ma wasn’t the only rotten cook in my family. While my children were small, my nearest and dearest rarely ventured into the kitchen except under extreme necessity. This occasionally happened when I took to my bed with a migraine. By some mysterious force of fate this always seemed to happen when I’d planned a stew for the evening meal.
Nearest and dearest in the superior, but usually misguided wisdom common to the male species decided that the stew could be hurried along by mincing the meat. The result was a more granular version of my mother’s effort except the meat resembled the gun mental grey pellets you find inside shot gun cartridges!
I recount these tales of woe not to put you off what I firmly believe is a delicious culinary experience, but to serve as salutary lessons on how NOT to make a stew! Creating the perfect savory, winter warmer is much simpler than you think. Neither is it time consuming as all good cooks will tell you to make at least double the amount you need and freeze the rest. Alternatively, put the second batch in a short crust pasty pie and you’ll probably get a further two meals.
Once upon a time there were six of us in our family now thankfully the chicks are fully fledged and long gone so my stews no-longer verge on industrial proportions, but as I’ve always done, I use the very best meat and vegetables I can get hold of.
The meat of course is at the heart of the meal and not everyone is lucky enough to rear their own beef, but quality British beef is readily available from farmer’s markets and independent butchers. You should also be able to find it in your local supermarket. The better ones for instance source their beef only from British farmers which have to adhere to strict welfare standards using non-intensive systems.
In England you will find premium range beef is often from Hereford sired cattle and in Scotland, the Aberdeen Angus, both breeds native to Britain.
You’re veg should also be local and in season so don’t go buying something wildly exotic from some far flung place. That rather defeats the idea of what a stew is, a cheap hearty meal to keep the cold out on filthy winter’s day!
Here’s my basic recipe, but I rarely keep to this as I’m a big believer in using whatever is available, (cheap) and what needs using up!
2 tbsp olive oil
2lb beef stewing steak cut into bite-sized chunks
2 tbsp plain flour
2 garlic cloves, crushed
4 medium onions, peeled and chopped
8oz carrots, cut into rings about quarter of an inch thick
8oz swede, cut into large chunks
5fl oz red wine (not strictly necessary, I usually serve mine in a glass!)
18fl oz beef stock
2 fresh bay leaves
3 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
A good dash of Worcester sauce
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil and butter in an ovenproof dish and fry the beef until browned on all sides.
Sprinkle over the flour and cook for a further 2-3 minutes.
Add the garlic and all the vegetables and fry for 1-2 minutes.
Stir in the wine, stock and herbs, then add the Worcestershire sauce and balsamic vinegar, to taste.
Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Cover with a lid, put in the oven and cook for about three to four hours in a slow oven.
Don’t forget the dumplings!