Beef Shin, Black Bean and Chipotle Stew

As far as eating goes, this was a pretty good weekend.  On Friday night I went to the wonderful Mien Tay in Shoreditch for the second time this month.  One of the friends I was dining with travelled with me around Vietnam in 2009 so it has become our tradition to eat Vietnamese food whenever she is in town.  I have been to many of the Vietnamese restaurants along the Kingsland Road, but recently this one has become my favourite.  I feasted on my usual starter of quail cooked in honey and spices (so good!), followed by a main course of tamarind prawns and steamed rice and ending with the traditional, insomnia-inducing Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk. We discovered these one hungover morning in Hanoi and have enjoyed many since.

Saturday morning rolled around and the wine and coffee had given me a peculiar kind of hangover that I knew only food could cure.  I dragged myself out of bed, trekked over to Brockley Market and treated myself to a buttermilk fried chicken bap from poultry maestros Spit & Roast that definitely got me back to full speed.

Whilst wandering around the market, I spotted a couple of packets of bone-in beef shin at The Butchery‘s stall and my mind turned to slow cooking.  £9 later and I had procured enough beef to make an enormous amount of stew, and so headed home.  Beef shin is a cheap cut of meat that comes from the front leg of the cow.  It is incredibly tough and incompatible with many cooking methods, but is subject to a wonderful transformation when slow cooked:  the fat and sinew marbled through the meat breaks down to give a soft, almost gelatinous texture to the beef.  When slow cooked with the bones, the all-important bone marrow also melts to give a strong, meaty flavour to the gravy.

This particular dish is a bit of a hybrid: the cooking method indicates a stew, but the ingredients are chilli all the way.  The beef shin is marinated in a dry rub of herbs and spices, before being browned and cooked along with some soaked black beans, in a mixture of tomatoes and chipotle paste.  The chipotle, especially, gives it a spicy, smokiness found in so many modern southern American and Mexican dishes.  Chipotle is one of my favourite flavours; I use it in glazes for chicken wings, my marinade for pulled pork, and recently tried some chipotle-pumpkin bread made by Lauren Garland for Band of Bakers that completely blew my mind.  In this stew, the chipotle lends itself well to the richness of the beef and gives it that all-important and much-needed kick.

If you’re going to cook this in a slow-cooker, you will need a good seven or eight hours for it to be perfect.  I haven’t tried cooking the recipe on the hob, but you could probably do it in a shorter time if you are good at converting these things (I’m not), or in the oven if you’re really brave.  You will notice that there are also a few vegetables in this recipe – I hadn’t initially planned to add any, however found that I had a few parsnips and half a swede in the veg drawer.  I added these about two and a half-hours before the end of the cooking time to stop them breaking down too much.  Any other root vegetables would work just as well.


Beef Shin, Black Bean and Chipotle Stew

  • 150g dried black beans
  • 1.2kg bone-in beef shin
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp chilli powder
  • Olive oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely choppped
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped
  • 400g tinned tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 2 tbsp chipotle paste
  • 1 beef stock cube
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • Fresh coriander, chopped

The day before you start cooking this recipe, place the black beans in a bowl and cover with cold water.  Cover the bowl with clingfilm and soak the beans for 24 hours.

To make the spice rub for the beef, combine the paprika, cumin, oregano and chilli powder, along with a generous pinch of salt and pepper.  Rub the spices into the meat pieces and leave, uncovered, in the fridge for an hour.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and brown the pieces of beef shin for a few minutes on each side.  Turn the slow cooker on to a high setting and place the meat in the bottom.  Leaving the oil in the saucepan, gently fry the onion until translucent, about five minutes, then add the garlic and chilli and fry for a further couple of minutes before adding the mixture to the slow cooker.

Add the drained black beans and tinned tomatoes to the slow cooker.  Fill up the empty tomato tin with water and add to the mixture. Stir in the tomato puree and the chipotle paste and crumble in the stock cube and cook on a high setting for seven hours, stirring occasionally and adding more water if the sauce looks as though it is drying out.  By the end of the cooking time, the meat should be falling from the bone and the bone marrow should have melted into the stew.  Remove any remnants of meat from the bones and set the bones aside.  Stir in the red wine vinegar and half of the coriander.  Serve in bowls, using the last of the coriander as a garnish.  Add sour cream or sliced avocado if you wish.


Slow Cooker Beef in Stout

Slow Cooker Beef in Stout

Slow Cooker Beef in Stout

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.

