A lesson learned yesterday: it is really, really difficult to make stew look appetising in photos. In general, my food photography skills are never going to leave the professionals, or in fact anybody, quaking in their boots, but this was particularly difficult. No photo, especially not one taken by me on my humble little iPhone, could communicate how good this dish was: the smell of beef and beer wafting through my kitchen, the tenderness of the meat and onions after being slow cooked for seven hours or the surprisingly delicious addition of mushrooms towards the end of the cooking. You’re just going to have to trust me.
A few years ago, my Nan bought me a slow cooker “for making stews and things”. At the time I was a vegetarian, so used it for little more than a bit of bonus kitchen storage – cookie cutters and things – but when I started eating meat again that I saw the potential in using it. Despite the number of blogs that claim that you can use a slow cooker for almost every meal, it pays to be selective about what you use it for. For example, I found slow cooker porridge to be a complete waste of time – yes, you can leave it on overnight but more often than not it tastes awful and has the consistency of glue. Plus, it takes very little time to make porridge in a saucepan. On the other hand, slow cooked stews, especially those containing the cheaper cuts of meat, are simply wonderful.
The recipes I tend to use are meant to be cooked on the hob or in the oven, and I have simply adapted them for the slow cooker. Anything that recommends cooking for up to three hours can be left in the slow cooker for a good six to seven hours, provided that there is enough water so it does not dry out. This particular recipe of beef in stout is adapted from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s River Cottage Meat Book and has quickly become one of my favourite winter warmers. These quantities make enough stew to feed about 8-10 people – perfect if you have a large group coming back from a long, crisp walk. You can halve the quantities to make a smaller, family-sized version or top with some rough-puff dripping pastry for an indulgent pie. Either way, buttery mashed potato is a must.
Slow Cooker Beef in Stout
- 50g salted butter
- Olive oil
- 200g smoked lardons
- 500g small shallots, peeled
- 50g plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
- 1.5kg diced beef – skirt, chuck or stewing steak
- 1 litre stout
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 sprigs thyme
- 250g small button mushrooms
- 250g large flat mushrooms, sliced
- Salt and black pepper
- 2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
Turn the slow cooker on to high and leave to warm up. In a large frying pan, melt the butter with a little olive oil and fry the lardons until they start to brown. Using a slotted spoon, remove the lardons from the frying pan, leaving the fat, and place in the slow cooker. Add the shallots to the frying pan and fry in the fat until browned all over, remove using a slotted spoon and place in the slow cooker.
Toss the beef in the seasoned flour, shake off any excess and add to the frying pan. Brown the meat, in batches if necessary, then place in the slow cooker. Deglaze the pan with a little of the stout and scrape the meat and flour residue from the bottom of the pan into the slow cooker. Return the pan to the heat and pour in the remaining stout. Add the bay leaves and thyme stalks and gently bring to the boil. Allow the stout to simmer for a couple of minutes and then pour it into the slow cooker. Leave to cook in the slow cooker on high for two hours, before reducing the setting to low.
At this point, you can cook it for anywhere from three to six hours on low, checking occasionally that the liquid has not dried out. The mushrooms should be added for the final hour of cooking. Fry them in a pan until they have browned slightly, then add them to the slow cooker with their juices. When the stew has finished cooking, stir in the parsley and serve.