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Hearty Beef, Mushroom and Ale Stew with Fluffy Dumplings

February 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Winter is upon us, the nights are short, the days are cold. It’s the perfect time for a warming, tasty and cheap to make stew. I’m including approximate costings, based on Sainsbury’s prices (plus beef from the local farmers’ market) at time of writing.

These quantities will make about 10 or 11 portions. Serve with hot buttered mashed potato, or parsnip and potato mash.

Preparation time: 45 minutes. Cooking time: 30 minutes + 2 hours in the oven, Gas 2 / 150 °C / 300 °F

Special Equipment:

1 large heavy casserole dish, approx 6 litre. The 28cm round cast iron Le Creuset is ideal, or any other large heavy oven proof pan or dish.

Ingredients:

For the Stew:

  • 1.2 Kg / 2.5 lbs Shin of (or other stewing) Beef (preferably good quality, aged beef) (£ 7.68)
  • 2 Large Onions, diced or sliced. (£0.50)
  • 1 Kg / 2.2 lbs Carrots, peeled and chopped into 1 inch (2 cm) lengths (£ 1.00)
  • 25 g pack Merchant Gourmet Mixed Dried Mushrooms (£ 1.60)
  • 1×250 g pack Chestnut Mushrooms, quartered. (£1.08)
  • 1 litre / 2 pints of your favourite Brown Ale (not too bitter — I used Mann’s Brown Ale, 2 x 500 ml bottles, total cost (£ 3.00);
  • 3 Good Quality Beef Stock Cubes (such as Kalo Organic) (£ 0.48)
  • 4 tablespoons Geo Watkins Mushroom Ketchup (£0.42)
  • 1 rounded tablespoon Dark Brown / Muscavado Sugar
  • Good sprinkle Thyme.
  • 4 Bay Leaves
  • Plain Flour for coating the beef pieces.
  • Vegetable oil for frying the meat and vegetables.

Total Stew cost: £15.76. You should get 10 or 11 portions out of this.

For the Dumplings (makes 10 small dumplings. double up if you want more):

2 oz (60 g) Self Raising Flour (£ 0.10)
2 oz (60 g) Fine White Breadcrumbs (about 4 slices of bread, crusts removed) (£ 0.20)
2 oz (60 g) Shredded Beef Suet (£ 0.15)
1 Medium Free Range Egg (£ 0.26)
A little water to mix
Salt, Pepper and thyme (or any other chopped herbs you fancy) to season.

Dumplings cost: approx 71p for 10.

Method:

Soak the dried mushrooms in half a pint of boiling water and leave for at least half an hour, while you prepare the other ingredients.

Cut the Beef into approx 3cm / 1.5 inch chunks, and trim any larger pieces of fat from the meat. The connective tissue will break down during cooking, so only remove any particularly large pieces.

Add a good splash of oil to the casserole dish, and place on a medium-high heat. While the pan is heating, thoroughly coat the pieces of beef in seasoned plain flour. Brown in small batches in the casserole, adding more oil if necessary. This should take a couple of minutes per batch, and require about 3 batches. You’re trying to get a good outer colour on the meat, without actually cooking it too much.

Set the browned meat aside on a plate. Add some more oil to the pan, and add the chopped onions, carrots and chestnut mushrooms. Lightly fry to get some colour into them.

Once they’re browned off, turn the heat down to low, and add the liquid ingredients — both bottles of ale, the soaked dried mushrooms (plus their soaking liquid). Add the thyme, bay leaves, brown sugar, stock cubes, and beef pieces and stir thoroughly. Add enough water to cover everything.

Bring gently up to simmering point on the hob (should take about 15 minutes). Meanwhile, begin to preheat the oven to Gas 2 / 150 °C / 300 °F.

Once the stew is simmering gently, transfer to the oven, on a middle shelf. Cover with a lid, and cook for 1 and a half hours.

After 1 and a half hours, remove the lid, give a brief stir and add the prepared dumplings, cook for a further 30 minutes.

