Succulence and flavour

Slow cooked beef in beer with prunes. Photo: Christine O'Connor
Slow cooked beef in beer with prunes. Photo: Christine O'Connor
Joan Bishop shares a delicious, easy to do ahead of time stew if you've got friends coming for dinner.

I rejoice in the freedom that comes from slow cooking - during the time the food takes to cook I am not needed in the kitchen.

The knowledge that there is something delicious gently simmering away in the oven is comforting and liberating.

I have almost effortlessly created a softly bubbling pot of succulence and flavour.

Searing the meat prior to a long slow cook is usual, but I often skip this step and I think I manage this without loss of flavour.

However, the onions, garlic and bacon do benefit from a little pre-browning in a frypan, after which I combine everything in a large casserole dish and into the oven it goes for several hours of slow simmering in a rich, malty, dark beer.

Like all stews, this improves from being cooked in advance with a day or two in the fridge giving time for the ingredients to come together, for the flavour to mellow and soften and become as one.

This is food to make you feel cosy so cook the stew one day and share with friends for dinner a day or so later - an easy do-ahead dish.


Slow cooked beef in beer with prunes

Serves 6

1.3kg chuck or blade steak
¼ cup plain flour
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, halved lengthways and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
160g lean bacon, rind removed, chopped
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 500ml bottle dark beer, porter or stout, I used Monteith's Barrel Aged Porter
1 400g can tomatoes, chopped in puree
3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
160g pitted prunes

Herb topping
¼ cup finely chopped fresh flat leafed parsley
¼ cup finely chopped fresh mint
60g coarsely chopped roasted cashew nuts
2 Tbsp finely chopped preserved lemon rind

Preheat the oven to 160degC.Trim the beef of excess fat and cut into 3cm-4cm pieces. Lightly dust the meat with the flour and place into a 10-cup capacity casserole dish.

Heat 1Tbsp oil over low heat in a large frypan. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for 8-10 minutes until softened but not browned. Remove to a plate and set aside.

Raise the heat to medium, add the bacon and extra oil if needed and saute for 3-4 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring for a couple of minutes.

Return the onions to the fry pan. Add the brown sugar, beer, tomatoes, red wine vinegar, mustard and rosemary and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer. Gently pour this over the meat in the casserole dish, stirring to distribute evenly.

Cover tightly with lid or foil and place in the oven for about three and a-half hours or until the meat is tender. Add the prunes to the casserole, cover with lid and return to the oven for 30 minutes more until the sauce is rich and thick.

To make the herb topping
Combine the herbs, cashew nuts and preserved lemon in a small bowl just prior to serving.

Serve the casserole sprinkled with the herb topping.

Lots of creamy mashed potatoes are an essential part of this, but couscous or rice would go well, too.

Accompany with a salad or your favourite green vegetable.

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