Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Beef With Stout -- A Superb Winter Meal (Our family's variation on Ballymoe Cookery School recipe)


Ballymoe Cookery School, Shanagarry, County Cork, Ireland

     When posting recipes here, you may have noticed that I try mainly to stick to non-meat or vegetarian dishes or meals, although I am not myself a vegetarian.

     I was a vegetarian for several years in college at the behest of a Manhattan-raised girlfriend.  Ultimately, the many pleasures and broad education provided by the cuisine she introduced me to (which opened the door to a universe of of foods and flavors I had never before experienced) outshone other aspects of our relationship that were declining in quality, but I will always be grateful to her for (only) this part of her bossiness and inflexibility

     Before she imposed her eating regime on me, I was accustomed to my family's somewhat restricted diet, which was based around eating grilled, really excellent, steaks most nights of the year. In the late 1960s, my father researched the availability (n.b., this was a generation prior to the world-wide-web), purchased and installed one of the earliest models of gas-powered, lava stone barbecues (tapped directly into the house's propane lines, this was a superb machine allowing year-round outdoor grilling with the ease of turning on the  lights) on our terrace so that he and my mother could maintain their low carbohydrate Atkins Diet regimen (successor and very similar to the earlier, popular "Drinking Man's Diet")  at a high degree of precision and quality without interruption or impediment.  Both my parents were very good cooks and the meat was all  New York City top steakhouse grade.  Although I had no real complaints or concerns (cuisine wasn't really a priority subject of mine anyway when I was a teenager), I can see in retrospect that the "steak grind" (as a witty restaurant critic named Seymour Britchky dubbed it at the time) was a limited regime and I definitely benefited in the short and long term by the broadening of experience easily and inexpensively achieved and enjoyed dining in New York City's vast array of ethnic restaurants in the early 1970s with my  girlfriend and her relatively sophisticated group of Manhattan classmates and friends.

The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire (Deborah Vivien Cavendish nee The Hon. Deborah Freeman- Mitford)

     Although my girlfriend was dictatorial in many ways, I am in also and mainly in her debt for making me think seriously for the first time about the moral underpinnings of vegetarianism.  Although what seemed crystal clear and absolute then seems somewhat cloudier (not murkier) now, I think that confronting  thoughtfully the things we all must do to survive, i.e., the inevitable and irreducible competition among species in the so-called "food chain",  necessarily helps us to navigate better this vale of tears.

     So I went from being principally a carnivore to total herbivore status, and then several years later put the two together, becoming an omnivore of considerable culinary range and attention to detail, with a collection of books and still-ongoing magazine subscriptions to prove it.  Currently, I am mostly a herbivore again by preference, but because winter is clearly coming on, friends are invited for dinner next Sunday (with more friends to follow in succeeding weeks), I have cold weather meals (lunches and dinners that are great and can be prepared easily) much on my mind. 

The gifted and beautiful Darina Allen

     This leads me to want to share my version of Irish chef Darina Allen's recipe from her famous Ballymoe Cookery School for Beef With Stout with you.  

A Murphy's Irish Stout petrol pump, Cork

     I now consider this dish (including our chosen accompaniments), discovered in the course of a recipe hunt triggered by my finding a New York Times news clipping about the Duchess of Devonshire's Boeuf Bourguignonne (the duchess in question being the current Dowager Duchess Deborah Mitford (b. 1920), a fascinating woman and the last of the six legendary Mitford sisters) by chance in one of my late mother's books, now to be perfected.  It is close to Darina Allen's original, but it now tastes exactly the way we want it to.  It is ultra-easy to prepare, should be made several hours ahead (allowing you to spend time with your guests while you're reheating the stew), and it makes the house smell wonderful while it is cooking. 

 Beef With Stout

     Other virtues are that it is fairly inexpensive, improves greatly overnight as stews are meant to, and you can (and should; it won't be as good later in the day) finish the remainder of  the bottle of stout you don't use in the dish before bidding the stew adieu in the late morning for its long untended simmering. (Please note that although  Beamish or Murphy's are the preferred cooking liquids because this recipe originates in Cork, not Dublin, and apparently even the choice between those two brews can provoke strong and differing local opinions, I have also used Guinness in the dish.  As you would expect, it's excellent.)   Finally, although the recipe calls for chuck, a stewing cut of beef, we tried it once using sirloin from some disappointing steaks we bought that were not good at all on the grill.  That version of the stew was, I must admit, even better than with the chuck and the cooking time is a little shorter.

Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire, photographed at Chatsworth in 1952 by Norman Parkinson

     I really hope you and your guests  like this.  We have found that it's very popular with adults and children both. I'm also going to throw in my summer variation at the end in case you're as enthusiastic as we are about the flavors and think mixing things up would be fun.

     At some point soon, I will get around to writing about Deborah ("Debo") Mitford and posting her excellent recipe also.  Reading one article led to reading another and another after that.  In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the beautiful Norman Parkinson portrait of her and her dogs above taken at her famous and beautiful Derbyshire home, Chatsworth, in 1952.

