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.

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