I have a confession to make: I don’t like Guinness.
When I first moved to Ireland, I tried to like it. I was determined to like it. It was practically my patriotic duty to like it, wasn’t it?
At my first publishing job in Temple Bar in Dublin, the five of us who worked there would often go to the pub for lunch together, and the man from Manchester who I worked with would sometimes skip food altogether and only have a pint of plain. My husband would order it in the pub, sigh contentedly after the first long sip and say, Now that’s a good pint, not that I could ever tell the difference between a good one and all the rest.
My first six months here I kept ordering it in pubs in the hopes that it might be an acquired taste, but I could only ever get halfway through the pints. I moved to Ireland in May but I officially gave up by Christmas. I was out with the same publishing crowd at the Stag’s Head in Dublin and they suggested I order it with a shot of blackcurrant syrup, saying a lot of girls drink it that way. It made it taste even worse — think cough syrup mixed with beer — and I could only take one sip before pushing away the glass. It was ales and lagers and Pinot Grigio for me after that.
But here’s the thing: it took me over 10 years to realise that Guinness and stout are not one and the same, and that even though I don’t like Guinness, Ireland has more to offer than that. The light bulb moment came at a beer tasting at the first Inishfood festival in 2011, when I was handed a cup of Dark Arts. Ugh, stout, I thought, but I guess I may as well try it, it would be rude not to. Instead of the metallic tang of Guinness, I tasted roasted coffee. I took another sip, and tasted chocolate. Cue Green Eggs and Ham–style revelation: Say! I do like stout! I’ve been making up for lost time ever since. Oh hello, Belfast Black, Carraig Dubh, Leann Folláin and Knockmealdown Porter, where have you been all my life?
Before I started drinking stout, I would still buy a few bottles from time to time to cook with when I made Nigella Lawson’s chocolate Guinness cake, Catherine Fulvio’s apricot, date and Guinness slices or Jamie Oliver’s steak, cheddar and Guinness pot pie. These days, though, I cook with (and drink!) a craft beer instead — all that flavour goes right into the pot, making a classic beef and stout stew even better. As the saying goes, there’s both eating and drinking in it. Sláinte!
Beef and Irish Stout Stew
My version of this classic stew has a secret ingredient: some dried porcini mushrooms and their soaking liquid for an extra umami hit. To make this into a one-pot meal, add some whole or halved baby potatoes right into the stew along with the stout, beef stock and herbs instead of serving with mashed potatoes. Or for an extra-comforting version, try adding dumplings to the stew, like Nessa does.
Craft beers to try in this recipe — and, of course, to sip alongside it — are Dungarvan Black Rock Irish Stout, Eight Degrees Knockmealdown Porter, O’Hara’s Leann Folláin Stout or Whitewater Brewery Belfast Black.
1 kg (2 lb) stewing beef, cut into 1-inch pieces
25 g (1/4 cup) flour
salt and freshly ground black pepper
10 g (1/3 cup) dried porcini mushrooms
4 carrots, cut into thick slices
2 onions, roughly chopped
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
500 ml (2 cups) Irish stout
500 to 750 ml (2 to 3 cups) beef stock
freshly ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
champ, colcannon or mashed potatoes, to serve
chopped fresh parsley, to garnish
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).
Heat some olive oil over a medium heat in a Dutch oven or a large, heavy-bottomed pot. While the oil is heating up, pat the beef dry with paper towels and toss it in the flour seasoned with some salt and pepper, making sure all the pieces have a dusting of flour. Tap off any excess flour, then brown the beef in batches in the pot for about 5 minutes per batch, turning occasionally. Don’t crowd the pot, otherwise the beef will steam instead of brown, and don’t be tempted to raise the heat too high or the flour will stick to the bottom of the pot too much. Transfer the browned beef to a plate and set aside.
While the beef is browning, put the dried mushrooms in a bowl and pour over 125 ml (1/2 cup) just-boiled water to rehydrate them. Set them aside to steep.
Once all the beef is browned, add the carrots and onions to the pot along with a pinch of salt to keep the onions from browning. Cook for 10 minutes, until the vegetables are softened. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Strain the mushrooms from their soaking liquid (save the liquid!) and finely chop them, then add them to the pot along with the tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and thyme, stirring to coat all the vegetables. Cook for 1 minute more.
Add in a little of the stout to deglaze the pot, scraping up as much of the browned bits as you can. Add in the rest of the stout, the mushroom soaking liquid and 500 ml (2 cups) of the beef stock, then add the beef back to the pot along with any juices from the plate and a generous grinding of black pepper. Stir to combine everything, then drop in 2 bay leaves.
Cover the stew and bring it to a boil, then either transfer it to the oven and let it cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or else reduce the heat to medium and simmer it, uncovered, on the stovetop. Either way, stir it from time to time and add in any or all of the remaining 250 ml (1 cup) of beef stock if you think it needs it. The stew is done when the beef is fork tender and the liquid has reduced and thickened a bit.
To serve, spoon off any fat that may have risen to the top of the stew and taste for seasoning. Spoon some champ, colcannon or mashed potatoes into individual shallow bowls or plates, making a well in the centre. Ladle the stew on top of the potatoes, garnish with the chopped parsley and serve. Like most stews, this one actually improves in flavour after a day, so the leftovers are even better.