Cornish Pasties

Cornish Pasties

Cornish Pasties

Swede.  Let’s face it, it’s not the most exciting of vegetables.  The mere sound of it is almost groan-inducing.  “What’s for dinner?” “SWEDE.”  Of course, this would never happen, nobody would just have swede for dinner, I’m just trying to paint as bleak a picture I can to prove my point.  I still have nightmares about the old school dinner staple, mashed carrot and swede, plopping on to the side of my plate, water seeping everywhere because it hadn’t been drained properly.  It was completely tasteless bar the overwhelming flavour of black pepper, sprinkled over liberally.  Even with the resurgence in using root vegetables in new and creative ways, in cakes, for example, the swede has been left well behind, burned into our memories as nothing more than a sub-par side dish.

Despite this, there are many reasons to buy swedes:  they are cheap, can be grown locally and are in season for a whopping six months, largely from September to March.  The challenge, of course, is finding ways to use them that don’t involve the potato masher and pepper mill.  They are great in all kinds of soups and stews and give a sweet peppery flavour that works well with red meats and other root vegetables.  Earlier this year, a Herne Hill veg bag scheme, Local Greens, held a contest to Redeem the Swede – a cookery competition for which all entries had to contain swede in some form.  The three top prizes went to a shepherd’s pie topped with swede instead of potato, a Thai green papaya salad with swede instead of papaya, and a swede curry.  Somebody even developed a swede ice cream – you can read about it here.

Being somewhat less creative than the swede-buying residents of Herne Hill, my favourite use for this most humble of winter vegetables is in the classic Cornish pasty.  Despite ever only visiting Cornwall in the summer, I always associate the pasty with being a winter dish because of the combination of steak, potato, swede and onion. That, combined with the rich puff pastry, usually made with lard or dripping, is a great insulator for a cold day.  The pastry is time-consuming to make, but the pasties are remarkably easy. The filling ingredients are simply chopped and folded into the pastry raw, then cooked in the oven.  This means you cannot check whether the pasty is properly cooked, but if you stick to the cooking times, it is likely that it will be so.  The crimping around the edges is what characterises it as a Cornish pasty – legend has it that the crimped edge was never supposed to be eaten and was a convenient, discardable handle to allow miners to eat the filling without contaminating it with their dirty hands.  It is likely, however, that this is a myth and the pasties were eaten end to end – the crimping simply being a decorative way to seal in the filling.

This recipe deviates slightly from the traditional recipe, which adds no more than a sprinkle of salt and a twist of pepper to the filling by way of seasoning.  It was just a little too bland, even with the animal fats in the pastry, so I added two very non-traditional ingredients to perk it up: a beef stock cube and a splash of Worcestershire sauce.  You could make a gravy if you so desired, but be sure to only coat the ingredients as any excess liquid is sure to seep through the pastry.  This recipe makes about six medium-sized pasties.

Cornish Pasties

Cornish Pasties

Cornish Pasties

For the pastry:

  • 300g plain flour
  • 80g strong white bread flour
  • ½ tsp fine salt
  • 75g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 150g lard or beef dripping, cut into small cubes
  • 150ml cold water
  • 2 egg yolks, beaten

For the filling:

  • 200g beef – skirt if you can get it, braising steak if you can’t, diced
  • 150g potatoes, diced
  • 150g swede, diced
  • 2 small onions, chopped
  • 1 Oxo beef stock cube
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Sea salt and cracked black pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten

Put the flours and salt in a bowl and toss through the cubes of butter and dripping.  Add the egg yolks and water and mix together until they form a dough.  Leave to stand in the bowl for 30 minutes.

Flour the work surface and roll the dough out to a large rectangle.  Fold the dough over four times then roll out again and fold in the opposite direction.  Place the folded dough on a wooden chopping board, cover with a tea towel and leave somewhere cool for 30 minutes, perhaps next to an open window in winter, or in a cupboard in summer.  Repeat this process twice more at 30 minute intervals, finishing with a third rolling before the pastry is used.

For the filling, combine the ingredients in a large bowl.  Dissolve the stock cube in the Worcestershire sauce and toss through the ingredients until coated.  Season well with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 200ºc / 400ºf / gas 6.  Roll out the pastry and cut into the size of circles that you want.  Spoon the filling on to the middle of the circle, ensuring that there is enough space around the edge for crimping.  Fold the pastry over and crimp to seal using your thumb and forefinger.  Place the pasties on an oiled baking sheet and brush with the beaten egg.  Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, then decrease the oven temperature to 150ºc / 300º f / gas 2 and cook for a further 20 minutes until browned.