Beef braised in beer

As promised on the "gooey chocolate puddings" post, I am addidng new photos of the beef braised in beer to this original post. Any new comments that I have to make will be added in red.
This weekend is the last before I find out the class of my degree, and I have thus decided to indulge in a marathon of cooking as some form of hysterical displacement activity. I receive my result on Wednesday, and have therefore decided to cook Saturday, Sunday and Monday. I am starting off my epic journey with this; beef braised in beer, to be cooked on Saturday night, for our dinner.
I have not cooked a great deal from the Low fat chapter, bar a few notable exceptions, namely the infamous anchovy sandwich, roasted asparagus, the low-fat sea bass, thick miso dressing for beans and the aromatic chilli beef noodle soup. Actually, thinking about it, maybe I have cooked more recipes than I thought. Anyway, no matter, what I find interesting about this recipe is that it appears in the low-fat section, but involves beer! Not an archetypal low-fat ingredient or I am sure my OH would be a stick thin waif by now! Anyway, as always, I trust Nigella implicitly and am absolutely resolute that I will feel virtuous about eating it!
I must admit that there are a few ingredients which I am not too partial to in this recipe. Firstly, prunes! Surely the work of the devil! Nigella does say that the prunes do give the recipe “…richness and depth” consequently I am prepared to accept that fact, and give them a whirl. But also I am not too keen on stout. Honestly, I am not too much of a big drinker and am not sure how much I actually like alcohol for its own taste. However, I have used alcohol before in my cooking; namely Marsala, which I now love and also Calvados, which I used in the baked caramel apples recipe. Anyway, I am not going to let initial doubts put me off as often the dreaded recipes have become the most successful.
As I mentioned, I am making this for dinner on Saturday night. Nigella suggests accompanying this with mounds of green vegetables. I asked my OH what he preferred and he really surprised me by requesting sprouts. I did not even know that he liked sprouts, but I like them and therefore I brought some to serve alongside with roast potatoes. This time I served the stew with baked potatoes with a bowl of creme fraiche, into which I stirred through some snipped chives. Also, Nigella says that the specified quantities serve 6, and so I greedily just halved quantities to feed two; my OH and myself.
Anyway, this recipe involves prunes soaked in stout and water, added to stewing steak, fried carrots and onions, cooked in a casserole for 2 ½ - 3 hours.

Ingredients: Most of the ingredients can be easily purchased in any supermarket (how fed up am I of writing that?!) One can either by ready-to-eat or dried prunes for this recipe. The former needs soaking for just 2 hours or so, the latter overnight. I brought the latter, and am soaking them as we speak. On an aside, please buy prunes that have already been stoned. I realised this in the nick of time, and would not have wanted to pick stones out of my meal whilst eating it. I also had the hardest time finding stout in Sainsburys, for some reason. In the end I had to ask someone. Apparently, there was only one type of stout in my local Sainsburys, and I couldn’t buy just one can – I had no option but to buy a 4-pack. The make of stout, incidentally was Mackeson stout. Nigella also specifies beef dripping or oil. I happily opted for beef dripping. This time, however, I did my shopping for this recipe in Asda and used Murphy's Irish stout.

Price: For some reason, my OH and I had literally no ingredients needed for this recipe and so I needed to purchase most of the ingredients. Specifically, the prunes, stout, mustard powder, stewing steak, beef dripping, onions and carrots totalled £10.90. The only ingredients that we did have were water (obviously) and plain flour. What a sorry state of affairs!

