I STARTED MAKING stews with beer to solve a post-holiday pantry problem: too many odd bottles of beer—stouts, porters and ciders—left over from holiday parties. I wasn’t up for a stout cake, but I could make good use of the odd bottle in a stout or porter stew. Turns out the hearty beers that seemed like a good drinking idea during the holiday season are an even better post-holiday cooking idea. Those full-flavored beers turn mellow when mixed with beef and onions.
And so my version of stout stew was born. Almost any beer will do, but the darker varieties make a richer stew. I make a big pot, sometimes two pots at the same time, varying the seasonings in each, so I have plenty to stash in the freezer for the many time-pressed nights ahead. When I want to reheat, I transfer the block of frozen stew to an oven-proof pot. Add water as needed, starting with about 1/3 cup, cover and heat slowly in a 350-degree oven. While the stew defrosts, I can bake a potato, cook rice, toss a salad or do a crossword puzzle until dinner is ready. It takes 45 to 60 minutes to reheat a half batch.
My basic formula is simple: 3 pounds of cubed stew meat, 1½ cups diced onions, ½ to ¾ cup diced celery, ½ to ¾ cup diced carrots, oil as needed, a few tablespoons flour, 12 ounces hearty beer of your choosing, a few tablespoons of brown sugar to balance out the beer, and salt and pepper. I like to dice the vegetables ½ inch or smaller so they become part of the sauce. What you don’t want are large chunks of mushy vegetables when you can add steamed vegetable that are perfectly cooked at the end. I love potatoes with stew, but I bake mine and use them as a base, pouring the stew over a split baked potato.
Making the stew’s pretty simple, though it takes a little work up front. Brown the seasoned beef cubes in a sauté pan in batches. In a Dutch oven or stew pot, sauté the lightly salted vegetables in oil until tender. Add a few tablespoons of flour and stir until the flour is absorbed. Pour in the beer, the sugar and whatever other seasonings you’re using, Add the browned beef cubes and enough water to not quite cover the meat. Season as needed with salt and pepper and whatever else you’d like. Bring to a simmer, cover and transfer to a 315- degree oven. Now the magic happens: The stew cooks all by itself for about 2 ¼ to 2 ½ hours. To check for doneness, take a piece of the beef out: You should be able to cut through it with a fork.
My basic formula is just a framework. You can add diced parsnips or turnips. You could use celery root instead of celery stalks. If you have left-over shallots, by all means use them. You get the idea; you just want about 3 cups of diced aromatic and root vegetables.
From there it’s up to you, but here’s a start:
Beer and Beef Stew: Use a full-flavored beer and add a couple of tablespoons of a strong Dijon-style mustard.
Chipotle Beef, Beer and Black Bean Stew: Use a beer of your choosing and add some chipotle and adobo, either in dry spice form, from a chipotle-adobo paste, or a spoonful of adobo and a minced-up chipotle from a can of chipotle in adobo. Add about 1 ½ cups of cooked black beans for every 3 pounds of meat; canned beans are fine. Since the beans will thicken the stew, you may need to add additional water.
Beef and Barley Stew: Use a beer of your choosing. Sauté ¾ to 1 pound sliced or diced mushrooms along with the vegetables. Skip the flour and instead add a couple of teaspoons of double-concentrated tomato paste or a couple of tablespoons of regular tomato paste. Sauté for 1 to 2 minutes, then add ½ to ¾ cup pearled barley along with the browned beef cubes. This one needs to be watched as you may need to add extra water as it cooks.
LittleBird “Stephanie Cooks” gives us meal ideas to chew on every Monday.