guinness is good for you! beef in ale stew

my goodness, my guinness!
"Guinness is good for you" so said the old advertising posters, together with "My Goodness, My Guinness" and "Lovely day for a Guinness". Well of course I knew that. Guinness is probably part of my DNA, my father worked for Guinness for many years and recognising the dark, velvety beer together with the wonderful iconic advertising from the mid-20th century are some of my earliest memories; perhaps my heritage, so to speak.

This is one of my favourite cold weather dishes; I am firmly of the belief that it is the ancient British or Irish equivalent of Jewish penicillin (chicken soup) as I find it both comforts and cures me of all ills.

So what beer to use? The best ever version of this stew that I have had was made with an Edinburgh beer, 80 Shilling. There being a complete dearth of that in my neck of London, I tend to stick with Guinness. Any dark beer will do since they have an earthy, malty bitterness from the roasted malt barley used in the brewing process; stouts such as Murphy’s and Beamish work well.

I have also tried using English ales such as Black Sheep and Theakston's Old Peculiar as well as the insalubriously named Bishops Finger. Badger was a failure, Old Speckled Hen not much better. They weren’t awful, in fact they were quite tasty. Just not as tasty as the stews made with darker beers; not malty enough, I am guessing. Never mind, it is a great excuse to continue to search for beery perfection. Which I may have just found a few weeks ago. My father gave me a bottle of something called Paradox from a Scottish brewery called Brewdog. This "imperial stout", aged in whisky casks, is about 10% ABV. Frankly as a drink it was undrinkable (to my mind). As an ingredient in my stew it was sublime!

Now a quick note during cooking . . . do not, and I repeat, do not, whatever you do, taste the stew before it has cooked for at least 1½ hours. It will taste vile. But I promise you, that after 2 hours or so, the heat will have done its magic, the beer will have started to settle down and the stew will taste unctuously divine.

As for serving, how about with mashed root vegetables (potato, carrot and swede) and some steamed savoy cabbage? And peas, of course. I can never have enough peas!

Serves 4-6
Skill level: Easy
Preparation time: 3 hours

15g butter
vegetable oil (olive oil will do)
900g stewing steak, cut into 3-4 cm chunks
4 x onions, sliced
1 small garlic clove, very finely chopped (optional)
250g chestnut mushrooms, quartered
1-2 tbsp plain flour
1 x bottle of Guinness (about 500ml), or any other strong, dark beer
1 x bay leaf
1 sprig of fresh thyme
1 tsp brown sugar
salt and freshly ground pepper

  1. This is a meal which can either be braised in the oven or cooked on the lowest heat on the stove.
  2. If you are going to casserole the stew in the oven, pre-heat to 180C / Gas Mark 4.
  3. Melt the butter and 1 tablespoon of oil in a large heavy-based saucepan. Brown the meat for 5 to 10 minutes, until lightly coloured. You will probably need to do this in batches, topping up with extra vegetable oil. (Don’t overcrowd the pan as you will end up just stewing the meat, rather than browning it). Tip the meat into a bowl and set aside while you prepare the vegetables. Make sure that you save all the meat juices as well.
  4. Add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to the saucepan and add the onion. Fry over a low heat, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes. The onions will have started to soften but won’t be truly soft yet.
  5. Add the mushrooms and garlic if using. Sprinkle with a little salt and continue to fry over a low heat for at least another 5 minutes, covering the pan with a lid. (This allows both the mushrooms and the onions to exude some of their wonderful earthy essence). The garlic isn’t strictly traditional, I just happen to like it.
  6. Add 1 tablespoon of flour and stir well so that the flour absorbs the fat and any of the remaining mushroom liquid (if any). You may need to add more of the flour.
  7. Return the meat to the pan, add the beer, bay leaf, fresh thyme and sugar. Stir well.
  8. Cover and cook over the lowest heat for about 2 hours or until the meat is tender. Maintain a slow, constant blip. Do not try to taste this before it has cooked for at least 1½ hours as it will taste horrible!
  9. This can also be transferred to a lidded ovenproof casserole dish at Gas mark 4 and baked for about 2½ hours in the oven. Same rules apply. Just put it in the oven and walk away for 2 hours or so! 
  10. Serve with mountains of buttery mashed potato and Savoy cabbage.

  • Don’t forget the teaspoon of brown sugar; it helps to bring out the flavours of the beer.
  • A splash of Worcestershire Sauce or Geo Watkins' amazing Victorian-style classic sauces such as Anchovy Essence or Mushroom Ketchup will help to bring out the flavours too.

1 comment:

Lael Hazan @educatedpalate said...

I've always wanted to make this. I hope I won't have to wait until my family gets sick again. Now that it is turning cold (even for those of us here in Florida) this looks like the comforting thing to try.
Thanks for the recipe.