With spring around the corner I thought best to quickly sneak in a last bit of comfort food. Well, it was -8 C overnight here, so spring definitely hasn’t sprung just yet.
This twist on a classic British beef stew borrows ideas from Mexican Mole with the subtle addition of tomatoes and chocolate, and the method of thickening it with bread from Belgian “stoofvlees” (braised beef).
Now let me assure you that this is not beef in a chocolate sauce. The hints of chocolate merely add depth of flavour and a slight gloss to the sauce. You won’t taste the chocolate. The sauce would not happily partner ice cream, I promise you.
You can cook this on the stove, in the oven or in a slow cooker. I prefer the latter, as I adore my slow cooker. As a busy bee, it’s easy to throw some stuff into it in the morning, go do my white collar career thing and come back to a comforting home cooked meal.
True, sauces don’t reduce and thicken as much as with traditional cooking methods. True, the bright colours of the veg get pretty much killed off due to the long covered cooking process.
But slow-cooking mellows and fuses flavours like no other method does.
If you make this in a slow-cooker, that mellowing has the sad side-effect of dulling individual flavours, so be bold and up your game when you season a slow-cooker dish. And if you happen to be around while cooking, add the veggies halfway through to help keep their colour and prevent them from totally disintegrating.
The idea of the slow-cooker is to cook and don’t look. But I do look. Or should I say taste a couple of times throughout the process if I’m around, even though I know that increases the cooking time. But I want to ensure that the seasoning is OK. That the thickness and structure are OK. Are the beef and veggies on target?
I love serving this stew with a cauliflower mash . Up to you to either make the mash with 100% cauli or add potatoes for if you’re still hanging onto the traditional idea that mash isn’t mash without it’s potatoes in it.
Personally, I prefer the lighter pure cauli version, as I find it compliments the rich stew better and fights less with its flavours.
But I had a cauli-sceptic for dinner. So I threw in some buttery baked potatoes to gently ease him onto his own personal cauli journey. Too many bad school dinner memories to overcome for him to embrace the full-on cauli version just yet I guess.
The secret flavour boost comes from onion and garlic that are roasted in their skins and then blended to a smooth paste before adding to the cauli mash. You could guild the lily by caramelising another red onion or two with a good pinch of rich coconut palm sugar and a splash of balsamic vinegar until sticky meets crunchy, then scattering them over the top of the cauli mash.
Slow-cooked Beef in Chocolate Porter (serves 4-6 GF DF RSF)
Try to avoid ready-diced beef for this, as those dice tend to be too small and uneven. You want healthy big even-sized chunks for this to allow even cooking and inevitable shrinkage during the long slow cooking.
I am using a multicooker, which means I can fry and then slow-cook in the same vessel. If you’re using a normal slow cooker, prepare everything until the slow cooking stage in a large casserole, then transfer to your slow cooker. Not to worry if you don’t have a slow cooker, transfer the casserole to a 150 C oven for 2 1/2 hrs or cook on the stove on a heat-diffuser for the same time.
If you need this to be gluten free, do check the porter or stout you are using as they are not all gluten free.
This needs nothing to serve other than a mash of sorts to soak up the juices. But I couldn’t help but add some glazed mini chantenay carrots. Any green veg would work nicely too.
900 gr shin of beef, chuck or feather blade, trimmed and cut into large chunks
2 red onions, peeled and roughly chopped
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 ribs of celery, diced
2 tbsp (GF) flour (I used a light brown flour)
2 tbsp coconut oil (or butter if you don’t mind dairy)
150 gr pancetta or bacon, cut into thick lardons
1 beef marrow bone (optional)
2-3 bay leaves
2 cloves of garlic, crushed or finely chopped
a couple of parsley sprigs
a couple of thyme sprigs
4 whole cloves
1 star anise
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
a good grating of nutmeg
400 ml chocolate porter or stout or enough to just cover together with the other liquids
200 ml good beef stock
400 gr tinned chopped tomatoes (I used whole plum and roughly snipped them in the tin with scissors)
1 tbsp tomato puree
a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce
S&P to taste
200 gr mushrooms, left whole if small, else halved or quartered (I forgot! So herewith optional)
1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
a square or 2 of dark chocolate (I added 1 tbsp 54% cocoa chocolate callets)
1/2 tbsp unrefined sugar or coconut palm sugar or a drizzle of maple syrup
a couple of slices of wholemeal or GF bread, crusts removed, lightly spread with mustard of your choice I used grain mustard on wholegrain, so had some grains popping up in the stew)
Brown the beef in batches in the oil (in a large casserole over medium-high heat or on the “fry” setting if using a multicooker). Don’t overcrowd the pan, else the beef will steam rather than brown. Set aside.
Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are translucent and tinged brown at the edges. Remove and set aside.
Add the lardons and cook for 2-4 minutes until starting to brown. Add the carrots, celery and garlic. Sauté for a couple more minutes. Then return the beef and onions to the pan. Sprinkle over the flour and stir until you have a lumpy mess. Don’t worry, all will be well.
Add the herbs and spices. Stir again and pour in the porter and stock. Stir again to release any nice crusty bits from the bottom. Add the tomatoes, tomato puree, marrow bone (if using) and Worcestershire sauce. Season.
If you’re not going to be around later, add the chocolate and mushrooms (if using) now as well. Else wait with these until midway through cooking.
Top with the bread, mustard side down and cover. Simmer on the hob or transfer to the oven for 1 1/2 -2 hrs or cook on low in the slow cooker for 5 hrs.
After that time, skim off any excess rising fat and add the mushrooms (if using) and the chocolate. Check the seasoning and add vinegar and sugar or maple syrup to taste.
Cook for another hour or so if using a hob or oven, else another 3-5 hrs or so if using a slow cooker, or until the beef is tender. If the sauce is still too thin, especially if using a slow cooker, remove the lid for a little while to let it reduce.
Remove the marrow bone and any herb stalks and bay leaf before serving.
Roast Onion Cauliflower Mash (serves 4-6 GF DF LC V Vg RSF)
This mash needs no butter or cream. You can add some if you prefer, but I find the cauliflower delivers a creaminess all by itself. I predict that you won’t even miss butter or cream if you’re using 100% cauliflower.
Obviously use vegetable stock if you’re vegetarian or vegan.
Cauliflower has a tendency to go sour after a while, so this mash is best eaten within a day or so. It does not freeze brilliantly due to its high water content. If you’ve added some potato, freezing is fine, though the texture will be a little more fluid.
1 cauliflower, cut into rough florets
3-4 baking potatoes or another cauliflower
6-8 shallots or tiny onions, left whole in their skins
4 plump garlic cloves, left whole in their skins
Enough vegetable stock to cover the cauliflower, about 600 ml (use chicken or beef stock for extra depth of flavour if you don’t need this to be vegetarian)
salt to taste
white pepper to taste
A good grating of fresh nutmeg
1/2 tbsp butter (optional)
1/2 tbsp creme fraiche (optional)
If using potatoes, preheat the oven to 190 C and bake the potatoes in their skins until tender. Set aside.
Place the onions and the garlic in an oven dish and roast for 40-50 mins or so until cooked. You may need to remove the garlic earlier as they will cook quicker than the onion due to their size. Set aside to cool.
Place the cauliflower florets in a pan with enough stock to cover. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer until the cauliflower is cooked, about 10-12 minutes. The cauliflower needs to be soft enough to blend. Strain, reserving the stock and set aside.
If using, scoop out the potato flesh from their skins when cool enough to handle and set aside.
Squeeze the roasted onions and garlic into a blender together with 2 tbsp of the cauliflower cooking liquid.. Blend for 40 secs or so until you have a smooth paste. Add the cauliflower (and potato of using) and blend again. Add the butter and/or creme fraiche (if using) and blend again until smooth.
Add more cauliflower cooking liquid if needed until the mixture resembles the texture of your favourite mash. Adjust the seasoning with nutmeg, salt and white pepper.
Gently reheat the mash before serving.
Freeze any left over stew or make a pie!
Heat the oven to 200 C.
If you have sauce but no meat left, stew some more meat in the left over sauce until tender. Else you can “bulk out the sauce” with leftover cooked veg and potatoes if you have them.
Fill a pie dish or oven dish with the stew. Pie bird optional.
Brush the edges of the dish with egg wash or butter. Then cover with puff pastry or short crust pastry. Brush the pastry with egg wash. If not using a pie bird, cut a few slits into the pastry to let steam escape.
Bake for 35 mins or so, then turn the oven down to 180 C and cook for another 10 mins or until crisp and golden. if the pastry gets too dark, cover with aluminium foil.
Serve with leftover mash, potatoes or veg of choice.