Ballymoe Cookery School Beef with Stout  (OurVersion)

Serves 6-8

2 lbs (900g) lean stewing beef, e.g., Chuck
Seasoned flour (Wondra, if possible)
3 tablespoons (45ml) olive oil
2 thinly sliced onions
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon dry English Mustard
1 tablespoon concentrated tomato puree
1 or 2 wide strips of dried orange peel
A bouquet garni made up of 1 bay leaf,  several sprigs of fresh thyme, 4 parsley stalks.
6 fl oz  Beamish, Murphy or Guinness
¾ pint (425ml) beef stock (fresh stock from butcher preferred)
8 ozs (225g) mushrooms
½ oz (15g) butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Cut the meat into 1½ inch (4cm) cubes and toss in seasoned flour. Heat some oil in a hot pan and fry the meat in batches until it is brown on all sides. Transfer the meat into a casserole and add a little more oil to the pan. Fry the thinly-sliced onions until nicely browned; deglaze with the stout. Transfer to the casserole, add the stock, sugar, mustard, tomato puree, orange rind and bouquet garni. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer in a very low heat, 150C/300f/ regulo 2, for 2-2½ hours or until the meat is tender.

Meanwhile wash and slice the mushrooms. Saute in a very little melted butter in a hot pan. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Set aside. When the stew is cooked, add the mushrooms and simmer for 2-3 minutes, taste and correct the seasoning. Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley.

Note: This stew reheats well. You may need to add more sugar to the recipe if you find it a little bitter.

Serve with:

(a) Fresh pappardelle noodles (you can make these by buying flat sheets of fresh pasta and cutting it into ribbons 1" or so wide using a fluted pastry cutter or substitute any dried broad flour or egg noodle) with butter; and

(b) A cucumber and tomato salad with dill and an apple cider or rice vinegar vinaigrette.

(c)  For dessert in Pennsylvania, you really can't beat a shoo-fly pie and Bassett's vanilla ice cream, but any local dessert variations should work. It actually turns out to be quite a light and refreshing meal.

We like to drink a red Cotes du Rhone wine with this dish.

Tuxedo Park Summer Variation

Using this basic recipe:

1. Substitute ale for stout.

2. Substitute sun-dried tomatoes for mushrooms.

3. Substitute fresh oregano for the bouquet garni.

4. Substitute sirloin (esp.disappointingly tough sirloin that you're intending to rescue ) for stewing beef.

5. Cook for 2 hours maximum.

6.  Serve with white or saffron rice.

Sir Joshua Reynolds, The Duchess of Devonshire, 1786

Beamish Irish Stout (Cork)

Guiness Extra Stout (Dublin)


  1. Curtis, nice article and tasty-sounding recipe. What a wide-ranging mind you have! I used to make a German beef stew with beer and serve it with beer. Haven't thought about that in ages. Glad you like Cotes du Rhone wines. My daughter and I are very sentimental about Rhone wines ever since standing in Arles and Avignon and admiring the river and enjoying the local wines in that vicinity. Enjoy your dinner parties. Om nom nom !

  2. They'll be small parties. We wish you could be here. We hope you can visit us here. Don't you visit Andrea sometimes? We love Rhone wines. We were first introduced to them a long time ago by an English musician Caroline represented who lived in the Rhone Valley. (He lived near Nyons in a place called Montalieu-par-les-Pilles; he now lives near Carcassonne in a small place called Montolieu. Confusing.) He knew a lot and was a very good teacher. I learned from him that Gigondas wines were often the "square root of value" on restaurant wine lists. This stew is really great. If you happen to have your recipe, please send it to me. And congratulations on the birth of your grandson! Curtis

  3. Rhone wines are the center of my oenological life. Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Cairanne, Seguret -- tiny fortified towns perched on steep outcroppings along the edge of the great Rhone plain, just far enough apart to make for pleasant drives -- these beautiful names are synonymous for me with warm, full, dark wines, at their best very slightly sweet at the finish, lacking the cultivated and seductive perfumes of great Burgundies or great claret, but better for that reason to drink every day.

    I want to hear more about Debo Mitford. Enjoyed your eloquent exposition of Lord Acton.

  4. Lord Acton, yes. That's the way it is. A very interesting Rasmussen poll was published this morning evidencing the broad concern/disgust of the American public about the apparent slovenliness (on the part of multiple actors, obviously) that led to this unfortunate pass. I mean, being irritated at Julian Assange and Pvt. Manning is a given. It's the other stuff that's worrisome. We all learned about the Peter Principal and "failing up" when we were children. Amazing. Two nights ago I heard a radio talk show host read from one of the Wikileaks memoranda on the air. It recounted the writer's attendance at a boozy lunch in an unpronounceable part of the former Soviet Union with some British businessmen and.......Prince Andrew. The phrase "the Great Game" cropped up repeatedly. The memo went on forever and was just so useless. As for Rhone wines, we love them so much, reds and the rarer and often quite expensive whites. One of our favorites, which I haven't had in some time, was a white Hermitage wine from M. Chapoutier called Chante Alouette. Thanks for prompting the memory. I'm largely on the wagon at the moment until the smoke and clouds clear. Curtis

  5. I meant "principle" (of course). Just went through a blackout. Can't think straight. Curtis