(Prunes soaking in stout and water)

(The chopped onions and carrots chopped into batons)

(The beef coated in flour seasoned with mustard powder)

Method: This is very easy to make, and starts with soaking the prunes in water and stout. As mentioned, I opted for the dried prunes and this meant that they needed soaking overnight. Thus, I began soaking them on Friday night, to begin cooking with them on Saturday morning. I never find it a problem to stagger recipes over a few days, but it is useful to be aware of this necessity. I must say that the prunes swelled up to a massive size, and became infused and fat with stout. Then one simply coats stewing beef in plain flour mixed with mustard powder and begins the cooking process by cooking onions and carrots in beef dripping. Nigella stipulates cutting the carrots into batons. I took this to mean thin little rectangles of carrots, as opposed to the usual thick coins. I achieved this by cutting each carrot into 3 pieces, and then cutting each piece into half vertically and not horizontally, and then cutting each thick baton into half vertically again. I am not guaranteeing the authenticity of this method, by I found it pretty easy and successful in achieving the desired effect. Then one merely places the vegetables into the casserole, stirs in the stout-infused prunes, browns the floury meat and adds this to the casserole. What I forgot to mention last time was that browning the floured beef in a saucepan is a very messy job. The flour sort of congeals into a messy paste at the bottom of the saucepan, and so after using it, I would advise that you soak your saucepan in warm water with washing-up liquid. The cooking process takes an understandably long time – 2 ½ - 3 hours. I didn’t even put mine in the oven until 18:30, without giving it much thought, and then realised that the food wouldn’t be ready until 21:30 – doh! It wasn’t the end of the world, being a Saturday night, but learn from this, and calculate cooking and serving times appropriately.

(The prunes swollen after their 24 hours soaking)

(Softening the onions and carrots)

(The stout-swollen prunes and their soaking liquid added to the vegetables)

Result: WOW! I absolutely loved this meal. The flavours of the whole dish were deep, strong, mellow and rich. The stew was so warming and comforting, and eating it was pure bliss. As I mentioned, I am not the biggest fan of stout. However, this dish completely altered my perceptions. Yes, the stout could be tasted, and yes, it infused the whole dish with a full, almost beery taste. However, it was not so powerful that it dominated the dish; the taste of the stout mellowed beautifully into the background and provided the dish with an absolutely gorgeous rich and deep taste. The beef, however, was easily the best bit of the dish; the beef was tender, infused with the flavour of the stout and the texture was wonderful – the beef literally fell to pieces in the mouth and had a genuine “melt in the mouth” texture, which was just wonderful. The onions and carrots were also fabulous; they had a velvety texture, which could almost be described as caramelised with the stout. As I mentioned, I was somewhat dreading eating the prunes, but they were absolutely mind-blowingly stunning. They were resolute with the flavour of stout, but were also sweet and velvety and a great compliment to the beef. In fact, this has to be one of the best meals that I have eaten in a long, long time.
Nigella says to serve this with mounds of green vegetables (and as I mentioned we served it with sprouts) and this was truly an inspired combination. The aliveness of the fresh green vegetables worked perfectly with the rich and deep flavours of the stew. I would certainly eat this meal again. It would be, I think, especially good in the winter moths, as it is so warming and comforting. I'm afriad I don't have anything more intelligent to add here. I just loved this and the above stills sums up my feelings about it.

(Browning the floured beef)

(Everything in the casserole, pre oven)

Other person’s perspective: My OH said that he was very, very impressed with this meal and that it was rich and deep and that the stout was strong and resolute. He also said that he has never tasted such velvety beef. He also used the phrase “melt in your mouth.” He was also bowled over by the prunes and said that they were gorgeously sweet and rich. In fat, he said that this recipe has opened his eyes to prunes. Rather sweetly, he said that with every meal I make he learns something new, and that this time it was a culinary revolution concerning prunes. Again, Chris said that this was a very special meal and that the prunes were unexpectedly nice.

Future changes: I personally couldn’t think of anything at all to change here. My OH said that the meal would be nice served on a Sunday with a Yorkshire pudding. I haven’t actually mastered said puddings yet, and so I am a little hesitant about this. My OH also said that I managed to buy great beef, which was marbled with fat throughout, and that this is the best tasting beef and so therefore should be looked out for again. Again, I really loved this meal, but on eating it this second time with beef from the butcher, I do feel that the beef was better. Both the texture and the taste was somehow more meaty and much more enjoyable.

(My accompaniments - baked potatoes with chive-flecked creme fraiche)

Rating: 5/5. I loved this meal so much, and my OH and I both agree that it is the nicest meal that we have eaten for a long time.


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