Don’t call it stew

Stew is a hor­rible word. We stew in our own juice when we deserve what’s com­ing to us. We get into a stew when we’re cross. So why would we want to eat the stuff? Mrs Ram­say, mat­ri­arch of Vir­ginia Woolf’s novel To the Light­house, knew that. She didn’t waste time on stew. She served Boeuf en Daube — rich, deli­cious and celebratory.

Boeuf en Daube is why I took up yoga briefly. The yoga class was in the Town Hall, oppos­ite a won­der­ful Butcher’s. He under­stood exactly what I meant when I said I wanted to buy stew­ing steak but I didn’t want to make stew. I still buy the steak, but I don’t stop at the Town Hall.

This is my ver­sion of Mrs Ramsay’s finest moment:

  • 1 kg brais­ing or stew­ing steak cut into large pieces
  • 2 cans of Guinness
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 3 bay leaves
  • A bundle of fresh thyme
  • 50 grams but­ter
  • 3 table­spoons extra vir­gin olive oil
  • 2 medium onions
  • 6 cloves gar­lic, chopped
  • Three quar­ters cup tomato ketchup — I know this sounds odd. But the sim­ul­tan­eously sweet and tart fla­vours are just what you need, I promise
  • 600 ml veget­able stock
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mar­in­ade the beef in the beer and wine with the thyme and bay leaves and leave in the fridge for 24 hours. Scoop the meat out of the mar­in­ade. Reserve the mar­in­ade and sea­son the meat well. Melt the but­ter in a fry­ing pan with the olive oil and add half the seasoned meat. Fry until brown. Repeat with the second batch of beef. Put the whole lot together in the pan and add the onion and gar­lic. Cook gently for fif­teen minutes. Add the ketchup — trust me — and stir for a few more minutes before pour­ing in the Guin­ness and wine mix­ture. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a sim­mer, allow­ing the liquid to reduce by a quarter. Add the stock, bring back to a sim­mer and then cook in the oven at 170 degrees C with a lid on for 1 and half hours. Add a little water if you feel you need to. Remove the lid and cook for a fur­ther half hour. By this time the meat should be soft and invit­ing. If there’s too much liquid, reduce the sauce until it’s the deep, rich con­sist­ency and col­our you like. Serve it, in tri­umph, with plain rice and green beans.

ps My fond­ness for Boeuf en Daube isn’t a soppy, escap­ist obses­sion with food in fic­tion. I’ve never tasted any­thing nas­tier than the ‘sardines pressed into ginger cake’ recom­men­ded by Enid Blyton.