Skim off any fat that’s risen to the surface, and serve with mashed potatoes. Parsnip and potato mash is particularly good with this. An interesting addition to the stew is to put in some green anchovy-stuffed olives just before serving.

Dumplings:

This recipe makes 10 or 11 light, fluffy dumplings. If you prefer heavy stodgy ones, follow the recipe on the Atora Suet packet.

Grate the slices of bread or crumb in a machine until you have fine crumbs.

Combine all ingredients, add enough water (a few tablespoons) to make into a stiff, but quite wet, dough.

Roll in the palm of your hands into walnut sized balls (it helps if you wet your hands first to help stop the mixture sticking) and add to the stew 30 minutes before the end of the 2 hour cooking time, so that the dumplings get half an hour cooking.

Depending on portion size, the whole meal should come out at £1.50 to £1.80 per portion. It will keep for a good few days in the fridge, and can be frozen in individual portions for your own home-made ‘ready’ meal. Compare with supermarket ready meals, where you’re eating salty processed junk, and paying heftily for the privilege.

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homemade biltong update…

September 16, 2009 Leave a comment

The biltong, made two weeks ago, is now almost all eaten. It was absolutely delicious, much much better than I was expecting.

In all, it took five nights in the electric fan oven, running at between 30 and 35°C overnight. I left the oven off, with the door ajar during the day, and ran it from 18:00 to 07:00 each night. A few of the slightly thinner pieces dried quicker, and I removed them when I couldn’t squash them with my fingers.

I wanted the biltong really dry, so allowed a longer drying time. The resulting taste is amazing, far superior to the rather bland shop-bought stuff.

Overall yield was approximately 750g of dried biltong from1,750 g raw meat.

The only problem is it’s quite difficult to slice. A large knife and a steady chopping board are needed to produce wafer-thin slices across the strips.

The next time I catch some beef on offer, I’m definitely doing this again.

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Homemade do-it-yourself biltong recipe: part 1, preparation.

August 22, 2009 56 comments

Biltong is an absolutely delicious dried beef snack, originating from South Africa. It is, however, very expensive to buy and I’ve been wanting to have a go at making it for a while.

Sainsbury’s helpfully put their Silverside roasting joints on offer at half price, which was too tempting to ignore.

biltong3

Next problem was locating a suitable recipe – there are a great deal of vague and differing recipes out there. About the only thing that they can seem to agree on is to cut the beef into 1 inch, square cross section, strips along the line of the grain of the meat. Also that coriander, salt, pepper and vinegar are involved.

After distilling them down, here’s the recipe and process followed.

Preparation time: about an hour of work. Three hours of curing time. 2-5 days of drying time.

Rough Ingredients

(doesn’t need to be exact quantities):

  • 1.7 Kg Silverside Beef Roasting Joint
  • The Marinade:
    • 300 ml Cider Vinegar
    • 300ml White Wine Vinegar (I decided to mix the two, to tone down the strong cider vinegar taste)
  • The Cure:
    • 500 g Course Sea Salt
    • 200g Demorara Sugar
    • 1 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
  • The Coating:
    • 1 large handfull Black Peppercorns
    • 1 large handfull Whole Coriander Seeds

Total cost of ingredients about £11.00, largely thanks to the half-price beef joint.

Equipment Needed:

  • Large, sharp knife.
  • Large glass or plastic chopping board
  • Grinder / blender / pestle and mortar
  • Plastic containers to cure the meat in
  • Paperclips (for hanging the strips)
  • Kitchen towel.
  • drying aparatus / very cool, ventilated oven. Approx 35° C

Preparation:

Blend the Salt, Sugar and Bicarbonate of Soda together.

Pre-grind / crush / mortar the peppercorns and coriander to a course consistency:

biltong1

Crushed coriander seeds

biltong2

Crushed black pepper

Cut the beef joint into 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick slices, along the length of the grain of the meat:

biltong4Then cut these slices, again along the lines of the grain of the meat, into approximately 1 inch (2.5 cm) cubic cross-section ‘long chunks’. Trim off any obvious fat or sinew:

biltong6

The trimmed pieces of meat, ready for curing.

