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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