I’m not completely sure I set out to make beef and beer stew when this recipe came together. I was thinking “beef,” and I was thinking “braise” and I was definitely also thinking “Dutch oven” because I will take any excuse to use mine.
I came up with this recipe right around the holidays, when I had plenty of time on my hands and was just reaching my fill of winter weather. I knew I wanted a dish that would be filling and warm and comforting and full of beefy, mushroomy umami flavor. I wanted it to be saucy, but in the gravy sense, not the soup sense. Oh, and I was hoping it might involve beer since I ended up with a glut of random bottles and cans following a gathering of the Finer Things cooking club at my house.
So, on a cold December day I gathered my cookbooks and went hunting. My recently acquired Binging with Babish cookbook contained a recipe for boeuf bourguignon from Julie & Julia that came close to hitting the mark. But, I didn’t have the called-for burgundy wine on hand and frankly didn’t want to fuss with peeling a bunch of little pearl onions.
Cooks Illustrated’s best beef stew (paywall; also found in The Science of Good Cooking) came closer to the mark, but again called for wine and pearl onions (frozen this time), as well as salt pork, which I definitely did not have on hand. The recipe contained some interesting touches though–tomato paste and anchovy for an extra umami punch, as well as hands-off baking in the oven.
Finally, I turned to the internet and happened upon a recipe for a British savory pie filling that, again, was sort of what I wanted, with not one but two types of mushrooms, the inclusion of beer, and what sounded like a pretty thick gravy-like sauce.
Finally, I accepted that the dish in my head just didn’t exist on an accessible physical or digital page at the moment. So I made a run to the store, gathered my supplies, and just went for it, incorporating bits and pieces of the recipes I’d read along the way.
A Quick Note on Ingredients
It’s a beef and beer stew, and these are clearly the two most important components in the dish. So let’s talk about each quickly:
This recipe is a stew, but it doesn’t call for stew meat. There’s a reason for that. The pre-cut stew meat you buy at the store is scrap from butchering other cuts. That’s totally fine and a great use of what otherwise might be wasted. And if you have a great butcher who can tell you a little about what’s in it, you might want to go for a package of stew meat.
But for this dish, we want big chunks of beef, about 2 inches across. Most stew meat I’ve seen is cut into little chunks. They will brown quicker and cook faster, but I think the bigger pieces work better for a long, slow braise like this.
The other issue I’ve found with stew meat is that it’s pretty unpredictable. Because it tends to be whatever’s on hand (at least in my experience at Cincinnati-area Kroger stores) sometimes you get a really nice batch that cooks up tender and delicious, while other times you end up with too much gristle and tough meat.
So for the purpose of controlling both size and quality, here I’m calling for a piece of beef chuck that you cut up yourself. You want a piece of meat about 1.5 lbs that has some marbling to it. Feel free to cut off large bits of fat, but leave most of it–that will help to flavor the dish, and you’ll have a chance to skim off excess during the cooking process.
In my opinion the beer you choose really doesn’t matter that much, but it is going to be a significant flavor component to the dish so think about that.
In developing this stew I actually used Asahi lager, which is a Japanese beer (leftover from the aforementioned Asian-themed cooking session). The taste is light and crisp, and pretty similar to a standard American lager. In the final stew it comes through as a sort of bright and mildly acidic flavor which balances the richness of the beef.
That’s not to say I wouldn’t try this with, say, Guinness, because I definitely would–just with the understanding that it would bring deeper, maltier notes to the final product.
Again, as long as you keep away from heavily flavored beers like sours or spiced holiday brews or extremely hoppy double IPAs, whatever beer you like should work here. Any sort of “straight” beer from pale ale down to stout would probably be fine.
So grab a bottle (or two), break out the Dutch oven, and let’s get cooking.
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