Place the strips of meat into a plastic container, and cover with the blended white-wine and cider vinegars leave for 30 minutes to steep. The vinegar helps to sterilise the meat, and tenderise it.

biltong7

The strips of beef marinading in the vinegar mixture.

After soaking, take the strips of meat out of the vinegar keep the remaining vinegar back, as we’ll be using it again later.

From left to right, the Salt Curing mixture, the spice mixture, and the beef ready to be rolled.

From left to right, the Salt Curing mixture, the spice mixture, and the beef ready to be rolled.

Lightly roll in the peppercorn and coriander mixture. Shake off any excess, and keep the remaining spice mixture  for use later too.

Spread a thin layer of the cure (salt/sugar/bicarb mixture) in the bottom of a plastic dish, then lay the strips of meat on top, forming a single layer.

The first layer of spiced and salted strips

The first layer of spiced and salted strips

Cover the layer of meat with more of the cure, ensuring it covers the ends and sides of the meat, then place alternating layers of meat and cure, with a final covering of cure.

All the meat strips, tightly packed and covered with the curing mixture.

All the meat strips, tightly packed and covered with the curing mixture.

Cover the contaner with clingfilm, place it in a shallow tray, to catch any overflowing juices, and place a board or lid on top, and apply some gentle weight — 4 tin cans should be enough.

Leave to cure for 3 hours (do not leave longer than this or the meat will be too salty).

After this time, remove the meat from the cure, and scrape off most of the salt and spices sticking to the meat. Rinse the meat with the retained vinegar mixture, to remove all of the salt.

The discarded curing mixture, and cured strips of meat. Notice how dark the meat now is.

The discarded curing mixture, and cured strips of meat. Notice how dark the meat now is.

Place the meat between pieces of kitchen towel, or a clean tea towel, and dry it thoroughly.

Roll each strip of meat in the remaining spice mixture, pressing it into all the surfaces of the meat.

Take some paper clips, and give them a single ‘unbend’ to a tight S shape, as shown. You could also use wire or string to suspend the meat by. I used plastic coated paper clips to prevent any metal touching the meat.

Bent paperclips make the perfect meat hooks

Bent paperclips make the perfect meat hooks

Hook the larger end of the S-shape through the meat, at the thinner end (carefully avoiding poking a paper clip through your fingers), about 1.5 to 2 cm down the strip, to ensure a good hold.

Carefully hook the meat strips onto the paperclips.

Carefully hook the spiced meat strips onto the paperclips.

Hook all of the meat onto paper clips, then hang them carefully in your drying apparatus.  My electric fan oven runs happily at about 35°C in ‘defrost mode’, indicated by a * symbol. I used an electric thermometer to test the temperature. Any hotter than 40°C and the meat will cook rather than dry. There are instructions, elsewhere on the internet, for various drying mechanisms, involving fans and electric light bulbs.

The slices hooked onto a metal oven shelf.

The slices hooked onto a metal oven shelf.

I added a tray of dishwasher (or water softener) salt, previously baked for 20 minutes at 200°C, and cooled. This is placed at the top of the over, to help absorb any moisture.

The strips in the oven, ready to begin drying

The strips in the oven, ready to begin drying

Place a tray under the strips to catch any drops, or bits of spice that fall off, and start the drying process. Leave the oven door about 1 inch/2cm ajar, to let out any evaporated moisture. I’m running the oven at 35°C all night, and in the evenings, leaving it turned off when I’m at work. It should take about 3-4 days. I’ll post back with progress. It’s done when ‘not squidgy’ to the touch, and feels completely dry and hard.

I started the meat in the oven at 16:00 yesterday, and stopped at 07:00 this morning. The meat felt very dry on the outside, but was quite yielding when pressed. Still needs a fair bit of drying.

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