Although it’s trending for all the wrong reasons this week, stew evokes comfortable childhood memories for me. I only started cooking it myself after happening upon an advert in a magazine, when we lived at South Croxted Road: ok, the ad was for Waitrose, but the ingredients are basic and cheap (even cheaper if you dispense with the red wine, my own embellishment). The dumplings come from Delia Smith’s Irish Stew recipe: if you want them crusty, cook them in the oven with the lid off; if you prefer soft and fluffy, leave the lid on. Alternatively, do without the dumplings altogether and carb-up with fluffy mashed potatoes. Cabbage or brussels sprouts are ideal additional accompaniments. The cabbage recipe below comes from the Ballymaloe cookbook.
Ingredients for the stew
2 x 450g diced beef stewing steak
2 onions, cut into large dice
300g carrots, peeled, sliced lengthwise and cut into thick chunks
300g parsnips, peeled, sliced lengthwise and cut into thick chunks
2 sticks celery, sliced
4 tbsp plain flour, seasoned with salt, pepper and nutmeg
4 tbsp vegetable oil
400ml beef stock
200ml red wine
A bunch of thyme (10-15 sprigs)
2 bay leaves
For the dumplings
180g self-raising flour
3 tbsp chopped parsley
90g shredded suet
Salt and ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 140 (fan). Place the seasoned flour on a plate. Then, in batches, lightly dust the beef in the flour, shaking off any excess. Heat 3 tbsp of the oil in a large ovenproof casserole dish with a lid. Fry the beef in 2-3 batches, cooking for 1-2 minutes on each side, until browned all over. Transfer all the meat to a plate and set aside. Repeat with the remaining meat, adding more oil as needed.
Heat the remaining oil and add the onions to the pan with the carrots, parsnips and celery. Sauté over a low heat for 5-6 minutes or until they are beginning to colour. Pour in the wine and stock, using a wooden spoon to deglaze the pan. Return the beef to the casserole, and bring to the boil. Add thyme and bay leaves. Cover and cook in the oven for 2 hours, or until the meat is very tender. Add more liquid if it’s looking too dry.
If you are making dumplings: 40 minutes before the end of the cooking time, mix the flour, parsley, seasoning and suet in a bowl. Add just enough cold water to make a fairly stiff but elastic dough that leaves the bowl cleanly. Knead it lightly, then shape into 12 dumplings. Place these all over the surface of the stew, then return the casserole to the oven – lid on or off (see above) for 30 minutes. It’s worth turning the oven up to 160 (fan) for this final stage.
450g fresh Savoy cabbage
40g butter + another knob
Salt & freshly ground pepper
Remove the tough outer leaves from the cabbage. Cut into quarters, remove the core, then slice into fine shreds across the grain. Put 2-3 tbsp water into a wide saucepan with the butter and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, add the cabbage and toss constantly over a high heat, then cover for a few minutes. Take care it doesn’t boil dry. Toss again and add some more salt, pepper and a knob of butter.