Let them eat corned beef. Instead, just for a change, let’s have some beef braised in good old Irish stout with onions, carrots, and prunes simmered alongside. Or, if you really love your annual corned beef and cabbage fest, then you can try out this recipe some other cold, dank March day when a bit of hot, richly flavored stew is just the ticket for a family supper.
I saw this recipe in a cookbook I have had kicking around for years. Entitled A Taste Ireland, it is one of a series of “Tastes of” various parts of the British Isles, with recipes collected by Theordora Fitzgibbon. I like the books because they often include really old, traditional dishes which have otherwise disappeared, many perfectly good and fun to make. For example, in the Irish book is pratie oaten—mashed potatoes and oatmeal mixed, kneaded well together then rolled or patted out, cut and baked like pancakes on a griddle, and eaten for breakfast with bacon and eggs. They taste better than they sound.
Besides recipes, the books are chock full of historic, many later-nineteenth and early-twentieth century photographs of places and people, street scenes, farms and waterfronts, even the occasional interior shot of a kitchen: iron pots hanging over a peat fire. Even though many of the pictures were taken forty to fifty years after the Great Famine, I can see how life could have been hard indeed and for an Irish man or woman a trans-Atlantic trip, daunting as it may have been, going to an unknown country might have been preferable to toughing it out on the Auld Sod.
The recipe for the stout-braised beef that follows is pretty heavily adapted from Fitzgibbon. Two really important things are, first, the stout, and second, prunes. I used a Maine brewed oatmeal stout. The original recipe called for a half cup of stout with equal amount of water; I used a half of a bottle because I kept adding stout as the cooking liquid wasted away. Even so, the dish requires only part of a bottle, so you or someone in your household will just have to drink the rest. Prunes, added to the cooking liquid where they soak up the rich juices, are absolutely heavenly, so even if it sounds odd to use them, don’t skip that ingredient.
The recipe called for flour to help thicken the sauce. You could safely skip using it.
When I made the dish, I forgot the carrots, but don’t you do that.
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 ½ to 2 pounds of stewing or braising beef, cut into serving-sized pieces
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 2 tablespoons flour, optional
- ½ cup stout
- ½ cup water
- 1 cup pitted prunes
- 2-3 carrots, sliced cross-wise
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy cook pan with a lid and add the bay leaves. Heat them for about a minute or two.
- Add the beef, and brown on both sides.
- Add the onions and cook until they soften, then pull the beef and onions to one side of the pot and sprinkle the optional flour on the fat in the pan. Whisk until smooth then spread the beef and onions back over the bottom of the pan.
- Add the stout and water and cover. Simmer the beef for about an hour at a low temperature, checking occasionally to make sure there is liquid bubbling in the pan. Add more stout and water if it dries out.
- Add the prunes, sliced carrots, and more stout and/or water and cover the pan again and continue simmering until the sauce has thickened and the carrots are tender.
- Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper to taste.